How's *Your* Privilege?
I heard a Pakistani immigrant girl on the CBC a few weeks ago complaining about racism in Canada. She told of how she was going to university and her new roommate said that 'Rule 1' of the household would be no cooking curry, because she couldn't stand the smell of it.
The ignoratus went on, over the course of the next few weeks, to make more ignorant statements based on assumptions of culture and race.
Still, I couldn't help but think, “Seriously? This is your worst problem here in Canada? Just how badly do you think you'd be treated if you still lived in Pakistan?”
That question was answered about a week later when a mouthy, opinionated, flirty, aggressive, feminist blogger in Pakistan (a woman after my own heart!), was murdered by her brother in an 'honour killing' because of 'racy' photos she posted of herself on social media. According to Pakistani feminists, over 1,100 women suffered 'honour killings' there in 2015.
And I remembered that whiny kid on the CBC and thought to myself, “Tell me again how bad you have it in Canada because your roommate is a bitch.”
Back in the ancient of days – as in, when I was her age – not every stupid bullying comment was a political cause célèbre. It certainly wasn't worthy of an interview on a national radio show.
I don't know if the young Pakistani girl appreciates how privileged she really is. Yes, despite being brown in a sometimes-racist culture. She's privileged enough to have swapped her Third World problems for some shiny new First World problems.
Yes, I dare to challenge her victimhood even enough I'm a <gasp!> white woman. Yes, I have unfair, unearned white privilege she hasn't got. Her father and brothers have unfair, unearned male privilege neither of us have. But now she's got First World privilege where she can go to school – university! - without worrying about insane fundamentalists spraying acid in her face.
Women in places like Pakistan don't deserve their low status, and it's unfair that the melanin-challenged here in the West have higher status than those with an abundance of it. I've never quite gotten what biology had to do with superiority, but it seems to hold an outsize importance for Trumpanzees and the whiny little boys known as 'men's rights activists'. People the world over are discriminatory and obsessed with that half-percentage of difference in our DNA.
I've been trying to unpack my privilege for several years now. In addition to being white and First World, when I was a kid, I came to realize just how lucky – excuse me, privileged - I was to be born in the twentieth century and in the United States, when I realized just how unfortunate children and women were who'd lived centuries or even just decades earlier, in the U.S. and in other places. Do you know what they did to accused 'witches' in Europe hundreds of years ago??? I was horrified to learn at seven. Later, in high school when I heard of other kids' parents who were alcoholics, drug abusers, and who were getting sexually molested by their fathers, I came to realize just how fortunate (privileged) I was to get two parents who wanted me and my brother, loved us fully, and did everything they could to help us. Birth privilege is a happenstance that anyone can be born into, anywhere – or not.
I fared pretty well in the genetic lottery too. So far, fingers crossed, no major health problems. As I get older that will likely change but I've lived far longer than a little girl I used to play with who died of leukemia at age four. On Christmas Eve. What did she do to deserve that? Or her parents?
I got let into Canada when others didn't, probably because of privilege – I had the education and job skills Canada was looking for. I had the money. I had the drive. Thirty-five thousand Syrian refugees now find themselves with new privilege as they settle down here in their new home. Where'd their privilege come from? A media obsession with their plight. (Bugger off, Yazidis. The media is soooo over ISIS refugees.) Not every Syrian refugee who wanted to come to Canada got here. Some of them are still sitting in refugee camps hoping to be privileged enough to enter some other country and leave behind the hellhole their own has become. (Where ISIS will treat them far, far worse than any white racist they encounter here.)
I don't deserve any of my privilege. Neither do you. And if you're reading this blog post, you're probably more privileged than you've ever imagined, O literate, educated, Internet-connected one. Regardless of colour, or gender, or gender identity, or class, or culture. Maybe you're poor. Maybe you live in a really racist state in the U.S. Betcha there's a Dalit in Calcutta who wishes he had it as good as you, even if you live in a trailer park and have to scrounge money from your cousins to pay for food every week. As a famous British comedy sketch once put it, “Luxury.”
People, white or not, male or not, don't like to think of their privilege. It messes with their sense of victimhood. And everyone aspires to be a victim, whether they actually are or not, because you never have to take responsibility for your own life but forever point the finger of blame at others. Just ask any Trumpanzee! But we all have privilege in one capacity or another. Some have more than others but pretty much everyone in North America has more than they deserve.
So, how's your privilege? How much have you unpacked yet?