What holds us back from acting has been on my mind. What gets in the way? Fear, anxiety, lack of imagination are in my top three. There is something too about the boundaries we put around our self and I am not sure what to call that – perhaps that is self preservation; a kind of conservation of energy to save us from being overwhelmed. Not taking action, can also show up as a kind of paralysis dressed up in polite and well crafted argument.
I am noticing how walls, perhaps even prisons are constructed around our hearts and minds as a way to not embrace freedoms we might have – including the freedom to act. This seems linked to privilege to me. We don’t know we have privileges because we have them, we only know them by what other people have to think about that we don’t. I held a series of conversations with a woman of colour, not born in the same country as me, from a different generation and the mother of a small child. Our conversations had the title – what I don’t have to think about. Essentially I would make a list of things I didn’t have to think about and she would tell me how she has to factor those very things into her daily life. We covered topics like: going to the supermarket. For me I didn’t think anything of going to the supermarket, I took my bags, jumped in my car, opened my purse and shopped and went home all with not a thought. For her, she would consider if she needed to have her husband and// or child accompany her, make sure she parked with ease of access for a quick getaway, hold her purse open at the checkout so it was visible there was money in it, keep an eye her child so she wouldn’t be accused of theft should a child take something from a shelf, ready herself for the invisible and from time to time, not invisible racism. Another everyday event for her was riding the lift in her office block. She had the experience of her hair being commented on by women, her body being stared at by men and from time to time physically touched inappropriately in the short distance between floors. I can truly say I have never thought of taking a ride in a lift as exercising my privilege until I heard her stories.
These conversations were a different way of me learning about privilege and really opened my eyes to what I just took for granted. It as informed me about what I notice, and nags away at me on the systems shifts needed for a more just world. Justice requires new ways of seeing and experiencing and systems to enable that to take place to prepare the ground for next steps. I went to the Apartheid Museum about ten years ago and was transfixed and transformed by their way of teaching. What remains with me as a pure genius technique was the ticketing system and the way you enter the museum via random selection of race classification. Ever since then I have mused on ways in which these kind of simulated exercises could be factored in to experiences to give those of us ignorant of privilege an insight to help us to address the systems holding privilege in place. I think of this beyond our species as well and to the trees, habitat, creatures and even our global commons. I am grateful for those who give us embodied experiences to help us learn and understand. The current exhibition Seven Siblings from the Future at MOD is one such example and if you are in South Australia I urge you to find a way to get yourself there and take a few friends with you.
Learning more about privilege and the privileges you might have, is an evitable pathway to action. You can no longer un-see, un-hear. The word privilege derives from two latin words – private and law – but privilege is not private nor law – although those of us able to exercise our privileges are able to do so because systems enable us to exercise our private selves in a public domain without fear of prosecution (in its deepest and widest meaning). Privilege brings separation and holds it in place if uncontested. Privilege holds the inheritance of power in systems. Privilege brings responsibility.
The ancient prophet Micah’s invitation (Micah 6:8) to live justly, love tenderly and to walk humbly is directed to the privileged. This instruction is set in a time of great political unrest and economic injustice. It is set in a wider directive to give up privilege and power and make right on the oppressive systems that were holding people in poverty and enslaved by the rich and powerful. It was a call not to equity but to justice, where reconciliation and restitution would follow if you embraced the mandate. It would only be possible where the whole population would be free and so it is 6th century BCE language, is a call for systems change at scale and new relationships would be in place to walk together.
The ancient message is a contemporary call out and is ringing in my ears as I seek shelter in the spaces where my privilege is not questioned or remains invisible to me. I am reliant on the good faith and kindness of the Micah’s in my time to invite me into seeing my privilege, inviting me to walk with them in their shoes and calling me to live justly, not the occasional acts of justice or clumsy strays into supporting the journey to equity. It’s a big call and a constant pilgrimage where I stumble over stones, rocks, into valleys and muddy holes. I am relying on the waves of others to help me wash away the multiple layers of what is inherent and invisible in me.