Unpacking Privilege

2nd Year Politics and International Relations student, Chanpreet Mangat, kicks off RHSU Stands Together week by unpacking privilege.

Illustrated figures from different races and backgrounds.

Political and general discourse has been massively transformed this year. From new terms such as “social distancing” and “shielding” becoming part of our daily conversations, to other terms that are not new (for example “white privilege”) but have instead have cropped up again as the Black Lives Matter movement has gained momentum since the unlawful murder of George Floyd, continuing the fight for civil rights. The world certainly feels like a very different place this year, and to me, it feels as though there is a real collective desire to implement and see a change in the world and society, we live in.

Privilege

Privilege is defined as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available to a particular person or group”. White privilege does not mean that white people face no struggles in life, of course there are a number of factors effecting the quality of someone’s life and the obstacles they face including wealth and education, which indeed are often issues that are separate from race. Instead, white privilege simply means that a white person’s life has not been made more difficult as a result of the colour of their skin or their race.

This absence of difficulty as a result of race manifests itself as being able to live without being fearful of the police or the treatment you may receive from them, your nationality has never been second guessed, making you feel as though you don’t belong in the country you call home (i.e. you’ve never been met with the uncomfortable question after you have said where you are from of , “No but, where are you REALLY from?”) and your race has not been historically systematically oppressed or enslaved to name but a few characteristics of white privilege.

It is also important for non-Black people of colour to recognise the privilege we have over Black people, as a result of the Model Minority Myth which I discussed in my first post titled “Addressing Anti-Blackness in the South Asian Community”. This privilege can be clearly seen in the Western world since ethnic minority communities have moved over but can also be seen in the times of colonial rule. For example, in East Africa at the time of imperialism, although the treatment South Asians received from the British was far from perfect, the treatment they received was far better than the experience of Black people, and I feel that this was the early embodiment and manifestation of the Model Minority Myth.

The extension of privilege

Privilege also extends to the way one’s race is presented in the media, which has an undeniable bearing on the public’s perception of specific races, even if people are not aware of it, subconscious biases are often formed as a result of what we are exposed to in various forms of media. Edward Saïd developed the concept of Orientalism which is a “force that has shaped Western academic scholarship, cultural imagination and production, and public policy concerning the space known as the Orient". The Orient is made up of the modern geographic territories known as the Middle East and Asia. Saïd speaks of how Europeans portray the Orient as inferior, uncivilised and ‘exotic’, maintaining that images projected by the media in films such as Aladdin and Arabian Nights present a narrative of how the Western World views itself as superior and rational, whilst everyone else is seen as mysterious, inferior and barbaric. In my opinion this also extends to the presentation of Black people in Hollywood films as comic relief, or the funny sidekick to the white protagonist. People of colour are often used as tokens for diversity. It is also commonplace for white saviour-like characters to take up a lot of screen time in stories about the oppression of people of colour, perpetuating the idea that Black people cannot be successful without the assistance of White people.

Final Thoughts

A final important point to make is that to deconstruct the idea of white superiority that is unfortunately embedded in all aspects of society, all it takes is for white people to recognise this privilege and work to reduce and eventually eliminate it. This does not mean people of colour need white people to do the work for them, it just means that white people need to use their positions of privilege for the advancement and protection of civil rights, which will only come through recognising that such privilege exists. There are a number of other factors which do indeed effect how one is perceived and treated by society, but more often than not, the only characteristic about a person that cannot be hidden is the colour of their skin.

“White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard; it means that your skin colour isn’t one of the things making it harder”.

As always, below is a link that will direct you to a number of ways you can help to support the Black Lives Matter movement:

Ways to help

Enjoyed reading Chanpreet’s blog?

Check out her Instagram page @ckmwrites and her website.