Like clockwork, at least once a week I was reminded of the “opportunities” I had in life. I was reminded not to waste them. I was reminded that not everyone got them. They were the diamonds I had because I existed in my unique juxtaposition in life. Parents spoke about it. Teachers spoke about it. Even my helper spoke about it.
“Don’t waste the opportunities you have in life.” “We worked hard so you can have opportunities.” “Be careful that you don’t lose these opportunities you are given.” Sometimes, opportunities were revealed for what they truly were, advantages.
Growing up in Jamaica, I have had what pop culture now refers to as privileges. My parents, and those of most of my childhood friends, called them advantages and opportunities. Everything we were born into, every single thing that we had, every point of access, every book and birthday party, was one of these magical things that we had to be mindful of.
Hate having to wake up for school? Tough. Get up and don’t waste the opportunity for an education. Did the security at the bank not call you by name? (Or by your parents name?) Make sure you learn his name and always address him / her by it, and try to give them a Christmas Card or gift. Did you “have to” visit your grandparents in the country with kerosene lamps? Be grateful for the running water at home, and take the sunbath.
The reality of it is this, we each have some level of privilege over someone else. However, in Jamaica, we were constantly made aware of it. Aware that we had it, that we did nothing to get it, and that we could lose it at any moment. We were taught the responsibility of having this privilege. That it is our duty to look out for those without it, and take care of them. To not allow others to trample on them and stand by silently, but to step in and use our privilege to protect them. The privilege we have is fragile, if we make a misstep, it will cost us this privilege. Not only ours, but also those around us – siblings, cousins, parents. We must preserve the good name our forefathers built.
Then, I look at our northern neighbours just discovering they have privilege. First, it shocks them that it exists at all. The initial reaction is that it’s a lie, created to give “them” an excuse to fail at life, to ‘play the victim’. Then, it sinks in that maybe, just maybe, they had breakfast more often, or chairs in their classrooms, or teachers who understood the curriculum. But then they find their exceptions to defend the original stance that it’s just an excuse for lazy people. Then they see the news and wonder why we talk about “Black Lives Matter”, and labour over the loss of our brothers, sisters, children, parents, friends, with judgement. Slowly, one by one, it dawns on them that this is real.
Privilege is not just a fashionable word, it’s real.
Now, as shock settles into knowledge, it’s time for everyone to learn how their individual privilege can be used to help someone else without it. Let’s start by acknowledging the ones we have.