“I’m sharing my privilege” or “share your privilege” is a statement that I’ve seen a few times recently and it is s statement that got me questioning my role in society, my community and my willingness to “give back” or “share my privilege” with the less fortunate or those who need it.
First let me explain. “Previously disadvantaged” as opposed the “previously advantaged” or “white privilege” as opposed to “black under privilege” are terms used frequently here in South Africa to explain the current social situations between the majority of white and black people. The idea is that white people are previously advantaged while black people are previously disadvantaged. Which refers back to the 60+ years of apartheid and oppression against black people which caused generations past and generations to come of black people who are “previously underprivileged” and generations past and generations to come of white people who by being white alone share in the benefits of being previously privileged.
These “privilege” statements gets used and abused all over the place. By people who want to justify their jealousy and excuses for a lack of anything and by being lazy, and by those who are labelled as such simply because they are white or black. I for example would not off the bat call myself previously advantaged. Heck I worked hard to get where I am… I studied hard in school, I worked part time jobs while paying off my tertiary studies, and I applied for jobs myself and worked to get a job myself. Cleary not previously privileged right? Wrong…
Let’s look at another example: Joseph is our security guard at our residential complex where we stay. He didn’t go to school because his parents could not afford it, and his parents didn’t go to school because they’re parents (Joseph’s grandparents) could not afford it. He’s from a family that have lived in poverty since he can remember simply because there was never the opportunity to go to a proper school, get transport to and from a school, or have someone that can pay for it. Joseph may be the first person in his family to be able to afford a school for his daughter and thereby give her that one opportunity to lift herself out of poverty and earn a proper living. This makes my story seem a little more privileged now don’t you think? My parents paid for m my school, they gave me 3 meals every day. They took me to the hospital and paid for it. They helped me get a loan at university. They bought toys for me. Previously advantaged right? Privileged right?
Why? Why is it that I had it so easy and Joseph so difficult? Apartheid?
Now let me jump in here and go back to that group of people that abuse the idea of being previously under privileged. If you sit on your ass and do nothing your entire life then you will never change anything. Whether you sit in a shack and do nothing or sit on your mothers R15000 couch in the living room and do nothing… If you set goals and work hard you will eventually achieve something leaving you better off than you were before. Point being any person can lift himself up out of poverty and become self-made millionaire or a success. The only difference is when it comes to benefits we had that is out of our control as kids, like proper education, housing, health care and parents that could easily give us that one opportunity then it becomes exponentially more difficult for someone to lift themselves out of it, than not being able to.
This is why I am definitely previously advantaged and privileged. This is why I feel an obligation to “share my privilege”. Understanding this makes my R200 to help Joseph by diapers for his daughter seem like small change. How do you make a lasting effect? How can I lift Joseph and his entire family out of poverty and give them the privileged life I have? How do I completely erase the effect of apartheid from his entire family and future family members?
I don’t know.
But it makes some of the ways our government tried to answer this dilemma seem a bit more understanding, like BEE. A concept that if done right makes a lot of sense. This is the idea that a black person is chosen for a job in preference above a white person purely because of the black person being previously disadvantaged and the white person’s “white privilege”. At its root it makes sense right? How do I lift Joseph up? I give him a job instead of a white person thereby allowing Joseph to quicker and more easily get the opportunity to create more opportunities of upliftment for himself and his family. But can you do so at the expense of the white person who also needs that same job? Our government obviously answered “yes”.
Sadly not everyone has this feeling of sacrificing oneself and your own list of opportunities for those that have had none ever. And this is the dilemma.
I will be thinking of more ways to share my white privilege. May you also come to know your own privilege or under privilege and figure out how to share it, or lift yourself up.