Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Privilege noted

Check your privilege, they say. Oh, I do, I do. Every day. I'm well aware of all those lucky personal advantages that have given me a leg up in life where others have been side-lined and ignored and under-valued.

I'm white, male, able-bodied, well-educated, well-spoken, physically attractive, I own a house and I live in a peaceful country. Compared to millions of people around the world, I'm absurdly privileged and have a pampered, affluent lifestyle.

I've never been in debt (apart from a mortgage), never starved, never been unable to afford clothes, never been driven from my home, never been on the minimum wage, never been caught in a war, never been pimped or tortured or imprisoned.

I may drone on from time to time about my dysfunctional childhood, my tyrannical father, the boarding-school bullies, the grasping landlords, and the psychological damage I've had to overcome, but if that's all I have to complain about, I'm still living the life of Riley compared to all those people who're grappling with problems ten times as nasty and soul-destroying.

Which is why I hesitate to criticise those in less fortunate situations who unknown to me may be labouring under huge domestic or personal burdens. I'm reluctant to complain about shop assistants or delivery drivers or call-centre staff who may be struggling through their working day worrying about eviction or loan sharks or a brutal husband.

It's fashionable for wealthy, adulated celebs to take the edge off their privilege by revealing a poverty-stricken childhood or years of domestic violence or paralysing depressions, but at the end of the day they're still vastly privileged and protected from life's worst miseries.

Oh, I check my privilege all right. I just wish all the other inhabitants of planet earth were equally privileged, and that those responsible for their welfare actually helped them instead of feathering their own nests.

32 comments:

kylie said...

I don't remember you ever saying anything that showed arrogant privilege, though I find it hard to imagine that you have never had a mis-step. Anyways, given that you belong to the most privileged group in the world, you must be one of the most privilege aware people I can think of

Bijoux said...

I've only heard the term, 'check your privilege' used as a sarcastic remark. You've taken it to a whole new level! I can't say I've ever met someone who didn't have a minimum wage job at some point in their life or debt such as a car or student loan. I guess you really have lived a privileged life.

nick said...

Thanks, Kylie! I'm sure there have been lots of mis-steps, but nobody heard about them! Some mental quirk makes me very much aware of all the people suffering in one way or another. I'm not one of those people who can conveniently tune them out.

nick said...

Bijoux: "Check your privilege" is a very serious comment over here. No, I've never had a minimum wage job or a car or student loan. I've always been able to pay cash for cars (including the old bangers I started off with), my education at that time (late sixties) was free, and I had some pretty low-paid jobs but that was before the minimum wage was introduced. Maybe nowadays they would count as minimum wage.

Rummuser said...

To start with, just being born as a human being itself is a privilege but discussing that will go into realms of philosophy.

As a Vedantin, I have been made aware of how privileged I am by the study of Vedanta. If you are interested, i shall send you some samples by separate mail.

nick said...

Ramana: Not sure that being a human being is a privilege! Our lives are horrendously complicated, what with technology and war and politics and social niceties. Much easier to be a cat or a squirrel or a koala bear. You might get eaten by another animal, but then humans are frequently killed by other humans.

Mike said...

priv·i·lege: priv(ə)lij/ -- a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people. (Google dictionary)

I don't feel privileged. I certainly don't have any special rights or advantages over others.

I do feel fortunate. I'm not in debt, but I have been, though never out of control. I have worked at minimum wage, but that was long ago. I've lived in cockroach and rat infested places and have gone truly hungry.

However, because of circumstances of my ancestry, birth, country, and life, today I have advantages that most people in this world don't have. That's not privilege. It's just the way things turned out. It could have been oh-so-very-different had I made different choices in my life.

nick said...

Mike: Oh, but surely that amounts to privilege as in your dictionary definition? And I would say as men we both gain considerably from male privilege i.e. males getting a better deal than women in numerous areas of life - higher pay, easier promotion, more respect for our opinions and aspirations, lack of sexual harassment, freedom from menstruation, less emphasis on personal appearance etc.

Dave Martin said...

I must admit that until I read this, I'd never heard the phrase 'check your privilege'.
I'm not sure privilege is the word I'd choose to describe my situation. I'm in a good place partly due to circumstances and partly due to my own efforts. I'm certainly very thankful whenever I reflect on the way life has turned out, though.

nick said...

Dave: But I presume you must have had some "privilege" in the sense of favourable circumstances that others don't have - loving parents, a good education, a stable upbringing etc. Which meant that your personal efforts would take you further than others without those advantages.

Dave Martin said...

I was lucky enough to have a good upbringing Nick, but I simply don't equate good fortune with privilege.
Sure, someone born with a silver spoon in their mouth who automatically gets sent to a top university before being handed a job in daddy's multinational is most definitely privileged, but I think you're casting that particular net a little too wide.

nick said...

