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Saturday, 1 March 2014

Some thoughts on privilege.

08:14 Posted by Afro Latina , , , No comments

I vividly remember the apprehension in my mom's voice when she learned that we were about to migrate from India to the United States. Are you sure that's what you want? Are you sure it's a safe place to be moving to? I hear it's a racist nation, I don't want you guys to suffer with racism over there. 

Over there. I think the whole rationale behind that expression was clear: she knew that my husband and I suffered with prejudice in our own countries. She knew that but, for some reason I could not grasp at that time, she was afraid that being prejudiced against in a different setting was going to be extremely harder than it is for people who suffer with daily micro aggressions in their own native places. 

Well, the answer I would give her today, after being 'abroad-abroad' for over 2 years is: it feels different to be discriminated in a foreign setting, although the things we hear are about the same we've been accustomed to in our respective birthplaces. It's not that it hurts more, either. All in all I think it hurts the same, even though it feels different and I'm not sure how 'different' could be defined here. 

I will try to unfold it like this: there have been instances when it felt awkward to be an alien. There have been instances when it felt extremely awkward to be both alien and looked down for some reason. And that, I would later learn, was not something that would happen to me only in the United States, for then we moved to Europe (Ireland) and the sort of responses I get here are quite similar in some aspects. 


Then, things happen that get you thinking about the whole notions and ideas of privilege that we seem to be widely discussing about in non-conventional circles such as feminist and lgbt* gatherings. So there was this seminar I attended this morning. It was an event on gender, and the facilitator basically opened her session by giving us a list of common 'privileges' to which we were supposed to engage and relate to in some way or another. 

Well. The list had about 10 privileges and I could recognize myself in 3 of them. Moving forward, she asked the class to give some feedback on how many privileges they had. My colleague L. stated that she had all the privileges, and the facilitator dismissed her on the grounds that 'obviously' as a woman she could not have them all. I found that aggressive. 

Then, someone raised her voice and stated that she would have had almost 100% of her privileges intact hadn't it been for the fact that she's dating a Brazilian. My friends looked at me because well, I happen to be Brazilian. The girl who said that probably had no idea a Brazilian would be sitting at that very place, having that exact conversation, and reflecting upon the same privileges that she would have had if it weren't for that 'detail'. 

It's funny how simple things like that never crossed my mind: I knew the level of prejudice people could have against me was huge. But I never knew it could actually mean someone losing her privileges. Of course, I thought. That's what this is. I know loads of Brazilians who actually married europeans and feel privileged for having done so. I mean, for most of them it's a very positive thing, one that gives them pride. Some may be neutral, but from what I see and hear, it's like they received an award or something. 

And I never quite got that. I mean, from most of the cases I know, the person's livelihood improved considerably after moving to Europe. Some take it as if they won the lottery. Actually, I even heard that once. 'I won the lottery' were the words a Brazilian lady used to express her gratitude for having married a Swiss man. Being in that room today and hearing the 'other side' of the conversation was a very awkward, yet interesting, experience. 

It was awkward because, even though I knew about the so-called 'Western privileges', it was strange to see people acknowledging that so clearly and (taking the specific example of that lady into account) imprinting stigma to a whole nationality. That's a microcosmos of what goes on out there, anyway. I just think that her very loss of privilege is working in tandem with the Brazilian feeling privileged somehow, and this just denounces how perverse the whole system is. 

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