Check Yourself (before you wreck yourself)

Walking past a beach full of cavorting young people and wondering why everyone is in underwear instead of swimsuits is privilege. Getting annoyed by having to walk/take the bus because you don’t own a car (yet) is privilege. Being able to pay your bills, pay your rent and put food on the table is privilege. Speaking English fluently is a privilege.

Like an off-the-rack blouse, privilege comes in many colours.

privilege (n): a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.

 

I imagine it as a series of tiers, starting all the way at the tipitty top with the straight, white, rich, cis, able-bodied, Christian male and deviating as far down the ladder as the internet can imagine. And no one is immune to this ranking system, not even on this little island. Society forces you into boxes for ease of definition. (cue The Breakfast Club theme).

Privilege in Jamaica takes on many shades – it separates us along lines of class, colour, community, wealth, ethnicity, educational achievement, gender, sexuality and religion. For a population so small (less than half the size of New York or London), we try really hard to divide ourselves into even smaller groups.

In Jamaica, the most privileged group is the heterosexual (or apparently heterosexual), Christian, light-skinned upper class. You know at least one family that fits the description: mixed ethnicity and ‘good Christian character’ who can afford a house in Upper Snaandrew, and afford to send all their children to school a farrin.

By contrast the least privileged groups are from the inner city: girls with majority African features who dropped out of high school and struggle to afford basic amenities. I say girls, because even though young men are often sympathized with for their (self-inflicted) marginalization they have the privilege of physical autonomy – their bodies are their own.

But there are always exceptions to the rule, personalities who exist pon de baadaline. Scammers are envied for their lavish lifestyles (secured from ill-gotten gains) while living in communities on the wrong side of the tracks. Homosexual characters entertain the masses in grassroots plays, despite the overwhelmingly homophobic national atmosphere.

We experience the world through the lenses of our respective socialization, through the blinds of our privilege.

The way we observe and absorb privilege depends on which rung of the social ladder we cling to. Higher up, the status quo is fine – privilege is a myth, something amorphous and unrecognizable. Lower down, the disparities are glaringly, infuriatingly obvious. These frictions of willful ignorance and misplaced anger are the catalyst behind our sociopolitical unrest.

Even though privilege is the film through which we view society and ourselves, we don’t pay a lot of attention to it. But imagine if everyone acknowledged their advantages (and disadvantages), if the people with influence actively worked to empower the disenfranchised. Or if the marginalized and underprivileged populous united to overthrow the inequalities of a hugely biased system. What could we accomplish?

Socialism, probably. But what’s wrong with that?

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