dVerse Poetics: On Privilege

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To be white, or straight, or male, or middle class is to be simultaneously ubiquitious and invisible. You’re everywhere you look, you’re the standard against which everyone else is measured. You’re like water, like air. People will tell you they went to see a “woman doctor” or they will say they went to see “the doctor.” People will tell you they have a “gay colleague” or they’ll tell you about a colleague. A white person will be happy to tell you about a “Black friend,” but when that same person simply mentions a “friend,” everyone will assume the person is white. Any college course that doesn’t have the word “woman” or “gay” or “minority” in its title is a course about men, heterosexuals, and white people. But we call those courses “literature,” “history” or “political science.

Michael S. Kimmel, Privilege: A Reader

Good day, poets! I hope you are all having a good year thus far poetically as well as personally. My motive to share the quote above was to bring to attention the elephant in the room: Privilege. We all come from certain privileges which make it easier for us to live in an unequal world, maintaining certain standards and freedoms that come with birth or our social conditions. Such privileges denote the way we express ourselves and our behaviors in different domains of life including personal relationships, politics, writings, etc.

If the quote made you a bit uncomfortable, that is the idea because we become so habitual to our ways of living that we do not even pay any heed to these privileges or wonder about their existence anymore. But these privileges actually create the norm which perpetuates the kind of world that we live in. As we know, our world is marred with discrimination, oppression, and repression of certain identities, particularly those belonging to and resulting from a certain race, skin color, gender, sexuality, class, caste, religion, (dis)ability, age, nationality, etc., and not to forget their intersectionality. In that perspective, the conversation over privileges has been taking place for a while.

We may have our own political affiliations and understandings of this current discourse around identities and their rights in a modern world. I am not trying here to push a particular agenda or values but to create a discourse around the idea of checking one’s privilege(s). For many of us, it may come out to be pretty uncomfortable to think about our privileges but it doesn’t have to be so. Because checking our privileges doesn’t mean that they will be taken away from us or we have to apologize for them. Such an exercise would only help in understanding the inherent connection between everyone in the world — it can perhaps help in seeing the social realities through a different lens, understand the different experiences of these realities, while also enabling us to take responsibility and be more participative in challenging all forms of discrimination and oppression.

Poetry often takes into context such issues of social and political significance, since it is such a wonderful way of individual and collective expression. In that regard, I would like to share an excerpt from a poem by an exemplary African-American poet, June Jordan. (Disclaimer: There is a strong explicit language along with some graphic imagery in this poem.)

Poem about My Rights

Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear
my head about this poem about why I can’t
go out without changing my clothes my shoes
my body posture my gender identity my age
my status as a woman alone in the evening/
alone on the streets/alone not being the point/
the point being that I can’t do what I want
to do with my own body because I am the wrong
sex the wrong age the wrong skin and
suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/
or far into the woods and I wanted to go
there by myself thinking about God/or thinking
about children or thinking about the world/all of it
disclosed by the stars and the silence:
I could not go and I could not think and I could not
stay there
alone
as I need to be
alone because I can’t do what I want to do with my own
body and
who in the hell set things up
like this
and in France they say if the guy penetrates
but does not ejaculate then he did not rape me
and if after stabbing him if after screams if
after begging the bastard and if even after smashing
a hammer to his head if even after that if he
and his buddies fuck me after that
then I consented and there was
no rape because finally you understand finally
they fucked me over because I was wrong I was
wrong again to be me being me where I was/wrong
to be who I am
which is exactly like South Africa
penetrating into Namibia penetrating into
Angola and does that mean I mean how do you know if
Pretoria ejaculates what will the evidence look like the
proof of the monster jackboot ejaculation on Blackland
and if
after Namibia and if after Angola and if after Zimbabwe
and if after all of my kinsmen and women resist even to
self-immolation of the villages and if after that
we lose nevertheless what will the big boys say will they
claim my consent:
Do You Follow Me: We are the wrong people of
the wrong skin on the wrong continent and what
in the hell is everybody being reasonable about
and according to the Times this week
back in 1966 the C.I.A. decided that they had this problem
and the problem was a man named Nkrumah so they
killed him and before that it was Patrice Lumumba
and before that it was my father on the campus
of my Ivy League school and my father afraid
to walk into the cafeteria because he said he
was wrong the wrong age the wrong skin the wrong
gender identity and he was paying my tuition and
before that
it was my father saying I was wrong saying that
I should have been a boy because he wanted one/a
boy and that I should have been lighter skinned and
that I should have had straighter hair and that
I should not be so boy crazy but instead I should
just be one/a boy and before that
it was my mother pleading plastic surgery for
my nose and braces for my teeth and telling me
to let the books loose to let them loose in other
words… (You can read the complete poem here)

I also came across these two thought-provoking poems by Michele Bombardier, White Privilege and My White Self Tries To Imagine. Please read them as individual opinions and understandings of the idea of privilege. Along the same lines, here is a short poem by Delhi-based poet, Akhil Katyal:

One day, when he was
about ten or twelve,
he asked his mother
“What is my caste?
Some boys in the
school were asking,
I didn’t know what
to say.” The mother,
got up in the middle
of her supper, “Beta,
if you don’t know it by
now, it must be upper.”

(Side Note: ‘Beta’ can be translated as ‘son’ in English)

Also, here is a thought-provoking one by Michael Morell:

THE DWARF’S SISTER PLAYS GOD

After Karen got her license,
she would take me shopping
with her, always trying to treat me
normal (does that mean I’m not?).
We’d go to Clover or Springfield Mall
and sometimes if she wasn’t buying much,
I’d wait in the car, just along for the ride.
Inside, when people would starelaughpointshout
at me like I was Dylan going electric all over again,
she’d look them dead in the eyes and ask
do you want a picture?
They never answered her, but stood stone silent,
naked and shamed as Adam or Eve.

Welcome to dVerse Poetics! The prompt today is quite open-ended. You can approach the idea of privilege in different ways. You can either seek inspiration from these poets and their poems or reflect upon your own privileges and share them through a tapestry of images and metaphors along with a certain regard to what these privileges stand for in our society. You can also write about a cause which has personal meaning or significance for you — gender equality (women, transgender, and other non-binary identities), movements like Black Lives Matter & Me Too, uprooting class and caste divides, lgbtq+ rights, et al — keeping this one word in your consideration. If not this, you can write about the privilege of writing and expression, with such instruments as literacy, power and electricity, and all the other digital infrastructure available to us.

This is Anmol (alias HA). I look forward to reading your take on this theme. Once you have penned and published your verse, add the link to your post in the linking widget down below. Please feel free to pen down your opinions and ideas in the comments and do not forget to visit and read your fellow poets and share your thoughts with them. I wish you all a wonderful week ahead.