I cannot help but feel a twinge of sadness. It seems that humans cannot escape the need to be better or to use something for personal gain, even when fighting for an ideology that aims to reverse that very mentality. Why is it that when we seek change, we often do so by tearing others down? Even within the #woke movement, we see people using others’ hardships to elevate their social status and gain respect.
What is privilege?
Privilege is when a particular person or group receive advantages. Everyone can benefit from privilege. Whether that’s receiving a promotion at work, living in a safer neighbourhood, travelling on a well-kept tube, getting a quicker doctor’s appointment or just better resources in schools. However, it is important to acknowledge that firstly, privilege is not ‘normal’. Secondly, privilege is hard to recognise if you experience it. And thirdly, one’s privilege can come at another’s expense.
Who are the winners and losers?
The 2017 Racial Disparity audit conducted by the HMRC found that 1 in 10 adults from Black, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, or Mixed backgrounds were unemployed. Moreover, Pakistani and Bangladeshi employees were found to receive the lowest pay, and Black men are three and a half times more likely to be arrested than White men. Looking at these statistics alone (without the multiple platforms of voices such as: Black Lives Matter, Stop-Watch and Runnymede Trust) shows that there is a double standard to life based on skin colour.
In the 2016 US presidential campaign and EU referendum, slogans built on fear of the ‘other’ and division became common and normalised. It is interesting then that 94 per cent of mixed white and black Caribbean adults were born in the UK, and that over half of those from Bangladeshi or Pakistani descent were born in the UK. So, the slogans ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘Keep Britain British’ were not really inclusive of all American or British nationals, but in reality, stood for a romanticised view of White America and White Britain.
We must stop seeking social division and the elevation of privileged white groups through racial hierarchies. It is the creation of an ‘us vs them’ mentality which encourages society to see differences instead of similarities between humankind — the beauty which binds us.
Why is this so?
Social hierarchies have existed as early as 1100 BC. White groups have dominated political, educational and managerial positions, making it harder for black and ethnic minorities to presently sit at the table after generations of disadvantage. Though laws of segregation were abolished, the old views did not become extinct and continued to pollute British institutions and society from generation to generation. Nowadays, privilege has become something dangerous. When you are the one receiving it, it can be hard to recognise and even harder to give up. As Peggy McIntosh wrote in The Invisible Knapsack in 1988; white privilege means being able to walk into a store and buy a birthday card of someone who reflects you. It also means having teachers and classmates who share the same colour as you — never doubting your place, potential or identity.
How can we change things?
I have stated that the greatest danger is failure to recognise your own privilege. As Ralph Ellison says in The Invisible Man; not seeing yourself ‘is to walk through life as a zombie’. I am not saying the present generation is to blame for the current social structure which has been carved over thousands of years. However, we should recognise a duty to heal and mend the old ways. In order to do this, we must look through another’s lens, seek understanding of another’s struggle and success and not become complacent with the ideology that ‘we are all equal!’ We are. However, by saying ‘we are equal’ or ‘I don’t see race’ you are dismissing the struggles that black and ethnic minority groups presently face; promoting a lazy culture of acceptance so characteristic amongst the privileged.
Change requires action. In order for that change to happen, groups who are white, male, physically and mentally able, middle or upper class must identify their privilege and acknowledge that it is not the ‘norm’ for everyone.
As a white female and Christian I am in no way exempt from receiving privilege. So how can we challenge the values of one group which inherently oppresses another? It sounds simple, but instead of separating ourselves form the so-called ‘other’, we need to start being more self-reflective. Take the time to look at the structures around you. Are they a reflection of yourself? Or are you seeking a different perspective? Crucially, are you willing to hear from someone who may not live or think as you do?
In identifying ‘our’ privilege, we can start becoming conscious participators in the world and not just walking zombies’.