Check Your Privilege!
I’m in a slight state of shock to find myself writing this. That shock is in itself is an example of my own privilege. I live, breathe and immerse myself in a life of combating prejudice where and when I am able to, and in striving to ensure I am open to being challenged on my own privileges (such as the fact I am white, university-educated and live in a relatively wealthy country, although am not myself wealthy or even middling).
So I’m used to challenging myself, and the shock I feel at finding myself explaining privilege again is a result of the fact I have been questioning for so long and challenged by people who take the time to call me out when my privilege is showing. I am discriminated against, being disabled, experiencing mental health issues, and being a female and not conforming to the ideal of femininity, but my privileges are more than my intersected oppressions in the society in which I live.
It is this Facebook status message specifically which has inspired my blog:
The most perfect thing I have ever seen just happened on the replacement train bus service between Newport and Cwmbran:
White man sat in front of a mother and her son. Mother was wearing a niqab. After about 5 minutes of the mother talking to her son in another language the man, for whatever reason, feels the need to tell the woman “When you’re in the UK you should really be speaking English.”
At which point, an old woman in front of him turns around and says, “She’s in Wales. And she’s speaking Welsh.”
Quite a short and simple status message, telling the tale of a story of racism/Islamaphobia experienced by many people. I also question that the white man would have approached a male talking to his son in this way; gender may also have played its part. I have no problem believing this story may be true.
Apparently a lot of people do. Almost immediately the veracity of the story was questioned. When I posted it, I was demanded to prove it was true, and when I challenged said questioners to prove it wasn’t true, was told that as I posted it I had to prove it.
Guess what colour and gender the people questioning this were? Go on, I’ll wait…
Yes, you are right, they are white and predominantly male. In fact, all of those questioning this story that I have been able to discover in my research have been white. One objection was concerning the fact a rail replacement service had not been operating ‘that day’ (although the status message does not specifically name a day). This was quickly refuted with a very brief basic google search.
Then I stopped in my endeavours. Why was I doing this research? What the hell was I doing trying to ‘prove’ a racist incident had occurred? Why were those challenging the veracity so determined to demand proof that the specific incident had occurred? Many cited a similar tale from the United States in which a woman with her child was confronted by a man telling her to stop speaking ‘Mexican’ because she was in the USA and should speak English, and it turned out she was speaking Navajo.
So what the challenges are basically saying is that the two stories are so similar that they could not possibly have both happened.
Wow. Privilege much?
That is NOT how racism works (or any other form of prejudice, for that matter). Racism is systemic (which is why the privilege race cannot be systemically racist – that’s another blog) and is built up from myriad incidents and experiences. The fact that it happened twice in similar cultures (USA, United Kingdom) is in fact more proof of systemic racism and the effects it has on people. I’m not surprised that many similar stories can be found. There are many similar stories of incidents of sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, islamophobia, transphobia – you name it.
I repeat, that is how discrimination and prejudice works!
Demanding ‘proof’ of incidents of discrimination instead of doing your own research if you question it is also privilege – you are assuming an incident didn’t happen because it does not tally with your own experience.
Step out of your privilege for just one second and consider what it is you are actually saying. You are denying an experience of oppression. You are silencing a voice fighting against discrimination. You are perpetuating the systems of privilege and oppression by which you benefit.
I know it’s hard to be confronted by your own privilege, but you are not responsible for having that privilege. You are responsible for what you do with it. That’s what I strive (and fail and strive again) to do. No-one is perfect. But really, is it so hard to step back and check oneself, if it means discrimination and oppression are one step further forward in being eliminated?
If your first instinct is to demand irrefutable proof an incident of discrimination actually happened rather than to find irrefutable proof that it didn’t happen, you are part of the problem. That’s your privilege. Check it.