Privilege is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. How privileged I am, how privileged I was as a child, how privilege so often goes unrecognised by those who are privileged. I am very lucky. I was brought up by two people who valued books, who spent time with me, who had the money to do so. Two people who had not had money in their youth, but had worked very hard to fulfil their dreams. My mother instilled a love of travel, the importance of seeing the world from a perspective different to your own, to go and see it. And to be brave. She also made me an appreciative gin drinker, and somehow I think she’d like that part of her legacy. What a woman. My dad showed me that hard work was rewarding, dedication and living by your principles is important. Sometimes that meant straight talking, even to the point of awkwardness, but he lived by his values. In his own way he taught me to be independent. They both taught me to love books, reading, the value of imagination. I learned early on that if we went shopping, no matter what other treats I had been bought, if we went into a book shop I would be allowed a free rein. I could bring piles of books to the counter and my dad would write the cheque. One of the most exciting parts of preparing for a holiday was knowing my dad would take me to a bookshop and I could pick and choose, and spend as long as I liked doing so. They gave me their books, told me not to worry what other people thought of what I chose to read- trashy or classic, I was reading and learning. They might have been a bit surprised at what I learned from Jilly Cooper aged eleven, but the book was about show-jumping right? And I really loved the horse riding lessons I was lucky enough to go to every week. I never got a pony though, no matter how much I begged. No pets.
I am privileged by my status. Born into a middle class white family, with parents who valued education as a road to success, I am now able to afford to live. I was funded through education, and although I was told to get a Saturday job when I was 16, that money was mine. I didn’t have to do it to support my family. I had access to a computer, the internet, a quiet place to work, and parents who would make me. My parents were healthy, I didn’t have to care for them, or my sibling at any point unless I volunteered to babysit. When I did, it was for cash. I have never faced racial discrimination, and I never will. I had all the time in the world to study, I was awash with cultural capital- my parents bought me a season ticket to the local theatre when I chose English Literature for A Level, knowing full well they always put on productions of the Shakespeare plays chosen by local schools. You don’t know Shakespeare until you see it performed, but how many people are lucky enough to find that out at the age of sixteen?
I’ll stop being so solipsistic. In a wider context, people fail to recognise their privilege on a daily basis. They see their privilege as a result of their hard work, as the natural order of things, and when those without privilege start to demand equality, the result is fear. And anger. How dare they? Those without privilege are scapegoated, the causes are made personal, as though when, where, and who we are born to has no influence on who we are. Yet it does. Clarke and Clarke demonstrated in the 1950’s that black children in America had internalised negative associations of being black. They consistently chose to play with a white doll instead of a black one. While they consistently identified with the black doll, they also referred to it as ‘bad’ and they wanted to play with the white doll because it was ‘good’. Sadly when the experiment was recently repeated, there was no change in the results. Black is still bad apparently. Girls are forever being told to be pink, submissive, accommodating. Boys must be blue, hard, assertive. We know who is winning gender privilege on the surface- better paid, less likely to be raped, beaten or cat called, but boys pay too for society’s misogyny.
The people with power need to start to recognise that they are born with the privilege of power, not the right to it. Those born without power are no less deserving of the same rights as those with it. With great power comes great responsibility, and those of us with power, however limited it is, need to start exercising those responsibilities, instead of fearing the loss of our privileged status.