Dave: Okay, we'll have to agree to disagree! As you say, it depends how broadly you define privilege.

John Gray said...

Good fortune is luck in my book!

Wisewebwoman said...

Interesting you would write on this. Have you talked to those Gould deem unprivileged? I imagine, though I could be wrong, that you are focussing only on white male privilege and its material accoutrements?
XO
WWW

joared said...

Privilege is relative. What’s privilege to one might not be to another, so, privilege compared to what or where? For example, I consider myself privileged to have born in the U.S.A., but some others might not share such a view. My first full time job was at minimum wage, but thought I was privileged to have that job, partly because of a reference I had, compared to other applicants denied. Some of us may feel privileged to just be alive in this world, but then we don’t really know what else there is. Another example, from my experience and perspective many white males in the U.S. are privileged in numerous ways to many females.

nick said...

John: You could define it as luck. But luck that also amounts to a privilege....

www: I'm focusing on my particular privilege in relation to other people. Being a white male is obviously a large part of that privilege.

Is that Kimberly Gould? I know nothing about her writings.

nick said...

Joared: I suppose you're right, privilege is to some extent relative. Some women may think they're privileged to be women, and would hate to be a man. As you say, some people may seem to be quite deprived, but they feel privileged compared to others in much worse situations. But I think the important thing is to realise your privilege, where it exists, and try to understand the situation of those who don't enjoy that privilege.

helen devries said...

I am not privileged. Others are deprived.

CheerfulMonk said...

I tried leaving a comment the other day, but it obviously didn't take. I'm well aware of how fortunate I have been --- every day is thanksgiving.

nick said...

Helen: That's one way of looking at it. I see what you mean - we have the sort of comfortable life everyone should be entitled to. So it's not a privilege, it's just what ought to be the norm.

Jean: I think we're on the same page here!

CheerfulMonk said...

Given my inner-directedness and interests/purpose in life, being a woman was a great advantage for me. I was raised with the idea that women were supposed to serve their husbands and children and not be selfish by thinking of themselves. Uh, I don't think so. I married and we had one child, and there was plenty of time to pursue my own interests. I also convinced my husband that he was lucky to have me (that's my story and I'm sticking to it!) so it worked out fine.

nick said...

Jean: Unfortunately there are still a lot of women who dedicate their lives to serving their husbands and children, and sacrifice their own inner desires and talents.

I'm sure your husband is very lucky to have you!

tammy j said...

what a wonderful variety of responses!
I honestly feel privileged every time I turn on the shower and lovely hot clean water comes forth! seriously. it's the small things that are privileges to me.
and it's mainly the relevance of things I suppose.
it's what is important to a person and if that's part of their life then I think they will feel privileged. and the fortunes of birth as to place and even period in history ...
a whole other can of worms!

nick said...

Tammy: Me too. Not so long ago we'd have to boil up some water for the bathtub. And probably that water would have to do for the whole family.

Yes, it's the small things as well as the big things that amount to privilege. Hot water, shampoo, contact lenses, mobile phones, double glazing - they all make such a difference to people's lives.

Secret Agent Woman said...

Privilege is, judging by the comments, something that makes people defensive. I know I am privileged based on my ethnicity, place of birth/upbringing, and relative wealth compared to impoverished people or nations. Why is it so hard for many just to just admit that?

nick said...

Agent: Indeed, why is it so hard to admit to being privileged? Maybe because people feel guilty and think they should be doing more to help the less privileged. But why the guilt about something we have little or no control over? It's like feeling guilty for having perfect eyesight.

Ms Scarlet said...

Yeah, whatever....BUT HAPPY NEW YEAR, dear Nick!!! Have a good one!!!
SXXXX

nick said...

You too, Scarlet! Have a really wonderful 2018!

Polly said...

I've never heard that phrase either. To me privileged is being born into royalty or immense wealth. I’m not privileged but I do feel lucky to be me. Someone fabulously wealthy would be appalled to be me, but many living in third world poverty would swap places in the blink of an eye. I guess it’s all relative really.

nick said...

Polly: I think of royalty and billionaires as the super-privileged. But I think those of us who have comfortable, enjoyable lives and have plenty of money in the bank are also privileged compared to those who're struggling to survive from day to day and can barely afford the next meal. But yes, to some extent, on a global basis, it's a relative concept.

Jenny Woolf said...

I couldn't agree more, Nick. I've just watched Ai Wei Wei's film about refugees, and my blood boils even more than it did before about those who have so many advantages and don't care.

nick said...

Jenny: The plight of refugees just wrings my heart every time I hear about them. My situation is paradise compared to their desperate struggle to find somewhere else to settle and rebuild their wrecked lives.