I've been reflecting on privilege over the last week since it came up during the last session of Be. Leadership. The questions I've been grappling with are: Should you use your privilege for your own benefit? And how do you use your privilege for the benefit of others and the betterment of society, even humanity. Having just watched I, Daniel Blake, I have some answers.
The movie is a testament to privilege — particularly its contextual complexity. It's raw and British-made — the story of a middle aged carpenter who is denied state welfare after having a heart attack and who supports a single mother in a similar scenario. Notably, it critiques a cruel, unfeeling bureaucracy that is designed to create enough resistance to make people give up fighting and go without welfare assistance. It also presents an older man, Daniel Blake, who is unwell and a younger solo mum, Katie, both of whom have different forms of privilege, as well as a lack of it.
Following on from my last post about rebranding, I’ve also changed how I describe myself or, more accurately, my experience. I talk about "my paradoxical experience as a queer, caucasian, cisgender man with unique function (disability).”
Even doing this is paradoxical, given I argued the point in 2012 at TEDxAuckland that we need to decay labels to reveal diversity. But I’m doing it to explain a phenomenon of power, privilege and paradox, rather than to label myself.
Power and privilege have long been part of the politics of diversity and discrimination. Recently I heard another diversity expert, Leslie Hawthorne, encourage those with privilege to raise awareness of it by, for example, not using the word “lame" to describe something that is bad or stupid, because you are implying that people who can’t walk are bad or stupid*.
Last week I was at a forum at which one of the speakers was a successful business person. I can't reveal who it was, as the forum was confidential. This person had a confident manner to the point of arrogance, listing their virtues in no uncertain terms, bragging that they'd made a $500,000 profit from a $1m turnover in their first year of trading.
It wasn't pretty.
They then went on to say that they had begun having a voice in the social policy sphere. They believed that more common sense was needed, that women should think more like men and that entitlement was bringing the country — and society — to its knees.