Privilege 2

(A poem from the book “Dwelling in Dissonance)

Not an accusation
No verdict expected
Not an attack
Defense inappropriate

A historical fact
A present reality
Uncomfortable awareness
Given responsibility

Humble agency
Social leverage
Powerful potential
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?

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