Part 6: I am Privileged!
Updated: Feb 25
I, like so many, have been deeply moved following the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests around the world by the Black Lives Matter movement. I have been compelled to reflect in a whole new way on the subject of privilege and taken considerable time to better educate myself on the repulsive issue of racism! I have protested, I have watched films and documentaries, listened to numerous podcasts and read various news articles on the subject. I am grateful to everyone who has taken the time to create these helpful resources! What is MY response to this? I am white, male, straight, able bodied, educated, English speaking, a husband, a dad and physically imposing! Let’s be honest, this is the Royal Flush of privilege. Almost all of these privileges are not something I had any control over in that they are simply a fact of to whom and where I was born. This is who I am, and for all of this, as I wrote last week, I am exceptionally grateful, and for this I do not believe I should be sorry, and am not. I choose to celebrate who I am and try to be the best I can be. However, for too long I have simply taken most of these innate privileges for granted, and the more I reflect on this the more daunting it is - and should be! To mis-quote a famous line - with great privilege comes great responsibility! The truth is though, most of the men I am related to and know (and are reading this) come from the same demographic and we either waste or abuse these privileges too often! This is what I am sorry for and I know I need to do better, and by writing this I hope to encourage us all to do better with the privileges we have. Much of this has been weighing on me a lot over the last number of years in fact, but honestly, until recently, white privilege, has not been in the forefront of my mind. To address all of these privileges in one blog is too much and so today I am just going to focus on White Privilege. White Privilege is a simple but deeply profound and pervasive concept. In it’s most simple form it is this: I am white therefore I have white privilege. Like many of the other privileges I have, I do not have a choice in this, nor does any other white person. It does not matter where I live, what job I do, what social class I am in, what religion I am etc. It is simply the privilege afforded me in society because my skin colour is white. It is systemic and affects every area of life, in some obvious ways and in more insidious and subliminal ways. I have seen many posts on social media that have highlighted some of the obvious and less obvious things, and am seeing more and more news items about businesses embracing this, which I believe is positive, albeit I think we can also expect a lot of mistakes to be made in the process. Just two simple examples that are so obvious: 1. Jesus was not a white man - yet in western churches I cannot think of an image where he is not portrayed as white! 2. If I say to you to think of the colour “flesh”, chances are you’re thinking something close to white skin colour! If you’ve read some of my other blogs you’ll know that I am a big fan of the Rich Roll podcast. Rich is very tuned in to what is happening and very much in tune with himself. His own response has been interesting as he is choosing to do an inventory of the guests he has on his podcast and consider the balance of those guests, realising he has a disproportionate number of white male guests. At present he is seeking out more African American guests to talk specifically about what is happening in America. The podcast I listened to this week had two black activists: Byron Davis - a former elite sportsman - and Pastor Phil Allen Jr. One simple thing that was said about how to respond to the situation was this; follow the 4 L’s! Listen, Learn, Lament and Labour! I have heard many people talking about listening and learning but the additional steps of lamenting and labouring are key if change is going to happen. I am trying to embrace all four L’s as I move forward. As the origin of this latest set of incidents and protests have come from the US I will reflect briefly on some things I have learned from there first. I have also lived briefly in th US and have many fantastic friends there. However, as a Brit I really need to be embracing the history of British racism along with current affairs. Two things I found really helpful so far looking at events and history in the US:
An interview with Bryan Stevenson back in 2018. You can listen to this here - https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-axe-files-with-david-axelrod/id1043593599?i=1000476406747. Bryan “is an American lawyer, social justice activist, founder/executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and a clinical professor at New York University School of Law. Based in Montgomery, Alabama.” ( Source Wikipedia). Bryan is the lawyer featured in the movie Just Mercy - a highly recommended watch! (Available on Amazon Prime)
The Film “13th” (available on Netflix). This is “an in-depth documentary film about the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality”. (Source IMDB)
One of many take-aways from the Bryan Stevenson interview is that in the Sate of Alabama, the state constitution still prohibits black and white children going to school together! Segregation is still the law of the state! What’s more, when this was challenged in 2004 because companies in the state were tendering for a plant to be built in the state by one of the Asian car manufacturers, a referendum failed to get this wording removed, and when this was voted on again in 2012 just after the Obama election, the vote to keep the wording went up! So just in 2012 the state of Alabama ratified segregation. An additional lingering sense of horror for me is a scene in the movie Just Mercy, when Bryan’s character is pulled over by the police. The sense of fear and powerlessness in that situation really hit home and moved me deeply. I cannot imagine how that must feel. With regards to the film “13th”, which is about the history around the thirteenth amendment of the American Constitution in 1865 which says: “Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” I was really shocked to understand that with the emancipation of slaves that came with the thirteenth amendment, also came the exception for criminals. This exception meant that if the state arrested a former slave, they could be put to work again as a slave! And so to get the labour needed to rebuild the southern states, post the Civil War which ended in April 1865, thousands were arrested and incarcerated on totally petty charges and effectively put back in slavery. This is still perpetuated in the US, which the film explains very well - highly recommended watching also! But now back to Blighty! We are not innocent! Us British have to take ownership of our part in the history of slavery and racism, and the genocides British ancestors inflicted on the lands we “discovered”, conquered, colonised and ruined! Again there is lots of material out there that I have barely scratched the surface of, but something that has driven this home for me recently is the BBC documentary “The Unwanted - The Secret Windrush Files”. The events covered in this are within my lifetime and the people affected (the Windrush children) are my age! I am horrified to learn from this documentary how the British government, restricted by the British Nationality Act of 1948, sought to enact a system called Operation Westward Ho. This enabled white Europeans, some of whom were the very people who had fought against Britain in WW2, to get jobs in the UK, in preference to black British subjects, WW2 veterans from the Caribbean. Having done some research, I am now convinced (and sad) that our supposed greatest Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a racist. He was the PM of a government that set up ‘The Working Party on Coloured People seeking employment in the UK’. This was set up to gather facts and figures to show that the arrival of coloured people in the UK was a problem. He thought immigration controls were therefore needed as there was an assumption that some of these people were coming to the UK to take advantage of the welfare system rather than work! A secret survey was set up to try and discredit coloured people! In the build up to the 1955 election Churchill said that he thought the phrase “Keep England White” was a good slogan for the Conservatives campaign! When I started digging into Churchill a bit more after watching this programme (not being in any way an historian myself) I was shocked to see just how racist he was. ( I can point you to this article in the Independent, just of of many! https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/we-can-do-better-than-the-racist-repugnant-chemical-weapon-supporting-churchill-on-our-5-notes-a7245671.html) Frankly, all of this breaks my heart. I am proud to be British and would not choose to live anywhere else in the world, but I am also deeply ashamed of this history! Just in 2017, the way the Windrush children were treated was such a disgrace! People who had lived here for over 50 years, worked hard, built a life, paid their taxes and contributed to this country’s well being, were rounded up and put in detention centres ready to be deported! This should never happen! I find it scary to discover how this country has treated people of colour over the years! We must do better and more than ever I support the Black Lives Matter campaign. It is so deplorable how the white have treated the black. This must not continue and we must all do what we can to make things better. Listen, Learn, Lament and Labour. As always thanks so much for reading my ramblings. It is amazing how much I get out of preparing these blogs. It takes me all day and I will carry on as I get so much out of it. If you get something out if it too that’s a huge bonus. Comments and feedback are always welcome. I have lots more to learn and you can help with that. Until next week, Peter