Thursday, November 15, 2018

Understanding Privileges

[This piece is posted on 'Ekool Ethiopia' in Amharic.]

Some of my Facebook friends make fun of other Facebook users for not being stylish enough like them, for not knowing Amharic/English the way the formers do, for not being ‘Arada’ enough and for being comparatively ‘Fara’. They ridicule the way the formers pose for a photo and also the captions they use when they post their photographs on social media. The terms ‘Arada’ and ‘Fara’ are both coined by the city dwellers in Ethiopia and ‘Arada’ is a title given to the “cool”, “cheer leading”, “stylish” people while ‘Fara’ is a label against those who are oppositely perceived. However, the term ‘Fara’ is mostly applied to refer to those people who were raised in rural areas and those who are desperately struggling to urbanize themselves (or trying to look like one). The division and categorization gets on Facebook from the ground. ‘The Aradas’ consider themselves as superior to ‘the Faras’ and think they deserve better treatment (megalothymia, as Fukuyama calls it) than those of ‘the Faras’. Even worse, they think they earned Arada-being. In this piece, I argue otherwise.

What about your privileges?

It is ironical that it is easier for everyone to understand one's under-privileges but not privileges. Human societies of our planet are built in multiple and complex hierarchies where everyone despises being at the bottom but never minds being on top. As it appears to be, at this time and in the most commonly agreed standards, whites are more privileged than blacks, men are more privileged than women, the rich are more privileged than the poor, the urbanite are more privileged than the rural dwelling, the able-bodied are more privileged than the disabled, the educated than the illiterate and the list goes on. Consequently, in our global social system, the able-bodied, educated rich white men who live in urbanized neighborhoods are most privileged people while the disabled, illiterate poor black women who live in rural areas are the most underprivileged. However, failing to understand and/or recognize the role of privileges in our lives do much more damage than the social hierarchies that existed among us. It is dangerous because we cannot be working to make adjustments if we don’t understand it.

The privileges differ across nations and cultures, so does the division between different groups of different privileges. What is common everywhere is the key to success has always been monopolized by the privileged. The most successful people in the world, be it in political authority, in economic freedom, in controlling the social narrative, or even in academic success, are those who have more privileges in the given circumstances. Each of us are underprivileged or privileged in multiple aspects of a given society; however, some of us possess more combinations of privileges, in most of our times to advance others in most of the things. From place of our birth to the people whom we were born from, from the schools we went to – to the friends we made, from the bad accidents we run into to the good opportunities we find ourselves in mostly happen in coincidence and luck. Luck gives birth to privilege. Privilege breeds itself. Privilege is a springboard, a ladder, a stair that brings us up. Our efforts would let us reach on top, but we wouldn’t even think about climbing up if we had not the chance to. Simply putting it in the worst of the scenarios: a boy born into a rich family in rich countries is destined to succeed; and, a woman born into a poor family in poor countries is simply doomed to fail.

Nonetheless, almost all of us fail to remember the most definite factors of success in our lives are not earned, but given to us in terms of privileges or sometimes of luck. We always associate our success to our hard works; but, when we fail we usually recall how underprivileged we are.

I'm not in total denial. I can't completely ignore the existence of those very few exceptions - those people who defy all the odds and stand in triumph. Neither do I deny the fact that it is those who tried most, who are the luckiest, which maybe growing to privileges that reaches out their off springs and generations. But, the norm is not like the exception. Most people are victims of fate.

To conclude my argument in which I valued the contribution of privilege or luck over talent or over hard work, I refer to a theory named by the authors “Talent vs. Luck”. Nobody, in the world, has 1000 times bigger IQ than another one but some people have billion times more wealth than billion others. In hard works, people add value to what they are privileged.

Understanding is Affirmative Action

Jeffery Sachs (in “The End of Poverty”) argued that for extreme poverty to be eliminated from the world the rich must assist the poor. The poor doesn’t even have the chance or the platform to think about it; the poor is in non-stop struggle to merely survive.  Sachs’ proposal is like ‘Affirmative Action’, a term first used in the 1960s. It is a means of promoting underprivileged but it is always a means of controversy mainly because the privileged don’t understand that they’re. The major argument toward ‘Affirmative Action’ is privilege has no distinct line. A poor guy may have little privileges as compared to a rich lady in a given society. It is always the exceptional scenario that makes us decide on the fate of the general. However, trying to understand our privileges when we are - eliminates the problems from their root, I believe. I don’t want anyone to necessarily give up their privileges, it is not even possible to, but at least ask to recognize them.

In Ethiopia’s most spoken language, Amharic, there is no equivalent to the term ‘Privilege’. Words insert the concept in a society. I understand the difficulty of explaining it in this regard, but from the long-explanations I put above I would like to once again remind my Facebook friends whom I have referred on the introductory paragraph that they are not one of the people whom they make fun of only because they are privileged. 

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