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Checking my privilege


I’ve pretty much got it all. Always have. And for most of my life I’ve known it.

A passes-for-white articulate male from a first world country I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, globally speaking. I hated school but got good enough grades and didn’t turn out to be gay. So I was clear of the ghetto. Almost.

Born at the dawn of generation X I was too young to be sent to Vietnam but old enough to scramble up the ladders of free tertiary education and good jobs for professionals before the baby boomers pulled them up after them. I got in pretty much at the ground floor of Australia’s IT revolution.

And I have superpowers.

I knew from the comics that having them had their drawbacks and I sure have mine. Us super-folk are aliens. Don’t think we don’t feel it. But my powers and vulnerabilities aren’t separate to me. They are me. When they help me they’re talents. When they hinder me they’re shortcomings.

It was studying psychology at university that taught me their names, though it wasn’t the first time I’d heard them. The voices had been saying them for a while. Psychosis. Asperger’s. Bipolar.

While learning the labels I also learned to avoid them and it wasn’t just horror stories from Chelmsford that taught me why I should. Substance abuse offers reasons, if not excuses, for aberrant behavior as well as being interesting and fun at times. My superpower boosted careers gave me the means to maintain it. For a while.

Naturally I share the chief preoccupation of the ultra-privileged. Freedom. Because, you know, we can. Unless we’re too busy chasing the next fix; whatever that may be.

I soon gave up my most restrictive addictions and was able to roam Asia for years with little fear for my personal safety and little more burden than I carried in my backpack (which included a thick wad of travellers cheques courtesy of my IT career). I’m always on the lookout for how I might carry even less and perhaps I learned about it differently as an ultra-privileged white person in poor countries than I would have as a somewhat privileged partly indigenous person in a rich country. Especially when those poor countries have a very long and rich tradition of seeking to understand freedom and the search for it. My birth privileges and sectionable superpowers had helped me out again.

Then my powers turned on me. I think I knew they would. They’d always played rough. I crept into a kryptonite cage of my own devising and there I stayed for almost a decade. I still recognised my powers and privileges as me. I was still proud and ashamed of them. But now I named them. I sought help for them. Most of which I refused. Except for the disability pension. Even when they stopped me from doing much at all my powers were still putting food on the table. Thanks to my privileged birth.

Need I say it was a superpower that freed me from my cage? One of its names is psychosis but there’s another that acknowledges the incredible privilege of it. Grace. It isn’t mine after all. It just is.

I’ve always loved stories. Hated them too. Especially ones about me. I could say I’m free of them now but that’s disingenuous. It would be another story and wouldn’t be me. None of them are. Unless I’m some sort of cartoon scratched out in one dimensional narrative. A self-drawn comic strip. I still like stories though. I like making them up. Which is lucky as I’m always doing it.

What if my superpowers had never been super? What if they’d been diseases or disabilities instead? What if they weren’t part of me but something attacking me from the outside? Would my story have been different? Would I be me? Would I be free? Would I have a different idea of what freedom is?

But that’s not a story I’ve lived. Another privilege I suspect.

From → autobiography

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