Last night, as I walked through the supermarket, something changed. You all did. Suddenly the aisles were filled with people who didn’t share my privilege. I had to stop for a moment to breathe. I had to stop for a moment and realise what I’d been missing.
When I go shopping, I can find most of the food I grew up with in any supermarket. I don’t have to head into the international aisle for a limited selection, or nip down the road to an entirely different shop.
This was different when I lived in Singapore, or Fiji. I knew then, what it was like to fit into somebody else’s culture, and not find the cereal, the vegetables, the lollies I thought I wanted. But then, when I was living in Singapore, I was different and exotic for being white and female. I would find myself photographed by strangers intrigued by my appearance. I lived in a massive house with a huge lawn and our family had a gardener and a servant. Somebody cleaned my house and often cooked for us. Somebody not white. Somebody not privileged.
Coming back to New Zealand was a rude shock. I wasn’t important anymore. I had to settle for the invisible advantages that I wasn’t even aware I had. I didn’t have to explain the Treaty of Waitangi and the Waitangi Tribunal to anyone. I didn’t have to discuss why so many of my ethnic group were in jail or on the benefit. Nobody judged me as being a bludger, although I have been on the unemployment benefit at some stage. I never had to fight for my language to be acceptable. Nobody ever told me my culture didn’t matter.
I went to university. It was expected. I felt alone, but I wasn’t the only white person there. I dropped out- that was unexpected. I went back to university. I went to a diversity class and discovered my opinions were not necessarily on form. That was unexpected. Usually being an educated white woman has some advantages. Maybe not to men but certainly I’d enjoyed having my ideas valued before. I’d just never been aware of it.
I played sport. I got selected for a national team. People sponsored me. I had expensive equipment and international travel. I had a passport. I was used to catching planes. I had a car. I had a physio and a massage therapist. I had a trainer. I had a gym membership. I had a job at an exclusive school with extremely rich people and I started to see I was in a different class to them. I still had privilege, but I didn’t have THAT privilege. I realised life wasn’t as simple as I’d perceived.
I graduated university and began teaching. My colleagues weren’t heterosexual. I found out because someone wanted to explain to me that people were gay at my work. I never even thought it mattered, because my sexuality never mattered to me. I’d always been heterosexual and never had to explain it. They told me of being walked around the school by the Deputy Principal, being told that their sexuality was ok. I couldn’t imagine why. Neither could they, but I was privileged.
I wrote to our government in support of marriage equality- not because my human rights depended on it, but because I wanted to. I write in opposition to laws that create poverty. I write to defend animal rights. I write because I have an education and learned to read early and had lots of opportunities in a culture where my way of talking and writing was the norm. The way I write is my way of thinking and it’s not that different to other peoples’ ideas. Other people in the status quo, I mean.
My privilege is conferred on me by means invisible. I carry it everywhere whether I notice it or not. Other people don’t. Last night I had to stop and breathe. I had to realise how I hadn’t seen, how I’d missed what others have no choice to see. Last night my privilege was known to me.
For information on privilege you may unknowingly enjoy, or perhaps for information on privilege you’ve witnessed but never experienced, visit: It’s Pronounced Metrosexual: 50 things you can do for Social Justice