In a year that has been many, many things, one of the more productive things we’ve done this year, is that it’s been the year that many of us have examined our racial privilege (about fucking time).
For many of us, that privilege has been so a part of the scenery, that with the collective soul searching that 2020 has brought us, it’s the first time we’ve truly even seen it there.
I’ve considered myself fairly eye-opened to things going on around me, but I’m somewhat ashamed to say that for the first time, in this shit show of a year called 2020, I realized that the ease in which I deal with the world has less to do with my hilarious jokes and more to do with the fact that I’m a decent looking white girl.
I cringe at my ignorance as I type out that sentence, but it is the truth.
One of the most damaging facets of privilege, is the non-acknowledged head start that privilege gives. Because the fact is that the person with the privilege, doesn’t have to spend the time to catch up, just to get to the starting line.
And then once we’re at that line, privilege doesn’t stop there. Privilege also gives us every opportunity to get even farther ahead.
Which has made me think even more about the not acknowledged-enough concept of privilege and how dangerous it is.
Acknowledging privilege goes directly against what society force feeds us – the concept we inherently infiltrated into our minds everywhere, that success is correlated with how hard we work.
And I say that as one of the most idealistic people out there.
But it’s a sneaky little thing that kind of gaslighting (if you don’t know the word, look it up – gamechanger!) Because by putting the onus on us as individuals within society, that “success” or “failure” is something connected with the efforts of the individual, it takes the focus away from the structures that exist that serve to hold us back. And takes us even further away from how we change the conversations around “success” and “accomplishment” if we don’t acknowledge the massive role privilege plays.
And to some degree those of us with privilege buy into it, because the human ego and the inherent need it has for validation, loves being told that it’s better, and that it’s accomplishments make it special.
Those with privilege also hang on to it, because society also brainwashes us with a scarcity mindset, and to share that privilege would mean that it would somehow get taken away from us. And who, in a really important race, would want to give their head start away? To give up their chance to “win”.
And so the privileged hang on.
If my twenties was a place where I dealt with pain I had faced as a kid by being strong and accomplishing things, my thirties was where the whole facade I had built, crashed into dust.
With high level soccer and academics in my rearview, my thirties was a place where my past traumas didn’t have distractions anymore.
I had to also acknowledge that accomplishing things didn’t take away my pain. Furthermore, the deep sadness and lack of worth that I felt on the inside was reflected in the bad choices that I made on the outside, that made me feel like I was in a washing machine spin cycle that I couldn’t find my way out of.
The visual I often felt looking at my thirties was one of being on a barge going out to sea in the middle of nowhere, and not having any idea how to stop it. My good friends would ask me about the questionable choices I was making or why I was letting people I had let close to me professionally and personally take advantage of me, or say horrible things to me.
They were shaking a mirror in front of me that showed the worth they saw, and couldn’t understand why I was in the situations I had gotten myself in, and why I wouldn’t just leave.
But the one thing that being in a very dark place allowed me to realize, is that trying to find the exit door in the middle of a fire is very different to what you see when there is no stress and a clear view. And the self-criticism and shame I felt for where I had ended up despite my privilege, when I saw what seemed like everyone around me on the path to security and stability and family and accomplishment almost suffocated me.
Last year I wrote a viral blog that took my life for a wild ride, on the topic of abuse that I and my teammates had suffered. Soccer was my refuge from pain I had as a kid, and to have the love I had for my safe refuge used as a weapon against me by a piece of shit coach and people and a system that chose to protect him and not us, caused further damage that would take time to unravel later.
While people congratulated me on my bravery for posting the blog, what I didn’t tell anyone, was that I wrote that blog from a place of rock bottom. The fact is when you’ve got nothing to lose, it makes the metaphorical jumping off of cliffs, a lot less scary.
I also didn’t tell people that when I posted the blog I was also hiding out at my best friend’s parents house. And I say hiding out because I had high school friends in the blocks all around me, most of whom I never told where I was staying, because of the shame I felt. While they were raising their families inside their million dollar homes, I was wondering how I’d fucked things up so bad that I was broke, single and in such a bad place mentally that I was surviving off the pure kindness and generosity from my best friend and her incredible parents who were giving me a place to stay while I tried to get back on my feet.
Through the last few years, I’d walk past people down on the Downtown East Side (anyone not from Vancouver, google Main and Hastings) and I didn’t see strung out druggies. I saw people who had experienced pain and trauma, and with a few wrong turns had ended up in a place where the longer they walked the harder it was for them to come back.
I saw me, with a few less safety nets.
I felt pain that they didn’t have a best friend and a best friends parents that would in their most vulnerable moment choose to help them and not to judge and I felt my privilege in the most humbling of ways.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, posting the blog was the start of my healing and getting my life on a peaceful path that every human deserves.
I knew there was pain there, but as I had, with a lifetime of expertise, expertly buried it and carried on, once the scar was ripped off, and the wound was allowed to ooze what had been buried, something inside me began to heal. And if just acknowledging the pain allowed me to see it, having a bunch of strangers I didn’t know rally around me and others, was like having a whole army of people carefully putting me back together whole.
I’ve had the privilege of a lot of therapy in the last year that has allowed me to see patterns of my own behaviour that have not served me and that I have chosen to change. I’ve read and learned from people such as Dr Nicole LePera (the holistic psychologist is her handle and she’s incredible) and started from a foundational level of what did I need to be seen, safe and feel loved as a child. It’s mind blowing, if you examine yourself from that level and the things you do as an adult that reinforce patterns of things you did to feel safe, seen and loved as a child. I have looked at painful situations and I’ve allowed myself to feel the emotions around them and I can slowly feel the well of things that I’ve buried starting to dry up.
But in this gratitude of healing, I realize that all of this is privilege.
The opportunity to start in a good emotional space in life, avoidant of trauma, is privilege.
The ability to unravel emotional trauma and get to a good, peaceful space is privilege.
Being in a good emotional space, that allows for financial accumulation, choice of how to spend time, peace of mind and enjoyment of what life has to offer is privilege.
We need to acknowledge how messed up and damaging the narratives in our society are, to be able to change them.
Climbing out of rock bottom is a privilege.
This is a large dose of gratitude and a nod to the privilege that allowed me to feel better and the hope that others are given the chance to be as fortunate. If you could see where I was and where I am now, to anyone struggling out there, I pray at the very least it gives some hope to hang on, that things will get better even if just by focusing on making each day a little bit better than the last.
I could write a book on what’s helped me get there, but the one place it started for me is by just being kinder to myself. Many of us were raised on criticism, and I hear it so often in how people talk about themselves. Self-kindness on it’s own is a game changer. We are all doing the best we can with what we know.
It is my hope that one day we live in a society where mental health is not a privilege, but a right, and that success is defined by those with privilege doing everything they can to share it.