Haiyya
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Haiyya

So, we recognise we are privileged. Now what?

What our personal exploration about the privilege conversation taught us — understanding, making sense and learning about “privilege” as a larger concept — and some ideas on what to do about it.

By Aprajita Pandey and Jayati Doshi

Introduction

If our lives were a movie, these last few months would be like a montage of frames in slow motion — where all the heartbreaking realities that we often could push aside in our pace as just a sort of a blur are suddenly distinctly, painfully visible. The images of people nestled safely in their homes with a relative security about basic necessities suddenly make stark the plight of the migrant workers walking miles on foot to reach their homes with no savings, food or even water. While some of us look up tips to be more productive while working remotely and process the worrying state of the economy from within the security of our homes, a whole chunk of population is now rendered unemployed, and a whole other lot of garbage collectors and sanitation workers continue to uphold the basic dignity of the country while receiving none of that for themselves. As parents across the world design the greatest homeschool experiences for their children, kids who already are lagging far behind in their education are pushed further behind. As so many of us begin to understand and process the uncertainties in our lives with a variety of safety nets holding space for us, rates of gender-based violence and child abuse continue to rise.

There is no denying that this has been a struggle for ALL of us, and there is healing that needs to happen across the board, the context within which we are struggling is not the same. It is impossible to look away right now, but holding all of that as true at the same time feels like a hellish task. If you have been in social bubbles like ours, you have also probably been hearing the word “privilege” being thrown around everywhere — often as a reality check to highlight unequal power statuses, sometimes as a way of shaming oneself or others for feeling or doing something, usually, with a shade of guilt and helplessness simmering under the surface. In one of the meetings we attended together, people were asked to share about their emotional and physical state of being in the current covid-19 crisis. The responses predominantly revolved around sharing an intellectual and ‘the right thing to say’ analysis of the world, coupled with sentiments of ‘I can’t complain about anything, I am privileged’.

Walking out of that meeting, we both began wondering — isn’t there something weird and powerless in the way we are talking about privilege? What do we do with all the information and revelations happening around privilege? And… what next?

The conversations around ‘privilege’ have been in public discourse for quite some time, and the crisis today is making those explorations, reflections, conversations and ground-work more challenging. Today’s political and social landscape demands a whole new level of understanding, information, and empathy, and if we are being completely honest, it’s becoming hard for most of us to measure up. We also see an opportunity here, to possibly engage with the privilege discourse differently and shift it in a direction that builds a transformative ground for all of us and opens up possibilities to be able to take actions that build a more just world.

So we decided to go back to the basics and began to question what we thought we understood about privilege. A lot of our understanding and context comes from the spaces of human rights, community building, arts and justice centered work that we are part of; and also from our identities as upper-caste, upper-class, highly-educated, cis women who live in urban India, work in international contexts, and think and learn in English. Last but not least, we are also born out of our stories and experiences that challenged us, changed us, empowered us and brought us together in the pursuit of owning responsibility. We began to examine our lenses (through which we understand, experience and engage with the world and its events) and challenged the assumptions we were making and questioned the things we took as obvious.

This 4-part series is more of a reflection on the things we realised along the way. We wanted to put it out there as an invitation for dialogue and further perspective; as starting points rather than conclusions. For those of you still trying to fully understand this topic or those of you who would like to process your own assumptions, we recommend reading it like an essay. Alternatively, if you feel like you have already thought a lot about this, and you are also struggling to have these conversations with your family, friends or colleagues, and want to choose-your-own-adventure in a way that answers your questions, we have the following chart of questions that might help you navigate this in your own way.

We are starting and closing this piece on the premise that everyone has a role to play in justice. Justice is a dream — to believe in, to create, to course correct, to build up and to never give up on — and everyone has a place in that dream. Unless we form better stories about our place in the world, find secure ground in things that we are and have beyond our privilege (instead of justifying our privilege), and consider ways to intervene and change the systems around us; we will continue to be a part of a dynamic that perpetuates the unfairness, injustices and human catastrophes in our world.

Before we begin, one last thing, what follows below will demand your emotional, creative, intellectual and somatic energy — so we have designed it in a way that allows you to pick your own time and pace to read the whole article. We hope you stay with us for a bit, engage in the questions and learn more about privilege through the process. Let’s get started.

This is a 4-part series. You can access the other parts here:
Introduction: We recognise we have privileges. Now what?
Part 1: Peeling off layers to the privilege conversation
Part 2: Why is the privilege conversation so hard to have? (and why that limits us)
Part 3: But why does it matter at all?
Part 4: How do we act from a place of awareness & justice?

Note (We have used the following terms in the articles that might be new):

  • The term ‘Dalit’ means ‘oppressed’ or ‘broken’ in Sanskrit and is a political term used for a member of lower caste communities in India
  • ‘Womxn’ is an inclusive term for cis women, trans women, non-binary and queer persons
  • The term ‘Savarna’ is used for a member of upper caste Hindu communities in India
  • The term ‘Adivasi’ is the collective term used for all the tribes and indigenious people of India

Aprajita is the Founder & CEO of Haiyya. Young feminist entrepreneur, community organizer and social justice campaigns trainer. She tweets at @AprajitaPan

Jayati is a story-curator, facilitator, coach, and co-founder at sensemaking lab, who wonders about how people make sense of themselves, their worlds, and themselves within that world — and how to help them do that better. She tweets at @jayatidoshi

PS: We wish to acknowledge and thank our friends and peers, who have dedicated their expertise and taken the time to make personal commitments to provide feedback and additional perspectives, without whom this piece would not have been possible. Here’s a shout-out to Abhishek Desai, Anand Mangnale, Anna Eapen, Ayesha Bashir, Bitopi Dutta, Dhaval Shukla, Dhwani Yagnaraman, Madhusmita Brahma, Mihir Deshpande, Siddhi Doshi, Sreejani Malakar, Swati Puri.

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Jayati Doshi

Jayati Doshi

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Story-curator. Facilitator. Wondering about collective sensemaking, stories, love, belonging & questions that have no complete answers. https://jayatidoshi.com/