White privilege applies to people with disabilities too!

We need to have an honest discussion about white privilege, a concept that is still denied by many in our country, and often misunderstood

With a new year comes the prospect of ringing in some changes and transforming oneself from an existing state of being into one that is deemed better. Previously I touched on transformation and rugby, but I want to share my thoughts on the following:

When Springbok captain Siya Kolisi was interviewed by a Japanese media company some time ago, he made a few controversial statements about transformation. These angered many people and inspired conversation. Perhaps it was not what he said but the way he said it that caused the most confusion. 

It got me thinking of the differences in the circumstances of our people. Two equally influential people in my life said an equally controversial thing about privilege. There are various ways in which some individuals happen to be more privileged than others. 

Mostly, in our beloved country, privilege relates to one’s race. Hence the term white privilege. 

Wikipedia describes white privilege as “the societal privilege that benefits people, whom society identifies as white, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances”. There is still a large portion of our population that is either incapable of identifying it or refuses to do so.

One of the people I look up to, Raymond Ackerman, wrote in his book, A Sprat to Catch a Mackerel, that he is acknowledging the inequity of so many South Africans living below the breadline, paying high prices for everyday necessities and being entirely powerless, while he, with his privileged upbringing and status, could fight for their rights to cheaper prices. 

This is very profound, as he recognises his advantages in life and chooses to use his influence and power to assist other economically vulnerable people. 

The other person (I choose not to mention his name), after recently hearing the story of my spinal cord injury, described the difference between his story and mine as white privilege. 

I need to commend him for having the courage to do this, as it puts many things in perspective for me. White privilege is not the assumption that everything a white person has accomplished is unearned. 

Rather, it is a built-in advantage that is separate from one’s level of income or possessions. There is enough evidence of this all around us. But should we really consider these types of differences among people with disabilities? I feel we certainly must. We need to be vocal about it and bring it into our daily conversations and look at ways of rectifying it. 

We should not vilify individuals or be uncivilised about it, but recognise it for what it is and look at innovative ways of addressing it. Use the position of privilege to empower the ones that were ignored. 

I do not encourage invasion and appropriation without compensation, but the sharing of experience and expertise. Transfer of skills and resources should be an everyday occurrence. Those who speak out, like Kolisi, should be coached and guided for the message to be conveyed in a positive manner. 

We have much to work towards together. However, having this type of conversation about privilege and transformation might not be enough to fix the situation. We also need to work together, build partnerships and make tangible changes in our communities. Will you change your ways in 2019? 

The online education resource ThoughtCo.Com defines white privilege as the collection of benefits that white people receive in a racially structured society in which they are at the top of the racial hierarchy. Made famous by scholar and activist Peggy McIntosh in 1988, the concept has at its heart “the assertion that, in a racist society, white skin confers on those who live in it an extensive array of unearned privileges not available to people of colour”, writes ThoughtCo contributor Dr Nicki Lisa Cole.

She says white privilege tends to be invisible to and unacknowledged by those who have it. “While some might view some of these privileges as trivial, it’s important to recognise that no form of privilege comes without its counterpart: oppression.”

 


Raven Benny is the chairperson of QASA. He has been a C5, 6 and 7 quadriplegic since 2000. He is married with five children, is mad about wheelchair rugby and represented South Africa in 2003 and 2005. He also plays for Maties. email: rbenny@pgwc.gov.za

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