I am The Man. By that I don’t mean that I am totally ace in every way, because I’m totally not. I’m not going for a “You’re the man!” vibe. Rather, I am The Man as in “stick it to The Man”. Because on the face of it, I am the classic authority figure, crossing pretty much every box on a diversity list.
Male, white, straight, middle-aged, middle-class, able-bodied, cisgender, neurotypical. Hell, I’m even privately educated. I’ve got a few mental health bits and bobs I’m bumbling through (more of that in a post in due course, methinks!) but on face value I am the establishment; an embodiment of The Patriarchy.
I am “THE MAN”.
Each one of those has got me some kind of advantage, in some way, big or small, that I didn’t earn in any way. All of it was just handed to me by nature or nurture. All of it is a privilege in some way.
I’ve always been aware of that privilege to a degree, but it’s not until I’ve found myself in more and more conversations around different areas of diversity that it’s been clear that I’m pretty much always in the majority rather than the minority. And on the whole it’s not the majority who get beaten down or overlooked or oppressed.
In Grayson Perry’s book “The Descent of Man” (read it, it’s good) he calls it “Default Man” – the ‘norm’ around which the world is forced to adapt.
That’s what privilege does for you. All of which sometimes makes for some interesting introspection. When you’re THE MAN, you’re the bloody problem – can you be part of the solution too…?
On top of that, there’s an interesting nuance to show that even if you don’t cross all the boxes, there might still be privilege, because it’s fluid and relative, as demonstrated by a story a good friend told me recently of his own experience.
He’s a highly intelligent and highly educated man who happens to be gay and decided to get involved in his work Pride event. At the first meeting, and for the first time in his life, he was faced with the idea that actually being a middle-class, white, gay man is a bloody breeze when you don’t have to layer on racial stereotypes or cultural expectations, or being transgender, or being disabled.
Suddenly “just being a gay man without anything else to worry about” was a privilege in itself: a new perspective, and one that was both surprising and humbling.
Now, I’m hyper-aware of my privilege, across all the parameters outlined and probably a few more too. But rather than let it hold me back and be a reason not to have a point of view, I think it drives me on. Some of the advantages I’ve had have, in some way, got me to where I am today, with a point of view and a social conscience, outwardly confident, usually erudite (if a little verbose) and, now in my life and career, with something to say.
And so I believe I’ve got a responsibility – a duty even – to stand up and speak up. Because if I can’t speak up, with all the privilege I benefit from, then who can?
All any of us can do is be aware of our own privilege, and be respectful of the advantage that gives us. And, whatever privilege you have, use it for good if you can.
Because from someone else’s perspective, there’s a good chance that you really are the lucky one.