I’ve experienced a lot of people lately (online and in person) who consider themselves ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ in their thinking, yet they don’t see the significance or the need for some of the activism campaigns that exist today. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they have shown absolute objection to campaigns around feminism, LGBTQ+ community movements and positive action against racism. Simply because they don’t think it’s necessary in today’s society. A society that in their eyes is now equal and fair.
My question to all of these people… What have you done to understand life from another’s perspective?
Before downplaying the importance of Costa bearing the LGBTQ flag or organisations implementing positive action plans to enforce greater diversity; ask yourself why they exist. Ask yourself what privilege you bear that allows you to nullify the existence of such campaigns.
I’m tired of hearing people tell me “oh, but things are so much better now.” “We don’t have racism like we used to” or “I believe were all equal so why should there be anti-racist quotes – it should be a meritocracy”. A lot of people feel progressive. They’re not racist. They have friends who are black, friends that are gay; they may even have mixed race kids… they get it!
But knowing someone or giving birth to someone who falls outside of society’s “norm” is not the same as living their experience.
One of the most powerful things I ever did was to talk about and list my own privileges. I’m a young mixed race woman who grew up in a predominantly white area of West Sussex. I’m aware of the issues this raised in terms of my “otherness” but I’m also aware of the privilege that came with having a strong family and stable home life. Both parents present for my early years. One set of grandparents who spoilt us rotten at any given chance. An environment and school that was safe for me to be in with my friends, where there was no fear of being mugged or killed in the streets. An education – ok not a private one or at one of the best schools in the country, but it was good enough to get me to A-levels and in to a university.
In the past I myself have struggled with the idea of positive quotas actively seeking applicants from BAME backgrounds. Why? Because in applying, I worried that I might not get it because I was the best person for the job – but because of the colour of my skin. I think this is something that many ‘BAME’ people do feel.
So what changed my perspective? Through work in community arts I was able to spend time in a range of communities and schools – some of which were in areas with high levels of deprivation, low levels of aspiration for young people; yet magnificently high levels of talent and potential.
So what was stopping these young people from being the next leaders in their field, be it in arts, technology, sports and so on?Opportunity.
The reality is that young people living in these areas, predominantly young people of black, asian and mixed heritage, would not have the same opportunity to grow in to their full potential that their counterparts 1 mile up the road (in a more affluent area) would.
This is why positive action is needed. It would be fine to say meritocracy worked if we were living in a fair and balanced world. The truth is that we’re not. For a number of reasons (that would be too long to go in to whilst I wait for my dinner to cook) some young people are born in to environments that allow more or less opportunity than others. Sure there will be exceptions to this; Stormzy, Akala, Miss Dynamite, Jamelia… but the reason the media fantasises over stories of people like Stormzy is because they are just that; an exception. The underdog winning against all odds.
That’s not OK. It shouldn’t be a fight for young people to even get a chance at being lucky enough to succeed in their on way.
This is where quotas and positive action initiatives come in. Without them it’s like asking a group of 100 students all from different areas and backgrounds to start a race, but then making everyone who has grown up in a home with 2 parents step forward. Everyone who’s household income was over a certain amount step forward. Everyone who had a safe neighbourhood to play in step forward… then start the race.
Until the barriers that make access to opportunity equal are removed (something we should absolutely keep pushing for) we have to be doing something to try and level the playing field.
So I’ll ask again. What does your privilege blind you to?
For me it was a lacking of understanding for what growing up in a less privileged area really means as a young person. For others it may be not understanding how being the only female in a male dominated company could feel. Or not understanding how ‘friendly’ jokes and insinuations about the colour of your skin could make you feel.
Understanding your own privilege is the beginning to truly understanding how different other people’s experiences in this country can be.
Featured image: Street Art on High Street in Leicester