For Readers, Writing Advice

What do you mean, “I’m Privileged?”

UPDATED August 2021 because I’m still learning and still trying to do better.

A few years ago, my daughter told me I wasn’t a modern feminist because I didn’t include everyone in my version of feminism.  I thought she was wrong. I was insulted.  I said something along the lines of, ‘What are you saying? I’m nice, I don’t care what people’s colour or sexuality  is, I just see people as people.’

‘If you  don’t see  colour or sexuality,” she said, “you also don’t see how much harder life is for some people and you’re ignoring all your  advantages  and that isn’t fair.’

When I stopped sulking, I started to think. And then I started to ask questions.  I realised that  if I wanted to be a fully rounded, inclusive, and emotionally literate human, a human I had a duty to be as a children’s author, I had a lot to learn.

I’m not alone in finding this stuff difficult.  A lot of  people find the concept of inclusivity, intersectionality and affirmative action hard to get their heads round.  I’m a white, cis woman who, from a difficult-ish start, has done okay for herself. I used to think,

‘Yay! Go me, look what I did!’

But my daughter was right. I didn’t recognise  how much help I’d had on the way. I didn’t  think about it, because I didn’t  even see it.

How could I, a working class woman who has been sexually assaulted on a number of  occasions,  been the subject of sexism in a male dominated work environment over and over again, whose mum died before my third birthday and who went to a terrible school whose highest aspiration for it’s girl students was to be aa secretary, how could I  possibly be considered privileged?

Because I’m white, I’m cis-gendered and able bodied, I went to university when it was still free, I’m smart and while I consider myself pan-sexual, I’m in a stable heterosexual marriage.

Let me explain:

Imagine life is  a huge bumper car rally.

The day you are born, the race marshal assigns you a vehicle from an arbitrary list of criteria.

If you are  white, rich, male, non-disabled, straight and cis gendered you are given a fully armed tank. You get spinning tyre cutters  and smoke bombs to confuse other racers – you name it, you have it. We are talking top of the range bumper car tankness. Pretty much everyone  in the race is going to get out of your way  without you even trying. You probably won’t even have to deploy any of your fancy on board arms , because others know they are there, and that’s enough to keep them at bay. Most people will be nice to you, because maybe they’ll get a ride in the tank and in this rally, the tank is the safest place to be and let’s face it,  the most likely to finish the course.

Maybe you don’t quite fit all those criteria – you’re still white and rich but you’re female – you still get to drive a tank but it’s not fully armed and it’s not quite so big. Most people are going to get out of your way – everyone in fact, except Big Tank Guy.   Your tank is  still a pretty good place to be. and sometimes, Big Tank Guy lets you be in his tank.

Not everyone gets a tank.  Every time the race marshal sees something that’s a little bit different about you – maybe you’re poor  or a person of colour, maybe you have a disability , hidden or otherwise, maybe you’re gay or trans or non-cis gendered.  Maybe you’re one or all of those things – well, that’s bad news for you because  everyone of those effects which vehicle you get given.

If you’re lucky, you still get a pretty good car.  You have a chance in the race but maybe you have to work really hard to keep the car because track rules say you have to have constant driving tests along the way to make sure you’re conforming to the system. You’re going to be super careful, especially around the tank owners, because you could easy lose your car under their big crushy tank tracks.

Maybe you get a small, shonky car that hasn’t got great airbags to protect you in a crash. Track rules mean you have even more tests in case your car breaks down and gets in the way of  the really nice cars, or worse, the tanks. It’s a bit of struggle and you have to stay out of the way of those tanks because if you screw up, you could lose your car and whatever health you have .

Maybe you only get a bike.  You have very little  chance of winning the rally and you are very vulnerable amongst all the cars and tanks. If you’re super gifted at navigating around obstacles, you might just be able to stay alive around the course. You might just get to finish the rally.

A lot of people don’t get any kind of vehicle at all. They’re walking.  Maybe with a dodgy hip  and bad feet. Some people, through incredible talent and determination , will still find a way to do okay in the race – aren’t they incredible? But for most of the Walkers, the best they can hope for is to stay alive. It’s entirely possible they’ll get crushed because most people don’t even see them. Tank Guy definitely doesn’t see them.  He’s in a tank, visibility is poor.

To be fair to Tank Guy, he’s been in a tank all his life. Everyone gets out of the way for him. He thinks that’s how life is for everyone because he’s never known any different.

That tank is his privilege

The tank gifts him a clear road. He doesn’t have to think about  who’s in the way. He  rides right over them with barely a bump.  He can’t even see how easy the tank makes the race for him because, like I say,  his life has never been any different. He might not mean any harm,  he just doesn’t  see the damage his tank might cause. 

We’re not done yet.

Tank Guy has a family.  In fact,  Tank Guy has a whole load of ancestors  and guess what? They laid the original tracks for the rally. They  even made up all the rules about how the race should be run. His family are seriously important to the running of the rally. Tank Guy  knows that in every fibre of his being. To his core he knows he deserves that tank, he was born to it.  He never questions it. The track was even designed for his tank which surely proves it.  It’s wide and straight with a few rolling bumps for fun and it’s covered in gravel which is absolutely perfect for a tank.

Gravel is not so great for a car. Cars easily skid on gravel. It gives them a poor start and throws up tiny stones that can chip the windscreen and mark the paint and that can lead to crazed glass and rust spots.

Gravel is pretty terrible if you’re on  a bike. It throws the wheels sideways and if you come off the bike, it skins you.  It’s also pretty dangerous when there are no cycle ways – you could easily get thrown under a tank.

But gravel is the absolute  worst for Walkers. It cuts their feet and slows them down. They might even get an infection and of course, with no dedicated paths, they’re at risk all the time of being run down, especially if they fall on the track when it just hurts too much to walk.

Imagine how different it would be if Walkers designed the track?  They can see the tank so they’d allow a central gravel road. They can see the cars, and the bikes, so they can allow for a smooth separate run for them.  And they know the safest place for pedestrians is a footpath with an even pathed surface that won’t trip them up.

That doesn’t stop the tank.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs don’t mean  taking  away the privileged drives vehicle and giving it to someone who is walking.  It means redesigning  the track. It means that kids who aren’t handed a tank on the day they are born, can see that the track has space for them, and opportunity.

Kind of feels like cheating in the race if you don’t.  I know there’ll be plenty of people happy to cheat to win but I also know a lot of people won’t. That they’ll get it and want to step up and change the track.

I made a list of books if you want to learn more, click here.

Grateful thanks to my patient daughter, Emily Evans,  for help with this, and my even more patient friend, Patrice Lawrence, who always makes time for my stupid questions. Any errors are entirely my own.

Kathryn Evans is the UKYA author of More of Me, Nominated for the 2016 Carnegie medal and winner of the EIBF First Book Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite. Her latest book, Beauty Sleep, has been described as a ‘fast paced gripping thriller’ – Sunday Express and a ‘Black Mirror take on Sleeping Beauty ‘ – The Book Seller.

4 thoughts on “What do you mean, “I’m Privileged?””

  1. This is a great analogy Kathy. If I may stretch the metaphor a bit further, I was thinking about do-overs. If the white man crashes his tank, he generally gets given a brand new one, with the instruction to drive more carefully next time. But society is much less tolerant of mistakes made by people with lower privilege, even though the need to fail and subsequently learn from that is a vital part of what makes us human. Look at all the women who ended up in “movie jail” during the noughties because they directed one movie that was a flop, while similar male directors enjoyed uninterrupted careers:

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