The suggestion of privilege does not sit too well with me. Coming from an inner city background ‘privilege’ feels a little oxymoronic. The definition I used up until early 2012 would have been ‘those with power and no want’. Now, I am rooted in the dictionary’s definition of a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group. It is with that definition that I will tackle my privilege regarding race, or the advantage available to me regarding the way I now view other races.
In a past blog post I hinted at what I believe to be a comparatively impoverished comprehension of cultural differentiation in my formative years. I do not think I would be castigated for saying differences in race are generally a bit more visually conspicuous than religion. Though relatively speaking, recollection of race seems to me to be as equally impoverished in its comprehension as religion had seemed.
Up until the age that my parents began letting me journey out of the flat on my own I was subjected to the ‘then’ childhood staples of adult chatter, TV, and radio. In late 1970’s East London this stimuli consisted of such mixtures as protest strikes, Bagpuss, and The Four Tops. These types of cornerstone memories are but bulb flashes in the darkness. The only distinct snapshots of memory relating to skin colour, that I can yank from the depths, are of a piece of LP artwork. This album cover, whose musical artist eludes me, featured a scantily clad young black woman dancing in a darkened room of motion smeared neon lights. She was smiling with an arm offered out to me. And that’s it! That’s all I can remember of any race before the age of 6. I cannot even recollect acknowledging mine, or my parent’s, whiteness from that time. It seems I was one with the Universe.
Once I was allowed to journey from the front door I finally began to comprehend and unconsciously appreciate skin colour. My block of flats was a very sociable place. Due to the coordination of the building everyone got to see everyone else at some point. Being a slum clearance new build a vast majority of the occupants were young families. Just starting out. Many were inspired to pass the time of day with their neighbours. It was a benefit of mine that every sapiens’ shade was evident within 50 metres of my front door. Also, within 30 metres of my front door lived three interracial couples. That was a rarity to many areas in London during the early 1980’s. In fact, it is rarer still when considering the proportionality of the UK as a whole now.
It was the children of all these neighbours with whom I played. They were even more varied in their tones than their parents. Some being 3rd generation mixed race. Regardless, they were my friends and contemporaries. A few of these friends gifted me with greater privilege due to their comparatively ambiguous genetic heritage. It is with this that some of my descriptions could get very complicated very quickly. Hence I shall stick to the most notable cases in which ambiguity created a perfect platform of acceptance.
The first case relates to my good friend Ricky. Ricky was a very dark brown, just like his mum. His father was a fair-haired white man. Ricky’s younger brother was a fair-haired white boy. Their younger sister was very dark brown too. They were all of the same genetics; sharing the same mother and father. Yet, remarkably lacked the expected blended skin tone of my other mixed-race friends. The second case, though not as involved, was a child called Russell who had albinism. He had white hair, translucent irises, and skin like paper. He really was white, yet his parents had the same porridge-like hues as me. I have to admit that at the time Russell was bit of a curiosity, not simply because of his whiteness, but due to the fact that he wore so many clothes in the summer months. I know now of his skin’s sensitivity to the Sun, but I was naive back then.
I will not pretend that I have lived a life blissfully ignorant of any racism; far from it. It would be impossible when growing up in a dynamic cultural melting pot like East London. In fact, I would say I have encountered more of the overt damages of racism than many of my countrymen. But, those young years of harmonious existence gifted me the best weapon to use against any prejudicial indoctrination. Racism just never stood a chance in circumventing that privileged foundation….
…Check my privilege!