Being working class meant that I didn’t recognise my white privilege

Being working class meant that I didn’t recognise my white privilege

I grew up in a two-bedroom council house. At fifteen I was sharing a bunk-bed with my eight-year-old brother. Privacy was as much of a foreign concept to me as the idea of going to university.

I attended a state school and was so accustomed to being told that my family couldn’t afford for me to go on school trips, that I brought the letters home ironically, not even expecting to be able to go. We didn’t go on holidays and my family didn’t have passports. A car was too expensive, and no one I was related to could drive anyway. It was perfectly normal to see my mum crying over a household bill.

I didn’t have a strong sense of being disadvantaged, and although my Dad often described us as ‘poor’, money wasn’t something I thought about much. After all, we still ate nice food, went on nice day trips and I knew we led much more comfortable lives than lots of people.

However, after spending four years at a Russell Group University, at which just over 20% of students had attended a private school (in comparison to the national average of 6.5%) and a majority seemed to have gone to grammar school, I developed a small chip on my shoulder. I couldn’t believe the opportunities that had been afforded to my new friends and peers, and the current and future financial security they shrugged off.

When you’re seeing yourself through the lens of disadvantage, it can be easy to overlook your advantages. These people were better off than me but I was forgetting about the vast majority who weren’t.

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In my first year of university I embraced feminism and became passionately outraged by the misogyny that infiltrated the campus, the nightclubs and even the flat share I lived in. I realised I was oppressed, and that the society I existed in saw me as lesser because I was a woman. I became aware that it was a predominantly female, not human, experience to feel unsafe all of the time.

In my second year of university I discovered I was bisexual and entered in to a same sex relationship. It wasn’t just sexism anymore, now the cat-calling was homophobic too. ‘You know you want it’ became ‘you know you want cock’ (words that I became too used to hearing). ‘Do you want some?’ became ‘can I join in?’ I didn’t feel safe or happy going out with my friends and my girlfriend. Every night out was a struggle not to be sexually harassed or assaulted, let alone to actually have fun. So mainly we stopped.

It’s only more recently that I’ve really understood intersectional feminism. I was never opposed to it, but I was so busy reading Laura Bates and Caitlin Moran that I didn’t consider that I was learning feminism from a white perspective. I realise now that that is because it was my perspective.

I was too wrapped up in the challenges I had faced, to consider how much greater they might have been if I’d been black (or disabled, transgender or Muslim). My dad always said the only boyfriend I could not bring home was a racist one (I brought home a girlfriend, but that’s a different issue) so I always took it for granted that people like us weren’t the problem. Some bad or ignorant people in society were racist, but we were Labour voting liberals, and it was enough for us to distance ourselves from the Union Jack Waver’s and the Britain’s First Facebook Page Likers.

Through reading books like ‘Slay in Your Lane’ by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene and ‘Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Renno Eddie-Lodge, as well as listening to Deborah Frances Whites’ podcast, The Guilty Feminist, I’ve come to learn that because I have white privilege, just being anti-racism is not enough. Society is still racist, those in power benefit from racism, and if I don’t actively speak out against it, I’m complicit.

Now I realise my white skin has got me through doors that I’ve never even noticed were open. It’s got me through interviews, introductions and crowds that might not have parted so easily had my skin been brown.

I can hide my sexuality, and often choose to; but people of colour can’t hide their skin. Even when they meet new people who may hold racist views. They can’t feel someone out before they drop the ‘girlfriend bomb,’ like I do.

I now truly appreciate that if feminism is only about paving the way for women like me, then it’s actually white supremacy. It’s reinstating and securing old systems of prejudice and inequality, while pretending to lead the revolution for all women. It’s doing this without ever acknowledging or trying to understand who ‘all women’ are. Feminism is not feminism unless it is intersectional.

There isn’t space in this article to list all the ways in which I am privileged, and that is how I know that I am deeply lucky. I’m never stopped because I look like someone’s idea of ‘suspicious’. My white skin is a passport with innocent stamped across the front.

By an accident of birth, I get to walk through life in a faster lane than most. I might not be a white straight man, but I gain more than I lose from the current system. As Deborah France-White says, I’m a feminist but…

I took my white privilege for granted.

If you’re reading this and you’re white, I hope you’ll join me in being open to learning more about intersectional feminism and being brave enough to admit that you don’t always get it right. Because if we all keep fighting just to right the ways in which we have been wronged by the patriarchy, then we are building a future to mirror the present we claim to condemn.

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2009/may/10/universityguide-uni-nottingham

https://www.isc.co.uk/research/


Article by Kaya Gromocki