Saturday, March 26, 2011

It's Time To Play Our Game


I've just been reading Rachel's picks on the always interesting 'Musings of an Inappropriate Woman', and come across something I'd never heard of before called White Female Privilege. Like being told by a doctor that all your symptoms actually have a name, it came as a sort of relief; not just that its existence is acknowledged, but that the experience of not being one of the privileged is being discussed. It's easy to talk about the world being the oyster of middle-aged white men with my friends because none of us are part of that group. But, growing up in an affluent suburb and attending some of the best public schools in the country, my peer group has always been girls who fit into this group, and I've always felt it's something I can only really talk about with my sisters for fear my friends will deny it or just not be able to understand.

When I was in form two, a friend of mine told me the only reason a boy in our class hadn't asked me out was my "colour". I was stunned. I knew I looked different, but I had never thought I seemed different - I watched the same TV programmes, wore the same clothes - but clearly, I was. I felt incredibly embarrassed; not only because of what she said but because I had been oblivious, or maybe just really really hopeful. I'm painfully aware of the consequences of that remark made in a bedroom in Freeman's Bay in 1996; first my pathetic gratitude to people who didn't see me as different and later my anger and condescension towards people who did. I still look at white New Zealanders with friends and partners who aren't white and automatically think well of them(!!). I feel colonised, and it makes me angry and sad but I can't help it.

When I watch TV, I never see anyone on it who looks like me; there are young Pacific males, but they're always cast as non-threatening, hard case morons. When I was young and wanted to be an actress, I knew I'd never get to play Jo March; as I got older I realised I'd never get to play Elizabeth Bennett or any of her sisters either. When I was in the production at intermediate I was told to use the 'werewolf' foundation (yes, I can see the funny side of that). I'm constantly asked where I'm from, and when I give my ethnicity, am told in a "complimentary" fashion that I don't look it (often accompanied by hand gestures demonstrating the "usual" size of my kinswomen). A friend's grandmother once said I must have other blood, 'else where did I get my cheekbones?

This hasn't ended up being about white female privilege at all (although I guess it has, in that none of my friends have ever encountered any of these things or have to work through their effects now), but it saves time when I do get to it. I just want to put this stuff, much of which I've kept quiet for fear of highlighting difference and because I'm ashamed of how beaten-down I once was, out in the open. Yep, we all have shit times and our own crosses to bear and demons to wrestle with and everything else. But the starting line for this fucked up race is staggered, and I'd really like to stop pretending otherwise.

(Image from Spherical Notions)

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