I talk a lot about privilege, it’s one of those topics key to any liberation struggle. Everyone has a privilege- white, male, wealthy, straight etcetera. We’re all privileged in some way or other, and I think we all act upon our privilege from time to time. I realised last night that though I’m a white heterosexual, these aren’t particularly privileges I act upon or privileges that I think tint my view of the world (I could be wrong, I’m open to criticism). The privilege that I do access, and, admittedly at times, abuse, is the privilege I’ve had in an education.
I feel it as a privilege even more pertinently than perhaps most would, and it’s due to my background. I’m the only person from my primary school to go to university, and one of not too many from my secondary school. Not only that, but I’m at an elite institution and studying something unusual- something that warranted a lot of thought and was a very strong life decision in and of itself. I’ve worked to get here, had my fair share of 12 hour stints in the library and reading course books over the holidays. In the back of my head, I’ve worked my way through a meritocracy and so “deserve” some sort of reward. I realise this makes me a dick, and I’m really trying to challenge it. Being neither a fan of meritocracy or the sense of “deserving”, it’s certainly a feeling I’d like to wipe out.
It’s hard work. I realised how heavily entrenched I am in what is the “middle-class” student affectation (which, being from the bottom of the class barrell, I loathe)- I sit making Marxist jokes and then wonder why people don’t find it funny. I treat people like not only have they had the opportunity to engage with Marxist theory- but that they’d choose to anyway. I cringe when people use words like “gay” and “slag” like people have have the opporunity to read linguistic theory- like Deborah Cameron’s “On Language and Sexual Politics” is on everyone’s Christmas reading list. It’s weird, I don’t normally think of myself as a very clued-up person; I spend so much time surrounded by people who’ve spent years engaging with Marxist/Feminist/Sexual/Racial theory that it becomes the norm. My language and mannerisms are so heavily entrenched in my politics that now I’m uncertain where Politics ends and I begin. Now, I don’t by any means think this is a bad thing (except from an existential perspective, but I’ll worry about that when I cry myself to sleep.) but it is bad form for other people, and not only is it intimidating but it’s patronising.
Basically, this is a call to be called-out. If I’m being a dick and using the privilege of my education/politics to undermine you, or if I’m being a patronising shit- tell me. I spend so much of my time calling people out for being racist, or sexist, or classist, that for me to then exercise privilege would just be the most hypocritical thing to do. Of course I’m going to use what I learn to my advantage (otherwise, what is it for?) but I don’t want to use it to unnecessarily criticise people, to patronise them or undermine what they believe if it is a justified belief. And I certainly wouldn’t want to offend someone for having my head in the feminist clouds. I know that at times I neglect other liberation struggles because I so heavily favour my own- I probably won’t change this (feminism is my life, it is what I believe in above and beyond all and I feel solidarity with women above and beyond all else- women are my sisters, their colour, sexuality or class is secondary to me) but if I’m coming at things from a feminist perspective when it isn’t helpful- tell me. It’s difficult to regulate your own behaviour, and a guiding hand would be appreciated. Leaving my Edinburgh bubble has really challenged me as a person- it’s challenged what I think and how I act, but it shouldn’t be the only thing to challenge me. I’d quite like other people to do it too.
Ps, I won’t really cry myself to sleep.