White Privilege

We must recognise our social privilege for the simple reason that recognition is the prerequisite first step to personal responsibility and choice.

I was twenty-seven and a youth worker in training. My course convener was a woman who believed that white men were inherently racist and could aspire, at best, to understand and accept this reality. I was one of just a small handful of white males in a racially diverse cohort of twenty-three students that year. Charlie was the colleague I had the most in common with on the surface. He was white, middle-class and verbally articulate. He inhabited a confidence that lurched frequently and recklessly into arrogance. He bore the classic hallmarks of white male privilege. In a sense, Charlie was my reflection.

Our lecturers frequently reminded us to confront our social privilege and the shadow it cast across the lives of those afforded less value in our society. Charlie seemed emboldened by their attacks and railed against them, becoming ever more strident. It was my first lesson in what happens when truth is spoken to power. I witnessed an otherwise intelligent man sooner defend the indefensible than relinquish an inch of the power upon which he had grown dependent.

I grew up in a white, middle-class family. My father – in some ways the embodiment of British colonialism – believed in the intellectual superiority of one race over another. He was a charming and charismatic man, who was careful in his concealment of these beliefs in mixed company. To me, this only demonstrated an incongruence that gradually diminished the man in my devoted young eyes.

Perhaps my father’s homophobia, which found more free expression than his racism, helped me to begin a process of dissociation that saw me challenge and distance myself from the fear-based xenophobia, which peppered my father’s language and limited his personal growth.

White privilege was a concept I could get. I understood it on some level because I had grown up on the wrong side of heterosexual privilege and had felt what it meant to be marginalised and oppressed by a dominant culture. I could recognise the advantages afforded me daily as a member of this elite club of white men and I wondered how on earth I would survive if the tables were turned.

Image: https://lockerdome.com/

White privilege is built on the foundations of slavery and genocide and reinforced by corruption and political slight-of-hand. Decades on from the social apartheids of Australia, South Africa and America, white privilege is more insidiously maintained by secret handshakes and the skillful cultivation of fear and distrust. It is as much alive today as it was when Captain James Cook landed in Australia in seventeen-seventy and claimed the ‘uninhabited’ continent for the British Empire.

If we eat steak, we should know that we do so at the cost of a cow’s life. If we buy Three-hundred dollar running shoes, we must do so in the expectation that somewhere in the world a fourteen-year-old girl is working a twelve-hour day, under minimum wage, to make that happen. We must recognise our social privilege for the simple reason that recognition is the prerequisite first step to personal responsibility and choice.

Thank you for your Service

The pawn of American imperialism – the humble patriot – has become a sanctified figure, alongside George Washington, Paul Revere and that guy who loved his electric shaver so much he bought the company.

In North Korea, any reference to the leader, Kim Jong-un, must be prefaced by the words ‘Respected Comrade and supreme leader’. It is well documented that any public official who omits to do this is taken out into the woods, stripped to their standard-issue KJU boxer shorts and slapped about the face with a wet sturgeon. I swear I am not making this up.

Such ridiculousness would never prevail in a Western democracy, where expression of free will is defended to the death, right? Think again, comrades. It was the post-2001, McCarthy-like rhetoric of George W Bush, with its ‘with us or against us’ battle-cry, that ushered into American life a new era of linguistic straight-jacketing, to rival the most repressive of fascist regimes. Even after the Iraq war was recognised as illegal – the most embarrassing foreign policy screw-up since the war in Vietnam – Americans continued to assert that, despite the incompetence of the corporate neo-cons in charge, the honest men and women of the military – the boots on the ground – were forever beyond reproach.

‘Thank you for your service’  became the obligatory mantra of the American talk-show host and practically anyone in public life, on the occasion of meeting a member of the armed forces. Despite the dubious reputation of American military aggressions around the globe, the pawn of American imperialism – the humble patriot – has become a sanctified figure, alongside George Washington, Paul Revere and that guy who loved his electric shaver so much he bought the company.

Image: https://www.pinterest.com/elinorflorence

But let’s be honest, your average twelve-year-old boy is not called to a life of military service by an innate commitment to the defense of liberty against the threat of fascism. Surely, it’s got a little more to do with riding around in a big tank with his buddies, wearing cool camo gear and randomly shooting at stuff. It’s a 12-year-old boy’s wet dream! And – check this out – they freakin’ pay you for this shit, too, man! I am totally not bullshitting you.

I’m not suggesting that there are not those whose contribution to their nation’s military is motivated by true aspirations of making the world a better place for us all, but surely there are other options, which don’t involve charging into sovereign lands with a loaded automatic weapon. Ideas that come to mind: Joining Peace Corps, volunteering at your local thrift store, helping an old lady across the road and being slightly less of an arse-hole to Afzul, father of three, who asks you how your day has been as he flicks the meter to ‘on’ at the tail-end of another twelve-hour shift. Ok, he’s not one of the beatified saints of your national defense, but he’s doing his bit for American capitalism all the same. Thank you for your service, Afzul.

Take a Bite

You guide an exploratory spoon through the warm, yielding crust of the chocolate lava cake, through to its forbidden depths. You pause for a moment to luxuriate in the zephyr of rich aroma winding upwards to tease your nostrils. You extract the spoon slowly, its bowl overflowing with hot, dark, molten wickedness.

image: foodfaithfitness.com

Few adventures coalesce the senses quite like the perfect desert. With Chocolate Cake for the Brain, I want to stimulate and excite your mind with the intensity of a chocolate lava cake, challenging you to appreciate its bitter edge as much as its reassuring smoothness.

So why not grab a hot bevvy of choice, put your feet up and join me in a playful examination of the intricacies of contemporary urban life. Let these bite-sized morsels be the springboard for your own adventures in conversation, with the world and those with whom you share it, towards a more conscious life.