Cultural Privilege is like air. It is so everywhere that no one notices it. Until recently, human history didn’t know it existed. Air, that is, though, much of human history still doesn’t know privilege is there.
Air was only discovered when an ancient Greek philosopher got her head caught in an ox bladder and could not breathe. She realized that wait… Something is wrong… Something is missing… I am dying, not as one usually does, from something bad, but rather, from lack of something good.
One cannot asphyxiate and name things in the same breath, as it were, so we don’t know what she called her discovery but others eventually named it oxygen.
Privilege is like that: something so pervasive that most people don’t feel it, some even go so far as to not believe in it.
And the only time you are aware of it is when you don’t have it.
Take white privilege, which happens in places like America, Britain and malls in Kampala, where one is treated excellently, and leaves believing that the people there are warm and hospitable and kind. Little realising that they are only that way to you, the person who had the foresight to be white while on the premises. When you are not around, unbeknownst to you, they are assholes, and treat others like shit.
Basically, being white makes your life easier and does that so much you don’t realise it.
Male privilege is a bit less subtle, in the sense that you have to be a bat with big black beans blocking up your skull holes to fail to see that being a dude means several things are easier for you than they would be if you were, say, women. Not just opening jars (Which I still find suspicious. It doesn’t make any sense. Why can’t they open those jars? I think it’s a trick. They can, but they just pretend. Next time a woman hands me a jar I will just tighten it before handing it back and we will see.)
Not just that — I am talking about the good stuff. Like jobs, career, education, business, getting basic levels of respect…
And the way we pee can’t be overrated either.
However, one very crucial element of privilege is this: You tend not to notice its extent or power or significance in your life. It is a pernicious little bastard that sneaks up on and over you and you don’t even see it. So here is the tricky part: You think you don’t enjoy cultural privilege? That is quite possibly conclusive evidence that you do.
Makes you wonder what other forms of privilege there are that we enjoy but are not aware of yet:
Okay, if white people go to the posh cafe they will say, “Oh, my, security guards are so friendly and polite! Waiters are so quick and attentive! The flies are so deferential and well-groomed.”
But they also buy tomatoes at 5,000 shillings each in Nakawa market.
Not only does black privilege allow us to not get robbed on sight at in the market, it also enables us to do simple things like just being yourself without having to apologise to everyone twice a week for slavery and colonialism.
White Ugandans and white people in Uganda are constantly expected to beg for mercy because they are descended from the perpetrators of these acts.
But a kingdom comes about through the process of empire-building, which involves martial conquests, stealing land, disenfranchising local populations– often slavery, too. My ancestor could easily have been one of the guys who came storming down the hill with an army of Bunyoro-Kitara marauders to mow down your ancestor’s village and subdue all y’all under the crown of my Mutembuzi king.
Do you hear me saying sorry? Of where. All I do is call you an asshole cos you parked too close to me. I am not white, so I am privileged to not give a rat’s bum about your history.
Also, if you look at that illustration of white privilege again, where white customers are slavishly kowtowed to at a restaurant while the black ones are ignored, it brings another disturbing thought to light.
I am educated, middle class, wear glasses and drive my own car. Those waiters treat me better than they would treat Bulayimu, my boda guy. They treat me as if I am their muzungu. Meanwhile Bulayimu gets the full Jim Crow treatment, of if he wants to buy a pizza he has to go round to the back and collect takeaway.
Rich people have white privilege in Uganda.
Man, imagine if, in addition to male and middle class, I was light skinned and had an accent. I would have even more privilege!
So now this muwawa here, what is it in aid of? Am I, middle class male, speaking in defence of cultural privileges?
First how do I defend privilege as if it is a crime? It’s not even an act. One does not do privilege. It’s a circumstance within which one finds oneself. One may be held culpable for things one does to perpetuate the state of affairs, like the café situation, but in that case it is those snivelling uncle Tom ass waiters doing it, not Casey-Ann Schmidt.
What do you want her to do? Ask the waiters to be less polite? Request a few sneers? Of course not.
I kind of am speaking in defence of privilege though. I like my privileges and I don’t want to let them go.
Yes, I know it is unfair that some people get to enjoy them while others don’t, but the next move should not be to eliminate them, it should be to spread them further and make sure even more people get them.
We need to make the waiters treat everyone, regardless of their colour, the way they treat Casey-Ann, like they are the almighty goddess of tips. We need to make it so that police smile and call all of us “boss” when they arrest us, regardless of colour. We need to make it so that we can all carry out our job interviews without being propositioned for sex. Except when I apply to be Tiwa Savage’s gardener, in which case, the only reason I want the job is because I hear showbiz stars use their gardeners for sex.
But in short, we don’t need to remove privilege, we need to make sure everyone has all of it.