Reflecting on Privilege in Relation to Racism

I started writing this in August 2018, following a month long training in Jordan, with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). During the training we were called to reflect upon our privilege in relation to racism. I am and this is, a work in progress.

Please click on the various hyperlinks in the text.

Today is 3rd December 2018 and the headline in The Guardian newspaper reads: Racism in Britain: the stark truth uncovered.  I feel prompted to try and put some structure into my writing and to share it with friends and family.  As many of you know, I am recovering from two recent major abdominal surgeries and sepsis and therefore this writing might not flow as well as it could. However, I feel passionately about undoing oppression and non-violent resistance and this is my way of continuing to be an activist rather just a clicktivist although please do sign those petitions I send you!

I would highly recommend you read the Guardian article on racism in Britain:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/dec/02/revealed-the-stark-evidence-of-everyday-racial-bias-in-britain

Staring

We arrived at Amman airport hotel. There was a large group of people in the hotel foyer. I was conscious of trying not to stare. The people were dressed so vibrantly and in contrast to the way I was dressed, I found it  hard not to keep looking. Men wearing brightly coloured skirts and hats, women in stunning garments. Later in the dining room, I observed some people in the group were eating with their right hand which I associate with Muslim dining etiquette. It’s so easy to make assumptions when there is a difference between people but I found myself watching these people eat and I felt uneasy by my gaze and wondered if I had made them feel uneasy too.   I later found out that they were from South Sudan.

Passport and Freedom of Movement

The last couple of weeks the news has reported about migrants arriving in dinghies on the south coast of England. We hear less, if anything about the thousands more on the Greek island of Lesvos and hundreds drowning in the Mediterranean and thousands dying of starvation in Yemen.  Millions of people worldwide living in refugee camps for too many years. No one seems to ask why are people migrating or what might they be fleeing from.

I’m reminded of my privilege to have a home and the freedom to travel the world and then return to that home. I am conscious that I have done nothing in my life that warrants this passport privileged life that I have. I have often seen it stated in the media and then heard people say ‘illegal immigrants’.  What right does anyone have to call another human being ‘illegal’? What right does anyone have to tell another human being that they do not have the right to self determination?

What is White Privilege

The subject of white privilege is not widely discussed in the UK.  I am beginning to explore my white privilege. As I sit here on my iPad Pro, thinking about my white privilege, I am mindful that this very act is a very privileged thing to be doing.

I was born with a set of unearned and invisible advantages and benefits because of the colour of my skin. The system I was raised in was created by the values and perceptions of white people. The system I belong to is run by people who are the same colour as me. These advantages remained invisible to me until several years ago when I started spending time alongside refugees and asylum seekers. Once I began to realise that I had done nothing to deserve all the privileges in my life, I tried to make some changes in the way I see and treat other people who were not born into these advantages.

I watched this film about whiteness https://youtu.be/Dscx4h2l-Pk

I watched this film about white privilege and it gives an example of how a person who is perceived as white, is able to walk through the world differently. The film encouraged me to become more conscious about what I might witness happening and how I can use my privilege in helping with undoing oppressions

https://youtu.be/Wf9QBnPK6Yg

I know that I am privileged in many ways. I am privileged as white middle class passport holding citizen. I am privileged as a cisgender woman. I am privileged as an able-bodied person. I am privileged that my first language is also our national language.

I am a white woman and a product of being raised with the myth of progress. Progress is ingrained in me. I am motivated to do my best and to be a good person.  I have learned that the concept of progress did not appear in other cultures, or even western thought until around 300 years ago, and yet it is so much part of who I am. Other cultures have different perspectives of cycles of time, seasons and history. As an activist, I am future focussed and committed to creating a better life and a better world but from a position of privilege and with the myth of progress.

I came across this article about ‘all the ways white people are privileged in the UK’.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/ways-white-people-privileged-uk-171011124754885.html and I am reminded how people of colour, particularly, black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi are more than twice as likely to be without work than white people and I have become more aware of my privilege.  In contrast, I have never been without work when I wanted it and I have only recently become aware of this imbalance. I live in a country where wealthy politicians help the wealthy people the most and the poor and powerless people, the least and where race also determines income levels.

And whilst there are too many white British employees on low incomes, there are twice as many black and Asian workers.

Education

The UK education system favours white British children. I haven’t given much thought to this previously as I live in a world that has been tailor made for white people like me.

Pupils of Roma background are more than three times as likely to be excluded from school, compared with white British children. Black Caribbean pupils are almost twice as likely to be excluded.

Sometimes I’ve found myself caught up with expressing my own perceived educational disadvantages but then realise I need to check my privilege because the reality is that this disadvantage is based on white privilege and not on the colour inequality that plagues every aspect of the UK schooling system. I can’t imagine what being a person of colour, in the UK education system might be like. My educational experience was grossly inadequate and I still left school with virtually no qualifications but with white privilege have been able to navigate a way through life. Without my white privilege, I would have faced multiple barriers, the likes of which, I really can’t begin to know.

