Welcome to a weekly feature on my blog – Ben’s Zone. Written by husband… Ben. A foodie, coffee obsessed, ex-smoking, ex-drinking and Ridgeback loving Dad. Who is also seriously into his fitness. You can find him on the blog (most) Sundays. Enjoy!
The Problem with Privilege
With recent news events across the world the topic of privilege has been raised repeatedly and it seems to be one that causes people a lot of pain. It’s rare that I share these kind of thoughts on the blog but this is a subject that is close to my heart and so I thought I’d throw my opinion into the mix. It is really important for people like myself to talk about privilege because, as far as I can tell, I have about as much of it as it’s possible to get. I’m male, caucasian, middle class and European and all of those things together confer upon me advantages that other people don’t get.
By saying I’m privileged, I’m not saying that I have not worked hard in my life. I worked hard during my education and I work hard in my career and the benefits I enjoy are the fruit of that hard work. I do also acknowledge though that those opportunities that I had to turn hard work into something tangible came to me perhaps more easily and frequently than someone from a less privileged background. Had I gone to a school in a tough part of Wolverhampton rather than a leafy village 15 miles outside it, would I have made it to that university and then got a job with that firm? I look back on my life sometimes and it seems almost charmed, going from school, to university to a job in what was the biggest software firm in the world at the time and from there into a career that at times I have to pinch myself to believe. And it is charmed in that there are people who have the same skills as me who never got to experience any of that through factors just as beyond their control as the opportunities were mine.
My privilege also does not mean I have not experienced challenges in my life. There have been tough periods, some I didn’t think I would make it to the other side of, but the stone cold facts are, because of my race, class and privilege my chances of getting through those periods was, statistically, better. It’s like a snowball rolling, as my life continues on my privilege accumulates and so does my ability to maximise opportunity and weather tough times. I’m not invulnerable and am not stupid enough to suggest that but, likewise, I am aware enough to see where I have these advantages.
Privilege really matters right now because there are a ton of people in our society for whom, statistically, outcomes are just worse and when people talk about institutional racism, that’s what that means. Most reasonable people know it’s wrong to use a racially abusive term or make an assumption based on someone’s race, but when privilege is mentioned people take a different tack.
I was the same, as I started to realise how privileged I am I started to feel like my efforts had been devalued, that my struggles were less than and, worst of all, that I was undeserving. I felt angry when I first heard of this concept. As I started to think about what it really meant, I started to stop seeing that emotional reaction and start seeing just facts. It’s not about how people feel, it’s just about outcomes, and that is a matter of fact.
Statistically I was always far more likely to end up where I am than someone from a black or ethnic minority background, that’s not an emotional judgement, it’s fact. Right now, even in the 21st century. If you believe that we are all equal, and I do, the people with the exact same skills as me are present across all races and yet, I don’t see this in my workplace. So inequality exists. Of course, for writing about privilege (if anyone reads it) there will be people who write off what I’ve said as me being a lefty (or the more sinister ‘leftist’) but the reality is that my political views don’t matter here. Above all else I like to analyse and make decisions based on facts and data and the facts and data indicate that if I had been born black or in Whitmore Reans or both, the chances of my life looking like it does now are far lower.
I want to live in a society where everyone can aspire and achieve. Realism says that won’t always be possible but the will to work towards that has to be something we cling to. In these times more than ever because if those with privilege don’t want everyone to have the same chances and opportunities then they do not deserve it themselves.