‘you collect yr trust fund baby, and I’ll be a whore…

and we’ll pretend we’re just the same,

but,

I know, I know, I know”

Bikini Kill

In my third year women and writing class we’re talking about identity politics.  I have a stupid crush on the tutor, she’s writing her thesis on Buffy, lesbianism and witchcraft, for gods sake.  I’m hanging on her every word.  We’re talking about how people define their identity.  If you think gender, or race, or sexuality is an important part of who you are and why this is. 

It’s something I’ve never really considered before.  But it starts to make a lot of things make sense.  Ideas about privilege I’ve never really grasped previously. 

In the class we talk about how I don’t really see race as an important part of my identity.  I discuss the possibility that this is because I am white.  This is not an easy conversation to have.  But most of the time, if I’m honest, I don’t really consider my race, because  as a white girl in England my race is usually invisible.  I don’t have to deal with racism or abuse based on the colour of my skin.  This is part of what is meant by white privilege. 

Privilege works in different contexts of course: feeling that you naturally match the gender you were assigned at birth, if you’ve never had to lie to your family because your worried that the gender of your partner might mean they dis-own you, if you can visit places without having to worry if you can access them or not, if you’ve never been too scared to get on a stage to play music because you know that however good you are at what you do people will be more interested in yr breasts.  The knowledge that someone else can always support you financially.  These experience of privilege are not the same, or equal, they cross over and intersect.  It is far from simple.

Privilege gives you freedom. 

Privilege is not the same as prejudice.  People do not ask to be put in a position of privilege, its an accident of birth.  Privilege becomes prejudice when you consciously or unconsciously choose to ignore its existence and when you deliberately work to maintain the status quo.

Saying that a part of someone’s identity matters is not the same as saying it should matter.  For instance: I realise that race matters, because I live in a society where people are treated differently because of the colour of their skin.  I don’t believe this should be the case.   These are different things.  How people who experience privilege can work to challenge the systems which give them a better deal is the constant source of debate.  It is complicated by guilt, anger and denial.  But it is important to face.

How did all this start? A consideration of money. And my discovery of my own belief that money matters.

This came up in relation to the Grazia debate:  ‘is a rich husband better than a career?’; because I was rambling about how some careers pretty much require you to have financial support to survive, and that it certainly helps in some areas of the arts.  This is not the only career where this is the case, or that there aren’t jobs that pay less.   But I’ve done a lot of research into graduate jobs here (and in the museum sector) and am sometimes appalled by how much experience, qualifications and skills are needed in comparison to how much you earn at the end of the day in some cases.   A job which pays around 18K but where it is ‘desirable’ to have a PhD? Where you need two years of unpaid work experience to get a foot in the door? This is a set up which inevitably means good people are lost.   And the idea that it is fine that our cultural landscape should only be curated and shaped by custodians of privilege makes me angry.  And what’s worse is that it works to the detriment of the sector.  

It’s not that I’m Ms materialism 2011; it may not be the most important thing in the world, but I know money matters. Because.  Because I come from somewhere where I have seen the absence of having enough money to survive break families apart, break people apart, be  that physically through back breaking labour, or mentally through the limitation of dreams, options and potential.    Witnessed so often that it somehow becomes part of your unconscious.  That fear: the constant fear of being poor.  Of not being able to keep your head above water.   When you are the one who your family has made sacrifices for so that you could get out, do something better and the knowledge that you cannot fail in this.  In my opinion  *this* is what class means, this is why it doesn’t matter if you go to University, or buy fucking halloumi cheese, or manage to get a good job with sick pay. Because that fear is always there, somewhere, the feeling you are different, that you do not fit in, or belong in the middle class world which you are temporarily, sort of, ‘passing’ in.

And part of you wishes, with all your heart, that it didn’t matter…whilst simultaneously knowing how much it does.

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About Rachel

zinester/diy-til-i-die/love hate relationship with arts admin/girlpunkfeminist/geek
This entry was posted in new stuff, random thoughts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to ‘you collect yr trust fund baby, and I’ll be a whore…

  1. Thiefree says:

    Well said. I acknowledge my privilege, being a young white middle-class cissexual, but I never stop trying to undertand the role these things play in my life. I hope my university education counts for something, because the future I’ve imagined for myself depends on staying middle-class. That’s weird. It shouldn’t matter, but it does…

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