Wednesday, 23 April 2014

A Brief Note On My Privilege

I am a white, middle-class, able-bodied, heterosexual, Oxford and grammar school-educated British male. I am drenched in Privilege. 

Here’s two other bits of information about me. 

I lost two brothers in separate accidents before I reached the age of twenty. Dealing with bereavement isn’t like getting better after an illness. It’s much more like learning to live with a disability.

            I was  bullied as a child, and throughout my teens and early twenties had a sometimes crippling lack of self-confidence in certain situations, which has affected the way my life turned out subsequently.

I am emphatically not asking for pity or special treatment. I am simply pointing out that like everyone else on this earth I am an individual human being with a story behind me, of which most people who encounter me, or argue with me, know very little.

Also like everyone else, I have secret sorrows and old wounds. I am not just a bundle of characteristics which people can use to slot me neatly into their ideologies of oppression and victimhood. Part of my whole problem with privilege-checking, and identity politics in general, is that it creates sometimes spurious hierarchies of suffering, by privileging certain kinds of disadvantage and bad experience over others.

Some people who appear to tick every box for being “privileged” nevertheless have difficult, complicated, struggle-filled lives – in some cases much more so than people who appear to score highly in Victimhood Top Trumps.

Privilege-checking also risks setting in stone historically contingent dynamics of Oppressors and Oppressed long after those dynamics are out of date. This means it helps to legitimise bad behaviour by those perceived to be in the latter camp, even when they have gained considerable cultural and political power, and to demonise the former, even when their power has largely vanished.

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