This is another hurried post. Off to End of the Road, so had to hit my friday deadline earlier. Hope it makes sense. Sorry for ugly grammar or odd spelling, Now read on…
So I just checked my privilege, and though I might wish to join that swelling gang of the suffering and oppressed, I sadly have to face the fact that when it comes to my position in the 21st century, I am doing better than most.
I know little of the history of “check your privilege”. Like most things of late, it first came into my field of vision when staring at Twitter. I know people who detest that phrase, and more often than not they are people like me, people who if they honesty “check their privilege” are faced with a burdensome amount of good fortune and luck in the lottery of birth. Hurling “check your privilege” doesn’t win the argument, just because you have experienced less privilege than me doesn’t mean you must be less wrong than me, but it does provide a moment for reflection that some people would rather avoid.
Since the 1980s it has been a spewed cliche that the luckiest people in the world are “one legged, black lesbian vegans”, they have all the luck, mansions and power. I embarrassedly must put my hand up here and admit that I don’t have the statistics to refute this, just the tingle of a spider sense that makes me suspicious that this might not be true. (warning – the rest of this post may remain as unscientific, so you may wish to stop reading now).
Despite these 30 years under the singular jackboot of these sapphic meat rejecters, the positions of power still seem to be in the hands of the male and the white, though this may be an illusion, perhaps some sort of device like the one that disguises the skeletal aliens in They Live is in use.
I don’t have to feel shame for being white, male and middle class, but there seems little harm in me occasionally musing on my good fortune. The comfort of the life I have is not merely down to my labours and resilience. Why should facing up to such facts make people tetchy and bullish. In my current show, when I talk of a newspaper columnist writing about how the worst thing to be now is a white middle class male, and then suggest that a lack of colour choice in collared shirts at Marks and Spencer and the possibility that one day we’ll be oppressed down to a level of being as equal as everyone else, I sense resistance from some corners of the room. There is a feeling of “come on, get real, we men haven’t got it as easy as errrr some other people who may um exist somewhere”.
Like everyone in a conversation, I want to have the best story of a blighted life. In conversations where people are revealing their inner pain and childhood traumas, like Brody, Quint and Hopper showing scars in Jaws, you can see the glint in people’s eyes as they think, “excellent, I think I can top that story of pain with my story of juvenile agony”. To suffer is to exist, if you can’t claim enough suffering, you may not be credible.
No one passes through life without loss or defeat, but it doesn’t mean you have to feel that without sleeve worn pain you are nothing. The modern media is eager to help manufacture a victimhood so that you obsess so much about your suffering, you become blind to what may be far more genuine suffering around you – that narcissistic desire to hope you can say, “you think you’ve suffered” (at this point I realise it might have been quicker to just put up a link to the Four Yorkshireman sketch and not bothered with this post at all).
There may be times when there is some sort of job I don’t get because I am a man. There’s the possibility there might be times I get rejected for something because I am white. Perhaps there was some trinket that didn’t come my way because I am middle class, but all in all, the advantages I get from this far outweigh what I might lose. Even in the 21st century, the opportunities available to me far outweigh the possible and occasional impediments.
I have had the advantage of a better education than most. I might not have enjoyed it. I could say the bullying has turned me into the needy thing I am now, but again, what I may have lost by my head being stuffed in a toilet bowl or being hung by my pants from a peg, does not outweigh what I gained (to me it is a great relief that schooldays were not the best of years of my life, things only got better. I am hardly hung from a peg at all now)
I have rarely gone hungry or experienced the suspense of not knowing if there will be money to pay for electricity or if a precious item will be lost to a bailiff. I have only once be barred from entering an establishment, and that was an Indie nightclub in Preston that didn’t allow steel toecap DMs, you can imagine how rough I looked; a powder keg ready to kick off.
When we are surrounded by advantage it is easy to become blasé and assume it is the average for all. To wake up in warmth with clean water, hot water, a choice of cereals to eat and shoes to wear is the start of putting you ahead of the game. A job and a home without abuse, a fair wage, the chance to get home on a late train without a sense of fear or unwanted attention breathing over you and the purveyor thinking they are giving you a treat.
I realise this post, written late but sober, may seem like one of those “do you know how lucky you are?” banalities, and maybe it is, but when I did “check my privilege” I realised how lucky I was and started to wonder, just why isn’t everyone as lucky as me.
I think of the film My Life as a Dog, where the delightful and sometimes foolish young protagonist occasionally mulls over his ill-fortune but then thinks to himself,
“It could have been worse. Just think how that poor guy ended up who got a new kidney in Boston. He got his name in all the papers, but he died just the same. And what about Laika, the space dog? They put her in the Sputnik and sent her into space. They attached wires to her heart and brain to see how she felt. I don’t think she felt to good. She spun around up there for five months until her doggy bag was empty. She starved to death. It’s important to have something like that to compare things to.”
As usual, and despite going over my official word count (my rules, I can break them), I failed to get to the point I meant to, maybe next time.
I am on tour in 2014 both on my own with a new show and with Josie Long and Grace Petrie (Shambles tour) – Sheffield, Nottingham, Bristol, Norwich and many more across UK, dates here
Also Cosmic Genome has new Chris Hadfield interview, Brian Cox review of the year and much more, up in Christmas Eve, plus Android friendly version available on Boxing Day. Cosmic Genome is HERE