Unpacking Privilege

I’m a privileged person. I’m an affluent white heterosexual cis-gender able-bodied male. Because of my privilege, I’ve been unaware how my views and the way I live life are founded in this reality.

Over the last few years I have been on a journey of dismantling my privilege. Unpacking it so that I am more aware of my own position and the ways I have it easier than others in the world. I assume that the police will help me, I have no problems getting around, there was no question about my right to marry. As these posters say ‘if you don’t have to think about it, it’s a privilege’.

I’ve discovered through conversations with friends that not everyone agrees with the concept of privilege. How do we grade how privileged someone is? Is it not just about treating people with respect? Does privilege negate how hard I’ve worked to get where I am? Privilege can be a confusing subject but it’s important we reflect and discuss it. This will then hopefully help to develop our self-awareness and how we live in this world.

While living in Soshanguve, South Africa, I heard stories from my neighbours and learned about the history of the country. These conversations showed me the reality of injustices faced by that community due to the colour of their skin. Life can feel like a lottery. It’s sad that we are often defined by aspects we can’t control. Our gender, sexuality, race, health and where we were born can either open or close doors. Science, religion and personal opinions can condemn or commend us.

I had an insightful discussion about privilege with a friend and neighbour in Soshanguve, Malusi. He shared how people view him as nothing because he was born in poverty, is black and disabled. He has to constantly try to prove that he is something. He worked for two years as a maths teacher and has been working as an accountant for the last ten. However, some of the community still view him as sick and that his motorised wheelchair and the house he is building are donated to him. He has a beautiful family but some neighbours have said to him that his children can’t be his and that his wife must have been sleeping around. Malusi has had to move from a place of anger to a place of acceptance that people will view him as nothing. Acceptance for him looks like being able to joke about who he is and not let the opinion of others define who he is.

I’ve never had to deal with being judged so harshly because of who I am. This is why it’s important for us to be aware of our own privilege; so that we can connect with those who are ‘different’, see their humanity, and learn compassion. When we let someone else’s story touch us, it affects how we live in the world.

This post is the beginning of a series discussing privilege. I will be sharing my own journey and thoughts as I continue to unpack my privilege. My views are still developing and I don’t pretend to have it sorted but I trust that you will show me grace. We will also hear from other voices who have had to deal with the possibility and actuality of being pushed to the side and judged because of who they are.

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” – Dalai Lama

I invite your comments and thoughts after reading the posts but I ask you to be respectful as we work towards a healthy conversation. May we together learn to help each other flourish in who they were meant to be.

-P

5 thoughts on “Unpacking Privilege

  1. I hadn’t seen that series of posters before- those are thought-provoking. It’s so good, and yet so overdue, to see this become a topic of conversation. I’m looking forward to seeing where this journey takes you, Paul!

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