“All I want for Christmas is the abolition of the imperialist, white supremacist, misogynistic, capitalist heteropatriarchy”, announces the widely-circulated photo flashing across my news feed; apparently the new battle cry against systemic privilege.
Quite apart from being patently untrue (next post: ‘new iPad selfie’), it seems to me that this kind of statement misses something very important about privilege in practice (#mansplain). Unusually for a critique of this sort of thing, I’m skeptical not of what it includes but of what it leaves out. There is no doubt that I – and many of you – are extremely privileged, but race, gender and sexuality seem secondary issues. The culprit is surely education, both in school and at home. Educated parents, educated peers and educated exam results: these are the things that give someone societal advantage.
It is not so much a question of gender (women are now 35 per cent more likely to go to university than men), or of race (white males are now the least likely ethnic group to enter higher education). The suggestion that privilege comes predominantly from demographic rather than the multi-faceted aspect of an individual’s background is profoundly unhelpful when trying to tackle inequality. In the overarching pantheon of privilege ‘white-‘, ‘straight-‘ and ‘male-‘ are surely minor deities when compared with educational status.
So why does it fly comparatively under the radar? Perhaps because it’s harder to complain about – it is akin to sexuality in that it’s forced on you during your teenage years, generally without your consent. It’s also much more difficult to establish coherent groupings. Bad private school; good comprehensive; grammar school; fee-paying nursery; everyone has had a different experience, and you usually cannot tell by sight what that experience might be. It’s not a simple case of black and white.
Furthermore, it is firmly intertwined with background. Some parents read to their children at bedtime and help with their homework, while some work two jobs just to put food on the table.
Education may be a political hot potato, but if you really want to level the playing field then educational awareness and improving state schools in deprived areas should probably be your focus. Education first. Heteropatriarchy second.