Hong Kong skyline with silhouette.

Privilege, self-censorship and moving towards acknowledging painful truths.

Roxy Manning, Psychologist, CNVC trainer and chair of this fishbowl.
Roxy Manning, Psychologist, CNVC trainer and chair of this fishbowl.

I listened to the fourth privilege ‘Fishbowl’ discussion on the experience of privilege or lack of privilege from a perspective of a person of colour. As a white person to listen into a conversation by and about people with colour this was a new experience.  The conversations I have and listen to are by white people, include white people or, if they are in the media, are mediated by white people, conversations happen with the idea that white people are listening, judging, involved and this has an affect as people self-censor. The ‘fish’ were asked what by Roxy Manning for advice they would give about living to a world in which we are effected by societal imbalances, many of which we have not chosen, and to do so first imagining they were speaking to audience with colour and then to a mixed audience. And they responded that they would say very different things. I am interested firstly in this, I suppose it isn’t surprising, humans are social beings and it isn’t that we are ‘acting’ or insincere, we become different people where we are in different contexts. This is how we are, but it made me think how when I have interacted with a person of colour, I have only been exposed to the side of them that they choose to show to me as a white person. And of course this is true of every interaction I have ever had; with a man only speaking to me as he speaks to a women, a lesbian speaking to me as she speaks to a straight women, a person with a disability, a passport which is not the same as mine, an education level different to mine, a perceived socio-economic difference, the list goes on.  And of course we intersect, each of us is in a different places in the web of intersectionality, so when we interact with a person we are interacting with not just their day, their preoccupations and personal history but the weight of post-colonial, patriarchal history. And this alone is an insight I’ve never really stayed with for long.

In answer to the question, very broadly, the people with colour said that if they were speaking to an audience of colour they would emphasis the person work they have done on grief and mourning, working to express the rage and hurt of a childhood and family life spent in this position. For all the times they experienced a lack of privilege but don’t know how to put it into words, for the times they might have enjoyed experiencing privilege over another. To be with it and express it first. If the same people were asked to comment on privilege to a mixed audience they said the embryos would be on trying to keep the conversation open without the privileged closing down in personal shame, guilt, anger at an implied accusation that they are to blame for privilege and responsible to ‘give something up’ to address it. Not only were the people of colour excluded from privilege but the way to open a discussion with the privileged began with a recognition of white peoples’ anger and shame and all of the work they would need to do if they thought they were being held responsible. To get around this the group thought keeping the embassies on ‘structural biases’ in society would help. After all no-one person living today chose the colonial system or patriarchy to meet their needs.  It is a system we have inherited, but is such a part of our institutions and society it has become invisible to the privileged. Even in the NVC community there is a lack of universal acceptance that people of colour have a different experience of life than one of white people, that ‘white privilege’ exists. So, this is where we can begin our work together –  in the present moment, recognising what is. Just holding up the statistics and asking ourselves, is that because there is an inherent difference between the nature of coloured and white people, male and female, straight and gay, people with no obvious impairments and those with OR are the statistics a result of biases we didn’t chose or create individually but if we are not very aware of we perpetuate by being part of a larger system.

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