If you have ever met me, or have read any of my previous articles, you may already be aware that I have somewhat of a penchant for reality TV. My most recent endeavour has been watching The Real Housewives of New York City (or RHONY for those in the know), the third of the franchise in my long list of reality TV conquests. Watching shows like this, for me, is one of the most satisfying ends to a stressful day and surprisingly has both entertained and educated me greatly. While you may jump without hesitation to the conclusion that the Real Housewives is perhaps one of the furthest things from thought-provoking or profound, it is, to my surprise also, the inspiration for my article this week.
In the opening credits each woman has a short voice-over meant to sum up their personality and identifier in the context of the show. Luann de Lesseps (or, as she prefers, Countess de Lesseps) greets us each week with the line ‘I never feel guilty about being privileged’. My immediate reaction to this was negative. The sentence is laced with superiority and ignorance and underlined with prejudice, which is certainly not likely to be an identifier for a character I am going to relate to or support. However, the more I thought about it the more I realised that, although it may not be the point she was making, the Countess did have a point.
Most of us, including myself, are privileged in some form. If you fall into any category including male, white, well-off, straight etc. then you carry with you a form of societal privilege. The fundamental aspect of ‘privilege’ and what it truly means is that you have power. You are fortunate to have a voice which is likely to be heard and respected, a status in society that affords you vast opportunities and a more substantial ability to evoke change. As with any and all power comes responsibility and, unfortunately, the abuse of it. While I don’t mean to undermine the efforts and success of minority groups in their pursuit of equality, significant change within a society largely dictated by those deemed superior is far more easily achieved by those with greater reach and, sadly, respect.
I have realised that I, too, am not guilty about my own privilege. There is a difference between guilt and shame, and I can safely say that I am ashamed of both the historical and continual treatment of others by people from a similar background as me. The difference, however, is that people like me, particularly my generation, are becoming so much more open, accepting and liberal that I believe there could be an institutional shift in the treatment of both apparently ‘privileged’ and ‘unprivileged’ people to the point of the outdated construct’s eradication. The key to removing social inequality is to accept it and to use it to fight for and learn from those who don’t have the same voice or platform as you do.
Ultimately, we don’t get to choose what life we are born into and therefore I refuse to be inherently guilty and apologetic for something which was not in my control. Instead, I choose to open my eyes, my ears and my mind to any form of education that is offered to me. I choose to learn as much as possible in order to form opinions, speak my mind and stand alongside those who are doing the same. The moral silencing that has spread epidemically as a result of the demonization of privilege and the stereotype of ignorance and bigotry is the most significant hurdle in the fight for equality. Accept your privilege, be proud of it and use it in a way that moves society towards its eradication. Then, when the good fight tires you out, binge watch the RHONY.