Shout Out, presented by RainbowYOUTH and part of Auckland Pride Festival, is an open-mic dedicated to the talents of young queer individuals. This piece on privilege, written by The Spinoff’s Sam Brooks, will be performed at the event.
Privilege, at its core, is power.
Privilege is something that’s on everybody’s mind as we move into a more enlightened, but somehow more scary, future. We attack those with privilege, we uplift those who do not have privilege, and a simply labeling word has twisted itself into a nebulous and ill-defined pejorative.
There are those who have privilege, and those who don’t – and those who are everywhere on the nebulous spectrum in between. There are people who acknowledge the privilege they have and those who don’t – and some people who acknowledges parts of the privilege they have while being entirely unaware that some things they consider universal are taken for granted for them.
And then there’s the privilege observed – the privilege that looks like privilege from the outside, but from the inside is more burden than uplift, more poor than rich.
So in the interest of placing myself on these various spectrums, declaring what privilege I have and likely being a bit ignorant about some privilege I have but don’t think to declare, here is my privilege checklist:
I am a gay man. I am uncomplicated in that identification; I’ve never questioned it or felt the need to question it. Those two words sum up my sexuality and gender. There are some who value my voice above others because it’s a familiar voice – it’s a voice that is fluent within the mainstream.
I am a gay man. I recognise what that means – I recognise the number of stories from queer creators that we’ve already seen from gay men, and I am often lead to question what I can bring to my community and those around me. I feel shame for the actions of others that share my label and worry their actions reflect on me as well.
I have never had to come out. I’ve never had to go through that well-established and well-trodden trauma, the fear of exclusion, the fear of living bereavement. I’ve never felt the frustrating light rain on a too-warm summer day of having to define and re-define myself constantly for strangers. I present obviously as a gay man, and I present in a way that elides the need for questioning.
I have never had to come out. There is a clear and established closet narrative that I feel excluded from – in literature, in my personal relationships – that sets me apart from an entire part of the community that I’m supposed to belong to. I understand the narrative like you understand something you had to read in high school.
I had relationships in high school. I didn’t have to find my way around how to be in a relationship in my twenties – find myself in a too-late puberty with other people fumbling around in their too-late puberties.
I had relationships in high school. I had the unique joy and plight of being in relationships with people who had yet to find their own identity, their own acceptance, their own coming out.
I am a mixed-race person. I get to make jokes about white people from the safety of being tan. I get to never be identified as my specific racial makeup. I hold a sense of mystery.
I am a mixed race person. My ethnicity will never line up exactly one-to-one with somebody who isn’t in my family. As people cling to their cultures proudly, I meander around with an almost shameful lack of regard or knowledge for my own genetic culture.
I am an artist. I get to talk about whatever I want and sometimes people feel obligated to listen. I get to express things that other people feel as though they cannot express – I have the tools to break through caves so others can follow.
I am an artist. I have the economic power of an artist. I have the burden of using my lifeblood for material, my work is the closest to donating blood that I will get to, as a gay man.
I have a stutter. I can think of no privilege this affords me – but others are keen to tell me what upsides there are. There is no upside that would make me categorize this as a privilege.
I have a stutter. This means that even if I was in the same room as this event I would probably ask a friend to read what I’ve written – to give my spoken word as much clarity and strength as my written word.
I am loved. I know there are people who love me – people who are no longer here who have loved me, people who are always there who love me and people who will love me in the future – and I know that in my darkest moments, and even in those moments which are only slightly dark, I can reach out and someone will be there.
I am loved. I can think of no downside to this – but it is important to remember that being loved is a privilege and it should be enjoyed and beloved as one – there are those without love, love to give or love to receive.
We walk around life recognizing some privilege, ignoring others, and not even realizing that what we regard as privilege – able bodies, fluent speech, creative and expressive minds – could be regarded by privilege.
In our community we recognise each other’s privilege with points and whispers, without acknowledging the life that leads to that privilege, the burden that leads to that privilege, and often without ever pointing the finger at ourselves – without examining our own privilege. We all know when we see privilege abused – we don’t need the examples. Our community is built on the bones and souls of those who were done wrong by people with unspeakable amounts of privilege.
Privilege, at its core, is power.
Privilege can be a dirty word – and when privilege is recklessly lived and used it should be addressed and recognised as such. It should be pointed out. It should be whispered about.
But when is privilege not a dirty word? When can it become something that is honestly lived and honestly used for the betterment of others and the world? For those of us who have so little privilege to speak of, the privilege that we do have should be clung to like pearls falling from a too-short string. Be proud of what we do have, use it well.
I do my best to recognise my privilege – not only right here, but in the world I live, in the art I express, and in the relationships I fumble – and I encourage others to do the same with their own:
Privilege is power. Recognise it. Own it. And use it for the betterment of those who do not have it.
Shout Out is on tonight (Monday 5th February) at Studio One on Ponsonby Road. For more details, check here.
This section is made possible by Simplicity, the online nonprofit Kiwisaver plan that only charges members what it costs, nothing more. Simplicity is New Zealand’s fastest growing KiwiSaver scheme, saving its 10,500 plus investors more than $3.5 million annually. Simplicity donates 15% of management revenue to charity and has no investments in tobacco, nuclear weapons or landmines. It takes two minutes to join.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.