(A poem from the book “Dwelling in Dissonance)
Not an accusation
No verdict expected
Not an attack
A historical fact
A present reality
For participative change
I wrote this poem in 2016 in response to many conversations I had witnessed about privilege, where there was a lot of blaming and shaming going on, and the term “privilege” had become a heavily loaded label, which many people did not want to be associated with. Writing the poem was part of the process of grappling with my own privilege and what I could do with the privilege I have been given. In many ways, things have changed, and yet they have stayed the same.
Given the effects of the pandemic and world-wide lockdowns, and in light of the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement, the division between privileged and disadvantaged has become even starker and I find myself exploring this idea of privilege once again.
I can count myself privileged if:
I am not re-traumatised by the videos that have been circulating for the last few weeks because I do not have previous experiences of racism or abuse
I think I can have an objective or intellectual discussion around Black Lives Matter because it does not emotionally trigger me
I have had the option to ignore these events because they did not directly connect with my world
I take certain things for granted – that others will have the same accessibility to things that I do – language, data, transport, networks, education
In the broader context, am I aware of the fact that my presence changes the atmosphere in a room (physical or virtual)? On a personal note, am I aware of the cost that a friendship with me might mean to a black person – do I know how my black friends’ families and other friends react to their friendship with me, a non-black person?
I may feel overwhelmed by the ongoing presence of systemic racism in South Africa and may think that I am not in a position to make much of a difference…but I (with whatever abilities, skills and personality I have) am placed in my specific setting with a number of people I come into regular contact with. How can I use my privilege in practical ways to move towards a more equal society here so that everyone can flourish more where our circles of influence intersect?
In mixed groups, I can make a point of listening more than I speak, of becoming more aware of who gets more airtime and asking specific people for their opinions so that the conversation becomes more representative.
I can humbly acknowledge that I do not have the answer to every problem, and that it is in our diversity that we can develop the strength of seeing our challenges as multi-dimensional and our solutions as multi-faceted.
I can communicate in the language that is understood by the majority so that everyone can contribute – and ask others to do the same.
I can become aware of the racial representation of the organisations I am involved in and do whatever I can to make that more connected to the context we live in.
I can put myself into situations where black people are in the majority, join an organisation where there is black leadership I can submit to.
I can support equal pay at my workplace, even if that comes at a personal cost.
In as much as I am able, I can contribute towards data and transport costs to improve accessibility for all, and help feed the hungry using one of the many different options of donating.
I can be a doorway into my network by connecting people and introducing them to each other.
I can deepen the relationships that I have with black people, spend more time in someone else’s space (or virtual space given Covid-19), find out more about their take on their cultural background, where they are living, their families, their challenges. Each person is a unique individual.
I can learn one of the national languages that is not my own – there are so many possibilities to do this using apps, online tutors or courses, listening to local radio stations and TV programs, making use of online dictionaries and having conversations.
I can read books by authors who come from a very different background to mine, and watch documentaries about and movies made by people from different cultures.
I can search the internet to give me more information about different cultures and their history.
I can listen to talk radio stations that are not aimed at my economic or racial group.
Everyone will feel passionate about a different area where they hope their privilege can create some positive movement towards a more flourishing society. What do you feel passionate about? What can you do in your sphere of influence to bring about change?