Checking my Privilege and Changing Myself

We can do this the easy way, or the hard way…”

A huge part of the Christian life is self-reflection. It is baked into the very core of the beliefs I hold; by choosing to be baptised I acknowledged that I am a person in need of changing and that would require a lifetime of examining myself and my actions. Christianity is realising you are broken, but by Gods grace we can be better.

As such, I try to keep myself in check, particularly by trying to be empathetic to someone else’s situation. This is tricky and I often fail at doing so (more on that later), but in the whole I want to try and improve myself. Understanding how others see the world and themselves is a very useful tool to have when dealing with the world and other people. And that’s also understanding how they see me also. When someone looks at me, what do they see?

Privilege

Privilege has become a buzzword in the 21st century, particularly in the past decade. When people talk about privilege, they talk about the advantages you have as a person that help you get further in life. Basically, I got the privilege jackpot; I am a white cis-het middle class male, born into one of the most prosperous nations on Earth. I think a misunderstanding of the conversation around privilege is that privilege automatically makes life easier, and people who do not wish to reflect on their privilege will often point to the existence of poor white people relative to rich black people to “prove” that privilege does not exist. But this is a severe misrepresentation of what privilege means. Having certain privileges does not mean your life would be easy, it just means someone in your position but didn’t look like you would have an even harder time being successful.

I am very much aware that I have been blessed with amazing privilege. It is a shame the things listed in the previous paragraph do give me advantages over others, because the world is a messed up place. I therefore try and be conscious in my interactions that I do have certain power within conversations over others and therefore try and mitigate that. I read the tweets and articles written by women, PoCs and LGBTQ people to try and broaden my perspective and make it less likely that I will make a faux pas.

Buuuuuut that doesn’t always happen.

Learning a Lesson

Life has a habit of trying to teach you things.

Depending on who you are, life can give you easy or hard lessons. I try and maximise my opportunity for receiving easy lessons as opposed to hard ones. for example, I like to read books to learn how others coped with things that might be useful to me. But sometimes life serves you up a lesson that swings in like a fist wrapped in barbed wire. My breakup last year was one of those times; I learned that my unresolved trauma had damaged my relationship and that some of my other more minor flaws (but flaws nevertheless) also contributed to its end. I have thus far done a poor job in addressing these, but I know that I need to work through some stuff in order to move on. But today was another time where I was punched by a life lesson.

Although I try to be aware of my privileges that I listed above, I had a blind spot towards quite an important one; my physical ability. It speaks to a lot about society and the circles that I travel in that I don’t actually know anyone closely who is themselves disabled. I am only dimly aware of issues surrounding disability.

So I was waiting by my staff lift today when a student walked up to the lift, put her card against the reader (I didn’t see if it went green) and tried to get in the lift with me. I told her it was a lift for staff members only, and she very quickly said she was disabled. Now, disabled students have card access to the staff lift, but often students without disability will try and blag their way into using it.

This is where I made my big mistake. I looked at the girl. She was not in a chair or using a stick, so I wrongfully assumed she wasn’t disabled. I asked her “are you disabled?” And she replied back “I am legally registered blind, and the fact you asked me that is bang out of order.” I mumbled an apology and she got out on the next floor. Her friend complained at the desk later on when I was there and I admitted my mistake and that I was sorry I ever made it. I also said if the girl wanted to hear it directly from me I would be willing to give her one.

So life really taught me a lesson today. I shouldn’t assume that people without visible signs are not disabled. I need to remember that I have more privileges than I am aware of and I need to fundamentally shift my perspective by bringing in the views of disabled activists to better understand how I can be better. For a while I have been reading the tweets of Sharon Dingle, a Christian author who is herself disabled and who has also adopted children who are disabled. Her tweets are funny, heartbreaking and informative, but I realise I need to pay more attention to her tweets about her experience with disability.

My life is full of mistakes. I stumble down this road, constantly tripping over my own wrongdoing and bad decisions. I know that when the Kingdom comes, I will be changed for the better permanently, but here and now, with Jesus’ help, I need to learn to be better, for the sake of myself and those who I meet along the way

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