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The Universe Gives If You Ask? Not Without White Privilege

22/11/2016 11:54

As children of immigrants, many of us share some universal experiences. Like, smugly taking that day off school for a religious holiday, spending most weekends like one huge house party with your cousins and teachers never being able to pronounce your name right. But one of the most recognisable is parents frequently painting a picture of our future achievements, depending on the actions or choices we make at any given opportunity. When we'd spend too much time watching TV instead of doing homework. Talking on the phone instead of revising and even when we luckily got that good grade we didn't work hard enough for. This picture could be that of a successful doctor, lawyer, engineer or anything else we want it to be, contingent on you going to school, studying and working hard for it. The vicarious optimism of our parents calculates social mobility as being available to us so long as we are willing to take it. It's as simple as that.

Of course, the reality is that glass ceilings show up wherever you go and sometimes they turn into glass houses. Your success isn't completely in your hands. If you're a person of colour, a woman, working class, someone with a disability, LGBQT, if you suffer mental illness, or anything that puts you at a disadvantage from wider society, the notion of success being in your control starts to wither away. No one truly prepares us for this.

For immigrant parents, this naiveite can be forgiven. They are, to put it simply, grateful. Grateful for the opportunities they have in a country that were out of reach elsewhere. Grateful for the prospects presented to their children and grateful for their mere existence in a space which contrasts so deeply from the world they themselves grew up in.

What's harder to forgive is when this simplistic view of life comes from the skewed position of privilege. Where every path is presented as a choice we either choose, or not, to take. That a solution exists to every problem if you try hard enough to find it, and that there is no such thing as a glass ceiling. Simply put, nothing is in the way of you living a wholesome and successful life. That's when it becomes not only impossible to forgive but also deeply offensive.

When I found myself at the receiving end of this simplistic view of the world, I listened to the ignorance of white privilege (in this case, rich white male privilege) dismissing the barriers that face those who don't have control of the spaces they find themselves in. Those who peddle this philosophy are the same people who propel capitalism's bastardisation of foreign cultures through trendy fitness yoga, making Buddhism 'hip' and culturally appropriated fashion which is presented back to us as a powerful commodity for success, whilst simultaneously ignoring the reality for people of those cultures. It's wisdom and wholeness which caters for only rich, white people.

This new age mentality of 'The Secret', where the universe gives so long as you ask, permeates spaces where those of privilege usually get even without asking and no matter how hard the rest of us work, those spaces are limited to us. Telling us we can be ourselves, that we don't have to let others dictate our actions, that we are in control of everything we do is patronising, disrespectful and ignorant. This is the reality of rich white people, not for the likes of us. Life is not as simple as working hard and being rewarded fittingly, especially when we are women of colour.

The disregard of the political, social, cultural, economic, and institutional barriers for people of colour in this era of contemporary western spirituality (taking from the east what it wants), ignores how we must manoeuvre through society differently, despite what this new enlightened realism says. We're told to be and speak as ourselves, as if we're not judged for the colour of our skin or our 'ghetto' accents. That being working class plays no role in being unable to buy that one thing that will contribute to your success. That so long as you speak to a police officer as an equal, breaking down those hierarchies, they'll respond differently. As if being a black man plays no part in this interaction.

White privilege is uncomfortable. It offends because it's been shoe horned into a language that wasn't created for us, by us or with any acknowledgment of our truths. It's the lexicon of people of colour brave enough to lead the conversation instead of letting it lead them. And nowhere is this offense more prevalent than amongst those who subscribe to new age false comforts such as, 'if you ask, you get'. The idea that we're in charge of our own destinies and nothing is holding us back apart from ourselves is true if you're a rich, white male.

The ignorance of white privilege rears its head around every corner. But when you face it head on, away from news stories about the Oscars-so-white, away from the confines of social media, nothing prepares you for it. And when a person of colour, particularly a woman, questions it, they are shut down. Dismissed. Disregarded. Because no one wants to taint the 'purity' of this world view.

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