Lee Suckling: Confronting my skinny white male privilege
It's easy to be smug at the moment if you're a New Zealander. We've smashed the coronavirus pandemic locally. We have a badass Prime Minister who everyone's in love with. And we're sitting peacefully down under looking at the American race protests about the murder of George Floyd, and thinking, "Man, things are really messed up in the US".
Yet race relations in this country are not pink and squeezy. People of colour – including but not exclusive to Maori and Pasifika – lack fundamental privileges many other Kiwis enjoy, but do not recognise or even comprehend.
Protests in New Zealand this week remain peaceful, but we shouldn't confuse this relative harmony with nationwide equality. All peoples are not equal in this country because some of us have unearned advantages over others.
Having privilege does not mean you haven't experienced hardship. It doesn't mean you have it easy, or that you have nothing to worry or complain about. Privilege, in this sense, is an experience of some form you are bestowed with without doing anything for it.
If you're at home in New Zealand thinking, "there's nothing I can do" about race relations, I have an idea for you. Each of us can start with acknowledging our own individual privileges.
Here are mine.
The shade of my skin is the most obvious privilege I have. As a white-presenting person, I'm given the benefit of the doubt more often than people of colour. This is true when it comes to law enforcement and other authorities, employment, education options, mainstream media representation, and – among thousands of other things – being able to go about life completely ignorant to racism's existence.Advertisement Advertise with NZME.
Being a man in society is easier than being a woman. Nothing about me is blamed on my gender. If I don't get promoted, it's not because of my biological sex. I can walk alone, day or night. I have less intrinsic fear and more internal confidence about just "being". As not just a man, but a cisgender, "masculine appearing" man, I'm also assumed to be strong, virile, and hardworking.
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I come from a middle-class background which afforded me all the advantages of the Nuclear Family life. I've never had to consider whether or not food would get on the table, or if I had shoes to walk in. I don't worry about the way I talk or smell. I have opportunities afforded to me simply because I haven't had my efforts consumed by poverty.
On top of being a man, I'm a good-looking man. This means everyone in society takes me more seriously in what I say and do. I have authority and can command attention in a physical space because my face is appealing to look at. I am assessed as competent. I have the luxury of having fewer of my excuses questioned, and even the ability to act less sane than others (google the "Crazy Hot Matrix" for more on that).
As a thin person, I am perceived to be healthier than others. Travel by car, train, and plane is more set up to accommodate me. I can buy clothing easily and see more people who look like me in advertisements. I am not assumed to be lazy, and not judged when (or by what) I eat.
I am not limited in society by any physical impairments. I am able to take for granted walking, driving, all forms of exercise, access to buildings, and consuming a content-driven world without aids (subtitles, hearing aids, glasses, etc.) To put it simply, my body never gets in the way of something I want to do.
While being white is a privilege, being Anglo-Saxon provides additional privileges. English is my first language and the whole world is geared to communicate with me. Nobody assumes anything about me because of my surname. Culturally, I don't have to look far to feel included. My culture is already everywhere.
This isn't an exhaustive list – I'm sure I'm privileged in other ways, like age and education. I'm also not without disadvantage: I don't have straight privilege and my sexuality creates roadblocks in my experience. Still, all of that seemingly pales in comparison when I list my other – objectively overwhelming – privileges.Advertisement Advertise with NZME.
Why confront and accept that I'm privileged? This is me showing up; this is my protest. This is the beginning of "doing something" to acknowledge the experiences of others unlike me.
When you acknowledge your privilege, you can use it for good. Identifying and accepting your own privileges is essential in being able to listen to others, and actually hear what they're saying. It helps you change your position in the world and be less stubborn. It wakes you up, helps you understand power imbalances.
I invite you all to list your own privileges today. It will result in empathy and help you understand systemic disadvantage.
It's time for us all to stop feeling guilty or being defensive when discussing privilege. Nothing will ever change in this world – no uneven power will ever be equalised – unless we all take stock of the unearned ways in which we are helped in life. You want to show that #BlackLivesMatter? Don't just retweet. Tell the world your advantages, then figure out how to do something good with them.