Recently, I shared a video of Brene Brown challenging us to deal with the issues of race, class, gender etc. A contact responded and in her message she explained that she was very poor and now very wealthy helping others because it makes her feel good and that she believed there was “no lack” in the world. She concluded by saying that there was too much division and that we should all just focus on unity and love. My response is way down below lost in a thread on my profile so I decided to give it its own space as the message is important. Also, marginalised people get that kind of response from privileged white folk a lot and we are tired of it. The fact that none of my activist friends responded to it was evidence that it is a stale argument we don’t have time and energy for really. I did respond and I am documenting the response in a separate post because as stale as the argument is, it is real in the minds of the people who have elevated themselves from one challenge and believe that circumstances are purely a matter of personal choice and can be solved with a great mantra. Systemic oppression, invisible violence (see Dr Sarah Malotane Henkeman) and intersectionality are safely tucked away in their blind spots while they laze around lapping up the fortunes of privilege believing it is all earned and deserved.
I was not entirely sure why she decided to share the first two paragraphs of being very poor and now being wealthy so I could only assume. What I assumed was that she was arguing the fact that she attracted all this abundance to herself miraculously because of her belief that there is no lack. It follows that having such a belief was the reason she made it from rags to riches and that her white privilege had nothing to do with it.
As we all know there are many such stories. Many people all over the world have the rags to riches narratives and the Annie story is real for many people. It is most inspirational indeed. There are also many, many victims of child abuse who make it out against the odds and live powerful lives assisting others. There are amazing women who were left for dead by their husbands after a round of blows to the head and they make it out there somehow. The rags to riches story comes in all shapes and sizes. Perhaps many of the Muslim men and women being tormented, kicked down a staircase and burned alive will also have a rags to riches story of sorts in America and other place in the world.
However inspirational these individual circumstances are, I do not for a single moment think that it releases us from the reality of systemic oppression and violence. I surely don’t need to explain that. Systemic oppression and marginalization of black people, gay people, Muslim people, women people etc is a reality that does not disappear because a few people beat the odds. Even in the thick of apartheid, my father after being dispossessed of his land, the vote, education and and and … made it out and became a millionaire and I grew up a wealthy kiddo. I was though still coloured, denied the education the white kids were getting, not allowed to live where I wanted or set foot on the beaches of the privileged and not allowed to vote. There were others with even less privilege than my father with that story too. When a white person makes it out of poverty it is a very different matter – your backpack of privilege tops up and is maxed or close to maxed again!
Instead of saying “oh WE made it out so all you poor ones have to do is practice abundance and then do things that make you feel good,” we took to the streets and took action until Apartheid was abolished. Now that it is, we still have many wealthy black folk and marginalised people who don’t have the backpack of white privilege but we realise apartheid is entrenched in the system. These numbers of wealthy people who were favoured by the abundance mantras as was suggested are but minuscule compared to the majority who live in inhumane conditions through the deliberate systemic maintenance of apartheid. You are free to chant abundance mantras and if you feel that is enough so be it. Others of us are taking action and dealing with the invisible violence that no amount of mantra will change because the structure is set up in a way to privilege white people, male people, straight people, Judeo-Christian people.
This very respondent was very active on social media a while ago protesting against the Christian ethic when she pursued the dark goddess Lilith and I assume she found a way to own self-expression through her abundance mantras. Many women protesting more serious concerns in the world like the right to live are also black and also gay and also Muslim have less in their backpack of privilege. The recognition of that is what motivates me and activists of social change to do more than sit in a corner chanting a mantra. When I look at my backpack I see how easily certain things came to me and that leads me to understand the need for action. It makes me realise that as much as I want to believe that my mantras are powerful, the reality is that life is that much easier for me than a child in Syria, a black girl in Nigeria, a Muslim woman alone on a train station in America, a Sioux man on the reservation harassed by the right white. The list goes on – my backpack of privilege is pretty decked relatively speaking and I have the space and luxury to chant mantras and believe I have a superpower.
While I am chanting mantras I will also break the silence and speak and speak and speak my truth and challenge a system that hands out these backpacks of privilege based on race, class, gender etc. I do this not because it makes me feel good but because it pains me to see the agony and suffering of visible and systemic violence. I do it because my own mantras of calling for peace and harmony have brought me to the light of knowing that (in the words of Ida B Wells) “The way to right the wrongs is to shine the light of truth on them”