“13th”, and the importance of listening to other voices when they speak…

I’ve had Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th on my to-watch list for a while now. But it was a film I needed to be in the right mind-state to watch. I’ve not been in the right headspace to actively view anything for a while, but as soon as I was this was my first choice. 

And here’s the thing that struck me.  

I knew every single fact this film presented. But I had never put them together in such a way to realise what it was that they were showing me. 

I shouldn’t have needed someone else to make me realise these things. 

But I did. 

I am white privilege. There’s no denying it. But I’m also like to believe that I’m educated, left-wing, and that I think critically about the world around me. I try and fight unconscious bias. I try to look beyond my own world and see the lives of others. 

But boy, oh boy does privilege get in the way of me seeing things. 

As I watched 13th, I realised I knew each fact that they presented. I know about slavery. I know about the civil rights movement. I know how life for people of colour is innately harder. I know about the ways right-wing politicians have weaponised race. I know x. I know y. I know z

I know all those things. 

I just don’t see them. 

I don’t feel them in the way they needed to be felt. 

I’ve never experienced them. 

If you’d ever asked me, I would have said I knew all about the problems people of colour have faced historically, and face now. I would never have claimed that I understood their experience –  or that I could – but I would have said that I knew what that experience was. 

DuVernay has shown me exactly how little I saw any of it. 

There is knowing, and there is seeing and understanding. 

I didn’t put it all together. I didn’t see the depth. Or the history. Or the exhaustion. Or the anger. Or the fear. 

I can look down at all those born into vast wealth, all those who went to private schools, all those who can trace their family lines back to ancient aristocracy, all those who got their high flying jobs through family connections, all those who have never even considered what it might feel like to worry about not being able to afford something they need, and say “I’m better than those people”.  

But I am just as much a product of white privilege as they are. My life isn’t theirs, but I’m still white. 

Just because I haven’t benefitted from the system as much as some, it doesn’t mean I haven’t benefited from it at all. It doesn’t mean I’ve ever questioned it. It doesn’t mean I haven’t made racist comments simply because I didn’t think about how offensive they were. Or, even worse, because I wasn’t educated enough to know they were offensive. Doesn’t mean I’ve ever called people out for making the same comments because they weren’t “that bad”, as if there’s a sliding scale of racism and as long as you don’t go too far it’s okay. 

I’m going to try and do better. I’m going to made an effort to actively look out more films and read books about the subject, to actively think about the media I’m consuming and the places I work. I’m going to try and stop allowing myself to not notice when all the people around me, in either my personal and professional lives, are white. 

The amount of whiteness in my life shouldn’t be normal. “It’s how I grew up” isn’t an excuse. 

Hopefully I can do better. I’ll get it wrong. Privilege is a hard thing to break through, if only for the fact that part of its very essence is to hide itself in the everyday. But I’ll keep trying, and I’ll keep listening. Hopefully people in my life will not let me fall back into old habits, and hopefully I won’t allow them to either. 

It’s no one’s job but my own to ensure I improve myself. I just ask that people don’t allow me to slip into bad habits, and in return I shall try to do the same.