Priv·i·lege [priv-uh-lij, priv-lij] noun, verb, priv·i·leged, priv·i·leg·ing.
- a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most.
- a special right, immunity, or exemption granted to persons in authority or office to free them from certain obligations or liabilities.
- a grant to an individual, corporation, etc., of a special right or immunity, under certain conditions.
- the principle or condition of enjoying special rights or immunities.
We hear a lot, globally, about those who speak from the position of privilege, who maybe don’t understand what it’s like to be a member of a group who don’t often enjoy privilege – women, people of colour, differently-abled individuals, the 'lower' classes. But what does that mean?
It’s a word that I’ve been asked not to use anymore, in our house. It has a lot of negative connotations, and for a guy who is genuinely trying to re-educate himself with regard to awareness of social and political issues that have simply never entered his sphere before, being ‘accused’ of speaking from a place of privilege is not pleasant, when it’s truly the first he is aware of it. I’m sure I don’t actually ‘accuse’ anybody of anything, really, but I will admit to a certain righteous ranty tone that, now that I think about it, does tend to end up with people shrinking away from me slightly by the time I catch myself on. So, we go with a polite pointing out of “that’s you talking from inside your bubble, dear”, on such occasions as a little gentle awareness education might be in order.
“This Jack Reacher film is a sexist piece of drivel. Why are we watching it?”
“It’s just an action film. Don’t take it so seriously.”
“It’s not just an action film! The characters portray every single negative female stereotype a person could come up with! It’s saying that this is normal! That women will think, behave, act and speak this way! It’s making it cool.”
“I don’t see that at all. I just want to watch the film and not think about it.”
“You don’t HAVE to think about it. You can just ignore the inherent wrongness of it because it doesn’t affect you. That’s your privilege!”
“I don’t like that word. It puts me in the same place as the middle aged white senators who need to tell women what to do.”
“Fine then. Your bubble. Burst your fecking bubble and LOOK at what is in front of you. Look at what your daughters are learning, what your son is learning, from films like this, every day of their lives. Please think about it.”
Because there’s a group in Ireland who you wouldn’t really think would be part of the ‘privileged elite’, just by looking at them. Not so much a group, as a disorganised collection of individuals, family units, and wee communities who hang out together. I meet a lot of them through the various fringe communities I’m involved with; they are on the Pagan scene, the Music scene, the Historical Re-enactment scene. They’re the Privileged Hippies, for want of a better term.
I was sitting round a camp fire, as you do, over the Bank Holiday weekend, and I heard an argument from across the way. A guy was telling a girl that bank holidays were irrelevant, that if it wasn’t for her having a kid off school, she wouldn’t even know it was a bank holiday the next day. She agreed, after a while, that he did indeed have a fair point.
I’m sitting there thinking – eh, only if you don’t WORK FOR A LIVING! For most of us trying to survive in modern Ireland, a bank holiday is a chance to breathe easy a little longer, before hitting the workload hard again the next day. Ok, so, for me personally, a bank holiday is a chance to get way more freelance writing work done, or business writing work done – unless I’m working at the Visitor Centre, where we’re open 12-4pm on Bank Holidays. But still, that’s not the point.
Then there’s the guy who’s answer to a family’s school problems was to ‘home-school your kids’. Even if it was a viable solution – and there are many other reasons why it might not be - how, or when, would a working family find the time to do that, exactly?
I was further outraged the following week (ok, not outraged, exactly, but ‘mildly annoyed’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?), to read a Facebook post by someone who is – rightly - irritated by the fact that most individuals or families aren’t making enough, or any, use of our forests. The outrageous (read: mildly annoying) bit was, I’d LOVE to be out gallivanting round the forests with the family every week, every day if I could. But who the hell can judge me, or the likes of me, for being so exhausted after a day’s work, then another half day’s work at the second job, that I can’t shift off my arse and get out to enjoy the forests? Certainly not a person who DOES NOT HAVE A DAY JOB.
I think the moral of my little story here folks, is that no matter who you are, or where you’re at in your life, it’s a good idea to check your privilege. Nobody’s perfect, and the point of privilege is that when we have these rights, immunities, or exemptions, we often don’t even realise they are there. We say something, or do something, that shows just how ignorant we are of other people’s daily struggles, and the first thing we are aware of it is that somebody like me starts ranting. It’s easy done, but easy to solve too, without resorting to the ‘it doesn’t affect me so I don’t want to have to think about it’ line of defence; or worse, line of argument or attack. Just check your privilege.
And I’m still getting wavy red lines under the word privilige. Dammit.
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