Privileges and under privileges

Today at work we had a cultural competency workshop. It was very powerful and effective. One of the first activities we did was to go around the room and introduce ourselves, saying our privileges and our under privileges. It was big. Many staff cried and shared some powerful and illuminating aspects of themselves. When it came to me I said, I am privileged because I am a white cis gender, middle class, able bodied woman, who is physically strong and active and enjoys exercise. I am privileged because my mother got me into drama lessons at the age of seven and I found art and performance and theatre and making and curiosity. That sense of curiosity kept me stimulated and alive. I was privileged because my mother cooked home meals and taught me the value of basic but healthy eating. I am privileged because I learnt how to work and get a job at a young age and that helped me develop skills and confidence that has served me later in life. It also means that I am not afraid to work. I like to work. I am privileged because I now work at a university and in education and in the arts. All these things are life changing and transformative.

My under privilege is that I am a survivor of ritual abuse and that has caused dissociation and a fractured sense of self. It has also meant I experienced the adverse effects of childhood abuse so later suffered drug and alcohol addiction, body dysmorphia, shame, stress, other addictions, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation (I didn’t rattle off the list so eloquently). But my privilege is my dissociation because it means that I have an incredible capacity to hold information and accomplish things. My privilege is also a resilience that is within me that does not feel mine, that has spurred me to take action and get recovery and heal. My privilege is a desire to live although I often want to give up.

My little rant wasn’t as neat as the above, but I wanted to share this so I have for keepsake.

I didn’t have time, but wanted to say: my privilege is that I was raised in a white supremacist family and culture and I am not proud of that privilege. That privilege kept me divided and separate from self and others through slavery – to a system and set of ideals that were duty bound, oppressive, damaging, sadistic and evil. My privilege came from a schooling that was religious (Catholic), that’s focus was on exclusion, domination and silencing – which meant that I walked these conservative circles with ease unbeknownst to me, but did so without love, community or empathy. I disrupted that privilege through becoming alternative in clothes and style and getting into the alternative arts scene, but my body held this domination and silencing. I was therefore unable to critically engage with ideas – I just “did” – I was programmed to do and take and get – without understanding the impact of this thinking and behaviour until many years later. There was an inherent self serving in all that I did.

My under privilege of abuse meant I was so disconnected with my body and mind that it took me a long time to deeply learn the effects of my behaviour and to unpack my thinking. Through the arts I developed a reflexive practice but it was internal and not fully formed.

My privileges have included benefiting from the patriarchy and also from the systemic racism in my country- where I walk daily on stolen and bloodshed lands. The trauma lies in the earth and is generational. I am privileged that I can work and that I own a one bedroom apartment and have a functional car and a beautiful dog and partner and her dog. My under privilege of abuse means that I find it difficult to value these things when I am in a cycle of depression or suicidal ideation or memory. My under privilege is being gay, although I don’t see this fully as under privilege even though I have hardly scratched at the surface of my internalised homophobia and how this has damaged my internal sense of worth and confusion around my sexual identity. My under privilege is the confusion and sadness and shame that I feel because of the abuse, but my privilege is that I have nine years sobriety, a language of recovery and faith in a God that will heal me.

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