Invisible privilege

So it’s a Sunday night, it’s pitch black.  I’m all alone cycling on an old train track between East Grinstead and Forest Row, with the cone of light from by bike lamp giving me a 5 metre warning on any potholes or deadfall.

I’m feeling fortified because my friend the Cartooning Psychologist told me that rapes and axe murders usually tend to be carried out by people known to the victim, and none of my mates as far as I know will be hanging out on Sustrans route 21 in the cold winter evening.  So rather than worry about death, I can look up a bit and appreciate what’s around me.

And it’s beautiful.  Moody empty fields and patches of dark woodland on either side, white rabbits and ginger foxes darting across my light cone now and again.  And a totally clear sky, with stars brighter than I ever remember seeing in England.  I’m cycling directly towards Orion, I can see all the bits quite clearly, including that sword scabbard hanging from his belt which I can’t usually spot.  And the moon is amazing, one of those thin bright sickles, where you can also see the rest of the sphere very dimly lit.

invisible privilegeOne thought that crosses my mind is that my wife Anna would like this.  Then it occurs to me that Anna could probably never allow herself this wonderful experience accessible by cycling alone at night in the middle of nowhere.  She’s a woman and there’s more to worry about; the odds of badness are still slim I guess, but much worse odds than mine, just because I’m a man.

Simply being a man gives me an invisible privilege, allowing me, amongst other things, to cycle carefree in the deserted darkness and marvel at the stars.

I’m sure that being a white man counts as a double invisible privilege, and I simply carry less baggage in the eyes of judgmental Mother Culture.  I could go on: education, family… lots of serious advantages I could take for granted.

How do I use that privilege? was the question that formed as I cycled along.  I didn’t have to work for that privilege, but I also didn’t ask for it; either way, I have it.  I used to use my invisible privilege to accumulate quite some means for myself, and comfort and convenience.  What other ideas might I have for conducting myself, while under the questioning gaze of Orion?

One option is to use my invisible privilege to accumulate even more means and comfort and convenience.  But this option feels rather unfair and inappropriate, as well as brain- and soul-rotting.

Aside from being a Diversity Manager’s worst nightmare, I was born into a number of advantages that a huge number of people will never be able to attain.  I can’t give it away, it’s stuck to me, so the least I can do is enjoy it in a healthy way.  But how do I also share it in a healthy way?

It’s nice how sometimes remembering to look up at the glorious stars on a Sunday night, exercising my invisible privilege, can remind me of a few truths, and send down a few important questions.

One comment on “Invisible privilege
  1. Toni says:

    Hi Chris

    I’ve been thinking about this since you’ve posted it and what struck me first was your thoughts on safety when you’re a-roaming in the dark. I’m signed up for the Moonwalk this year and one of the first tips it offers for training is to ‘stay away from bushes where people could hide’ and to carry a rape alarm. As a mostly-female event I wonder if the advice would differ if it were mostly men that took part…

    As for the privilege piece, oh boy that’s a big question but I love the way you frame it. Let me know if you find the answer!

    Toni x

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