Hard News by Russell Brown


Meet me at Camera 2: White Privilege

On this week's Media Take, we chewed over the big topics: sovereignty, identity and privilege. For the last, an enjoyable two-part discussion with Sue Abel and Belinda Borell, I put up my hand to script a video track on white privilege.

For the throw to the video, I totally burgled Jon Stewart's Meet Me At Camera Three to address Media Take's Pakeha viewers (although in our case, it was Camera 2). But the track proved tricky to illustrate and in a way I think the script stands better on its own. So here it is.


There are a number of reasons the word "privilege" rankles people, but the main one is that people take it personally.

And when it's a matter of white privilege and therefore involves something a person literally has no control over – the colour of their skin – it's even worse.

Well, take it from me, fellow white folks, it's not personal, it's systemic.

According to privilege theory, privilege is an unearned advantage. Think of it as a tailwind that blows only behind some of the runners in a hundred-metre race. So no matter how well or how badly you run, your time is wind-assisted.

Since it took shape in the late 80s, privilege theory has developed to take account of various forms of systemic advantage: around race, gender, sexual orientation and more.

One factor its adherents sometimes forget – except as an excuse for point-scoring over language – is disability. This rankles me, because my sons are autistic and I'm acutely aware that they will grow up in a world not made for them. The way they're wired means they're more likely to be unemployed, suffer depression and wind up in jail.

They are not the default. If they were, the world would run in a very different way.

But I'm also aware that through their parents, my boys do have an advantage. We're able, educated and skilled at communicating. By contrast, most Maori kids on the autism spectrum never even get a diagnosis.

Just like Maori are not only more likely to suffer cardiac disease, diabetes and other conditions, they're much more likely to go untreated. Even when they do the right thing and seek treatment.

This effect of privilege, or its lack, cuts across every element of society: economic, social, the lot. And race is the big one. That's just a fact.

Taking account of privilege isn't negative. You might even enjoy letting another experience of the world into yours; like I have with my kids, and in making a bicultural television show.

You don't have to use phrases like "check your privilege" as punctuation. But as you go through life, even – or especially – on the shittiest days, the world might be a better place if you are mindful of your privilege.

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