Over the years I’ve had many conversations with friends from all over the world about white privilege (and yes, seen it all too clearly in my own life). In the past two years I’ve also seen evidence of what I would call ‘British privilege’ (it is not exclusively British of course – and, indeed, spread unevenly through the British Isles – so perhaps it would be more accurate to call them Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, to quote Lewis Carroll and Angus Wilson). Here are some examples, with no further comment, just to get things off my chest. For more excellent examples of these kind of liberal blindspots and microaggressions, see Americanah.
What is your evidence for saying that the general discourse against foreigners has worsened in the last two years? Do you really think that people are less tolerant now? I haven’t seen any examples of that. If you don’t like it here, why don’t you go somewhere else?
Do you really get that question ‘Where are you from?’ I have to say, I’ve never had anyone ask me that. (From a blonde woman with an English-sounding name). You must be exaggerating. Anyway, there is nothing inherently bad about that question. It just shows genuine curiosity, people want to find out more about you.
The UK has always been interracial and tolerant of all the different ethnic groups throughout our history. The only reason we have now started turning against our Commonwealth brothers is because we are trying to make up for the immigration we cannot control, the one from the EU. We have to allow all those people in, so instead we are putting all sorts of barriers up for those whose immigration we can control, like the poor people from the Commonwealth. That was never the case before.
There are so many empty houses in Spain – why do you think no one from the UK is going there under this freedom of movement? I’ll tell you why: because the UK is far too generous with its benefits, so it’s more likely that the Spanish are coming over here.
I am vegetarian, I am careful about recycling, I no longer use plastic straws, I care deeply about dolphins and sharks and other animals. I travel all over the world and love finding out about other countries and cultures. I am very much against racism. But… We’ve had to accept far too many people from the EU who are not qualified and our infrastructure simply cannot put up with it. I mean, just look at what has happened in Germany with all those refugees they have let in.
Where are you from? OK, but I meant, with a name like that, where are you originally from? Or where are your parents from? That is so interesting! Do you ever go back there? Do you still have family there?
What would we do without immigrants? I mean, our whole NHS would collapse without all the doctors and nurses from abroad. They certainly need to continue to allow valuable people like that into the country. It’s just those others doing unskilled labour and driving down wages who are a problem.
I don’t understand why people want to come to this miserable, rainy island with all the potholes and crowded trains and all that. I would love to live in the sun and on the beaches of many of those countries.
On a lighter note, here is the answer when I ask people in the UK what they think those coming to visit or stay in their country find most difficult to adapt to:
The weather? Queuing? What do you mean – unmixed taps? I’ve never had a problem with that!
15 thoughts on “Privilege Looks Like This…”
My god, those attitudes look horribly scary when set out like that. What the hell is the matter with us that we haven’t yet learned compassion and tolerance and equality. I’m still recovering from the recent Starbucks incident….
I had a bit of a cognitive dissonance at the weekend after a conversation which included a few of the above. And these are absolutely lovely people that I would call friends.
Those are such excellent examples of the white privilege you’re talking about, Marina Sofia. And so many people have no idea of the implications of what they say. In fact, they’d be very upset to be called on it, because that would go against their self-perceptions as liberals and open- minded people.
It’s so much easier to be liberal and open-minded in theory than in practice, isn’t it?
It’s very hard to see your own privelege. I’m white, UK origin, middle class, well educated. I have to remind myself of that a lot when I’m struggling to understand the responses and behaviour of others. I’m always amused when I see things that encourage response from minorities, including women, as if half the population constitutes a minority.
Yes, it’s very funny when women are considered a minority (aren’t they slightly over half of the world population?) And I have been very fortunate and privileged myself, so I’m sure I have plenty of blind spots of my own.
I find this one particularly amusing: “I don’t understand why people want to come to this miserable, rainy island with all the potholes and crowded trains and all that. I would love to live in the sun and on the beaches of many of those countries.”.
It’s a well-known fact that people who live in sunny countries with beaches don’t work. We spend our days in the sun doing nothing, and money grows on trees!
The “where are you from” question is also asked by some in Portugal, particularly to black people. It usually gets a reply of “From Portugal” which is followed by “I meant in Africa. Angola, Mozambique…?”. It’s like people don’t get that there are many Portuguese who are not white and that were born and have always lived here…
Most of the times I don’t even think it’s meant to be offensive. It’s just complicated to understand our own privilege. However, we are lucky that in Portugal no political party represented in Parliament has used immigration as a scapegoat or branded it as something negative.
Yes, you are right that most of the time it is not intended to be offensive – and before all of this becoming ‘normalised’ by government and the media, I wasn’t so super-sensitive to it. I would just shrug things off.
You’re right – Americanah does a brilliant job of portraying these attitudes. I loved the character Ufemelo baby sits for who talks about how she loves buying ethnic art….just to show how liberal she is
Americanah is a very good book. Everyone should read it.
The Starbucks “incident” has brought out so much about racism in the U.S. A well-known TV host who is a woman of color, and an attorney, said she experiences this all of the time. She said it’s “racial discrimination 2018.”
But much more racism is coming out into the open.
Someone wrote an Op-ed in the NY Times telling of the racist letters and twitters he’s gotten in response to a piece that he wrote on racism three years ago. I have to say that it was so horrific that I had to stop reading it. And I wonder how people of color can put up with this all of the time.
And then the police, too. The Times ran an article saying that Black people make up 3% of the police district in the Rittenhouse Square area where this Starbucks is located, but experience 2/3 of police stops.
And a man put up a video of himself (as he was buying clothes) being told in a store that the store couldn’t help him because they didn’t have enough staff to follow him!!!
Something has to happen to break through this terrible situation.
And I’m freaked out because a neighbor voted for Trump and a new neighbor moved in upstairs and she’s for “Trump all the way.” I started wearing my pro-immigration buttons again. And I’m looking for “No war” buttons from my old stashes.
Oh, no, poor you! I have found I need to be careful with my opinions in my neighbourhood – after all, this is Theresa May’s constituency and many people quite like her and think like her! (It is a wealthy neighbourhood too, although there are terrible pockets of deprivation which people choose not to see.)
I refuse to hide my opinions. I have some signs on my apartment door especially in solidarity with the African-American victims of the Charleston shooting and the victims of the Orlando shooting at a LGBTQ club. And also in solidarity with Standing Rock. That’s my billboard. I will wear buttons that are nicely designed and easy to understand, but not provocative.
I agree. After living in a dictatorship and having to self-censor my opinions (or have them censored for me), when I took part in the 1989 revolution, I swore to myself that I would never again be afraid to voice my opinions. But it’s not always easy or pleasant to do so!
Those are some thoughtless comments . . .
I also think I need to read Americanah.