         ‘92 percent of teachers are white. Asian and black teachers account for just six percent’

‘2015 only 85 of 15,905 professors in the country’s academia were black’

‘only 15 black academics in the British university system were working in senior management roles’

‘black students are 1.5 times more likely to drop out of university than their white and Asian counterparts’

When I read this, I was shocked by my ignorance. I am becoming more aware of the huge impact the white system has on people of colour. I feel angry and ashamed that I didn’t know

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/uk-university-academics-offered-white-privilege-lessons

I have noticed myself becoming a lot more aware of what I might be thinking and considered, before I speak. I realise that it’s not enough to be ‘un-racist’, and that I need to become ‘anti-racist’. This requires me to actively acknowledge my own privilege. Even though I didn’t ask for this privilege, it was given to me at birth and now I need to actively acknowledge that this privilege is a major cause in the inequality suffered by others.

I want to be able to notice and acknowledge, when my race has made my life easier and someone else’s life harder. I am unlearning subconscious prejudices and checking my thoughts, actions and language for hidden bias.

Everyone Wants to Come to the UK (not so)

The mainstream media are leading people to believe that everyone wants to come to the UK because it is a better place to live and that all ‘these people’ are coming to the UK and taking our jobs.  This is not true.

What people don’t realise is that there are more people from the UK, working in Europe than there are people from other European countries working here.  People take for granted their passport privilege and being able to work abroad and then question people’s right to work in the UK. People in the UK criticise people who can’t speak English and yet we are the last to learn a second language. We move abroad, to Spain, France etc and don’t bother to learn the language and instead join an ex-pat community and live in a white English speaking bubble.

We are on the inside, looking out and observe others as different, lesser humans. Consciously or subconsciously, we think we are superior, although I know, one should never generalise about a particular population. When we move abroad, we like to be called ex-pat but when foreigners move to the UK they are immigrants. It seems there are two rules at play here.

The UK is becoming more and more right wing. Brexit threatens to close  the UK down from immigration. Racist attacks have become more commonplace. Boris Johnson a conservative MP is hailed a hero by white supremacists for describing women who wear the Burqa, as looking like bank robbers and post boxes.  He is appealing to the right wing voters and its rumoured he could make a bid for the Conservative party leadership. It would be a very sad day if he ever became prime minister. He has been likened to Donald Trump and the UK establishment seems to be supportive of this violent white supremacist practice.

I have never experienced racism, classism, sexism or deprivation and therefore am unable to begin to understand what that might be like.  I think that rather than pretending to understand racism, I need to focus on identifying the privileges of my whiteness and how that has made my life easier and other’s lives harder.  Acknowledging that people of colour live in a racialized society whilst I go about in a state of colour-blindness. I really want to become less oblivious to what’s happening. I want to see the injustice and I want to speak out more against it.  

Until relatively recently, I had not been aware of white privilege, which is a classic traite of white  privilege. I have had white privilege all my life and I have not experienced the barriers in life, that not being white brings. I have no doubt contributed to and benefitted from a prejudicial and discriminatory system.

There is a  difference between white supremacy and white privilege. This article is from a US perspective.  There is little in the UK to read about this but there are many similarities.  

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jesse-benn/the-white-antiracism-tone_b_7861740.html

The article states: White supremacy refers to a racial hierarchy in which whiteness sits atop of. The United States was founded on a system—legally, culturally, economically, and politically—of white male upper class supremacy. All of these remain today.

I’m aware that I lack a lot of knowledge about UK history but I can see that our current system is very similar if not identical to the US.

These are some things I learned from the article.

White supremacy refers to the system and white privilege refers to the many benefits from that system.

White privilege is, when growing up,  all of my teachers in school looked like me and almost all of the characters in children’s books and on TV looked like me.  White privilege is, as an adult, walking into a room and being interviewed by people who look like me.

It’s white supremacy that created the system where this could happen.

I read this article https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/british-people-are-proud-of-colonialism-and-the-british-empire-poll-finds-a6821206.html as part of my self education.  To have reached the age of 53 and to be so ignorant of British history is a real shame. Governments are very adept at manipulating the memories of the populations they supposedly serve.  

Writing this reflection on white privilege has been really educational. It has helped me to realise just how limited my education has been.  We were not taught any British history around Imperialism at school and it seems to be missing from the mainstream consciousness of the UK. I have become more aware of how much I do not know and I am embarrassed by my ignorance.  I don’t know what I don’t know but I am willing and interested to find out.

As is said at the start of this piece of writing, I am a work in progress. Thank you for reading and please click on the links and watch and read the short articles.

 

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