On Privilege and Black Lives Matter
As a third culture WOC, I grew up thinking diversity was the default
I’ve been battling with sharing something on the echo chamber of social media for a long time. I’ve been thinking about my privilege for even longer, the opportunities I’ve had that I could just as easily not have had if I had been born differently. But I want to share this with you, not for any other reason but to add my voice to the deafening crowd to say: Black lives matter. We are all different and that shouldn’t separate us or give us a right to treat each other differently. Our differences are what make us beautiful.
If you’re thinking ‘Well, that sounds privileged’, it absolutely was. I grew up thinking diversity was the default. As a child of diplomats, I went to school in a multicultural environment, seeing people just as people in all colours, shapes and sizes, and learning their stories as ways of learning about the world, not as something to judge them by. At school, we celebrated everything — Christmas but also Diwali, Eid and multiple international days where we would share our own culture with pride and be welcomed into various others. My classmates and teachers may have been green for all I cared. Their colour was just one part of who they were — they were pink or brown just like they were vegetarian or good at art or gay.
As an adult, I am now able to acknowledge the paths they came on and the difficulties they may have faced along the way. In the sheltered bubble of international diplomatic society, we were more focused on the shared experience of being young adults fighting to shape our identities. But even in that microcosm, any differences in the ways one of us lived (whether they ate cereal or rice for breakfast (if anything), whether they had one parent or three adopted siblings, whether they had lived on a boat for the first five years of their lives or were homeschooled until they were 15) were just a part of their weird and usually interesting life story.
My little bubble of exposure didn’t shield me from the soul-searching struggle of being a person of colour. Many of my teenage years were spent in a tug-of-war between upholding my culture and locking away parts of myself to blend in with others. I couldn’t have been the only one. My peers and I were all facing our own set of challenges that caused us to behave in the weird ways we did as teenagers.
I realise the weight of the privilege I had growing up, because I also had plenty of exposure to being on the other side. Vivid memories of the smell of Indian food wafting from my lunchbox, the kids on nearby tables wrinkling their noses in disgust; of being cornered and heckled by thirty hefty boys in a series of after school incidents for a full year, just for the fact that I was Indian; of being denied a job because I spoke in an accent that maybe reeked too strongly of privilege where they were looking for a stereotype (of being selected in another scenario for the exact opposite reason too); and of being picked on repeatedly and humiliatingly by that one teacher when I returned to university in my own country, because he felt that as an outcaste but one who had grown up outside the country, I did not belong there.
These are relatively mild experiences as far as discrimination goes. I was not held at gunpoint for the colour of my skin, I did not grow up in a world filled with shadows shaped by violence towards my race or with the ache of hunger for opportunities systemically denied to my community. I was not born into a line of undocumented, outcaste manual scavengers who spend their lives literally covered in other people’s shit. And I was not forced to choose between saving for my son’s education and dinner like my great-grandfather, or married at the age of eleven like my grandmother, because, born poor and outcaste in a village with no school, what other future did they have?
You can’t change the circumstances of your birth or the life experiences you had, except in how you choose to view them — and in the lens you choose to extend to others who have lived different lives than yours. I am lucky to have had the privilege to experience the world in its acceptance of people as they were, and to have had the option of allowing that to shape my world view. I am lucky to have had access to all the opportunities I could ever want, and to not have been excluded from living a full life because of the context I was born into. I have won a million lotteries my whole life — genetic, socioeconomic, employment, among others — and earned none of them. So many others have not had that.
Maybe you don’t find yourself relating to me. That’s ok. This is my experience, specific maybe only to me. I could have been born so many other things and I was not. And for years I thought I was in the wrong for speaking up. It wasn’t my place to talk. Those in power weren’t listening. I’d chosen to dedicate my career to fighting for equality — don’t actions speak louder than words? All that is fine. But I have a voice, and I only ever want to use it to open up the world on behalf of those who do not have the platform I have.
All this to say: enough. I’ve had enough and I am sure they’ve had enough a hundred times more. Black people, people of all colours all over the world, women, Muslims, the differently-abled, indigenous people, SCs/STs, the LGBTQIA+ community, migrant workers and every other non-member of the traditional power-wielding group on this earth: I see you, and I am learning new ways to support you and amplify your voice every day. I will continue to champion your cause because it is as much my cause. I will continue to speak up when I experience discrimination. I will continue to point out discrimination to family members, close friends, colleagues and whomever I come in contact with, gently but firmly, even if it angers them to hold up a mirror to themselves. I will continue to support your businesses and the art you make. I will find ways to channel funds to organisations fighting hard for you. I will continue to find ways to raise the platform you stand on and second your voice so you have powerful standing in the room. Above all, I will continue to campaign for and support systemic change that seeks to do away with the way things have been run for so long. I will do everything I can to make this world a better, safer, more just place for you.