To my readers: as penance for missing last week’s deadline, I’ve decided to give you another series. This time I’ll be examining the concept of privilege and how to deal with it. At this stage, I’m not sure how long it will be but I’m aiming for about two to three articles.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last two weeks (when my workload allowed it, at least). Most of this thinking has had to do with the situation in Russia, Uganda and their ilk, where the simple act of loving someone is considered a heinous crime with a terrible cost. The contrast between these countries and the one I live in made me realise just how lucky I really am.
I am a white, cis-gendered male from a comfortably middle-class home with both parents, a good education and decent opportunities in terms of future employment. In my home country of South Africa, I have been dealt one of the best hands you could hope for. By the sheer lucky circumstances of my birth, I have access to opportunities a vast majority of South Africans will probably never have.
Why am I telling you this? I promise it’s not because I want to rub my life in anyone’s face. I want to tell you because I only recently realised all of this. Growing up, I never met anyone who was really worse off than me. All the people I knew, all my friends and family, were from similar backgrounds. I never knew any other world.
It wasn’t until I came to university that I realised just how different other people’s lives were. The biggest shock was when I got my first glimpse at the effects of homophobia on others. Again, I’m luckier than most: my family (at least the ones I’ve come out to so far) have been extremely supportive of me and have stood by me the whole way.
Sure, I read about the horrible things happening to the LGBT community overseas but for the most part it was like a distant problem, one that would never actually affect me.
Then one day, me and a group of friends started sharing our coming-out stories. I was honestly shocked. It was the first time I had ever seen first-hand the reality most LGBT people face in South Africa. Some of my friends said that they’d experienced rejection because of their orientation or gender identity. Some had experienced this at the hands of their own families. Some still hadn’t come out at all because they were scared of becoming complete outcasts.
This was a real eye-opener for me and left me just a little ashamed of myself. I’d lived in this little bubble for so long that I never really thought about what it was like for other people. Needless to say, I’ve made a concerted effort to change since then.
Well, that’s it for part one. Next week, I’ll be looking at how to use privilege for the greater good (and not that cheap The-Blind-Side morally smug good either, but actual good).
Taylor Oakley, writing for the Huffington Post, tells his story about acknowledging and coming to terms with his privilege.
Here’s a neat little picture I found a while ago. It’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek (I think) but it does a good job of making you aware of your own privilege.