• Perspective Mag

Understanding Identity, Unlearning Privilege

The South Asian community has had a varying response to the recent protests in support of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. There’s been a lot of conversation around racist ideas and habits that have been prevalent within conversations and beliefs in the region. What has also stood out has been the recognition of these traditions, beliefs and common phrases as racist - which has mainly been brought up by younger generations. This trend signifies an awareness within younger South Asians in that they are willing to call out problematic parts of their histories and culture and moreover, willing to unlearn it in the hopes of being better.  

While recognition of existing problems doesn’t mean the problem immediately goes away, it does point us in the direction of a very important aspect of our journeys towards that change - unlearning our privilege. Unlearning the privilege we have subconsciously accepted allows us to open our minds to the experiences and lives of other people. Systematic oppression and abuse does not affect everyone, and not being affected by it is indeed a privilege of its own. 

The Washington Examiner posted an article about something called “The Privilege Pyramid” a few months ago. Here’s how the article describes social justice.

“Social justice is centered on who can claim the highest form of oppression, grievance, and victimhood at any given moment. It’s an endless competition in claiming to have been the most exploited, most subordinated, and most abused.”

To write that someone would want to be oppressed simply to get some attention, or to be part of a competition shows just how removed the writer has to be from experiences of being oppressed, discriminated against or subordinated. Infact the whole articles reeks of a mindset that refused to share power and sees social justice as a replacement of power structures rather than ending them. Such people are so used to being

We see similar reactions here as well. The rise of the #MeToo movement in South Asia led to countless voices against those who spoke up about their abuse and harassment. Accusations of victims speaking out for fame or money were rampant. But we have to understand that when someone speaks out about an experience that we have not been through, we cannot even begin to understand what they feel like. It is part of us unlearning our privilege that we take steps to empathise with victims rather than assuming their thoughts or feelings on the matter. 

Its not uncommon to see South Asians championing for minority rights in countries and yet complaining when minorities get rights within their own countries. Understanding why they do so isn’t hard. They’re simply used to the ease and privilege they receive as a majority and minority rights threaten to take some of those away in their eyes. 

This fear of losing the upper hand we may be used to can create barriers in our own minds even when we try to advocate for the rights of others. Which is why the first step in unlearning privilege is listening. That means actively listening in an attempt to understand what a person or community is trying to say, not just hearing. When we listen to understand, we begin to see experiences and lives beyond our own. We begin to see the possibility that uplifting others will not take away our own rights. What it will, and should take away is the undue power that we may have due to unchecked privilege. And if our identities are formed based on that power over others then we really need to rethink the way we see ourselves and others around us. Its time we start seeing ourselves as small pieces of a very big picture. 

Photo Credits - @anytimecreative

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