Conversations on Privilege with Brett “Fish” Anderson part 1

Conversations on privilege

I’m so thankful to have Brett sharing with us about his journey discussing and examining privilege! We’re doing it kind of interview style, and in two parts. We’d love to have you comment and ask questions/share what you think below. We seriously would love to have you join this conversation.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: My name is brett and i go by the nickname of FISH [which stands for Faithful In Serving Him as i am a follower of Jesus] and i am currently an author and speaker, writing magazine articles for an online site called 1Africa.tv and speaking at churches and youth groups and anywhere anyone will let me talk about the book i recently published called ‘i, church’. i am married to the beautiful Val [tbV] and own the world’s most famous stuffed dolphin called No_bob (because he doesn’t bob!] and am a lover of Improv comedy which i play, board games which i am quite good at and a passionate hater of all things raiSIN. We lived in the US for three years recently working with two non-profits and since returning home a year ago i have been more engaged with the RACE and RECONCILIATION conversations that are happening in South Africa and trying to use my blog as a space for creating dialogue people can engage with on that and other topics.

How do you define privilege? Do you see it as good or bad? i guess i see it as unfair, rather than necessarily good or bad – unjust in some circumstances i guess. Something like race privilege is the consequence of a system and so there is bad that was in the system and the people that put it together to make it happen. But then i have privilege in terms of being an able-bodied person. That is not a good or bad judgement but a ‘just because’ happenstance of life. It becomes bad if the privilege is not acknowledged and addressed and so realising that the local supermarket needs a wheelchair ramp to make it as accessible to people in wheelchairs as it is to me and refusing to get involved in that or hoping someone else will do it, that’s when it can become bad. But the privilege itself is not a good or bad thing. And as a white person born into South Africa in  the last 20 or so years there is still a sense of privilege that exists just by being white in a number of areas, but those are now circumstantial [to those young people – it’s not like they caused it] but it is crucial that they are helped to recognise that they have it – an unfair advantage over people of other races in some situations – and can do something about it. Privilege can be a good thing when you can use it to benefit others who don’t have it [although how that happens has to be done so carefully as the idea of the white messiah swooping in to save the poor black person is not the most helpful thing at all so it has to be done in relationship and conversation].

Can you remember where you first encountered this idea of white privilege? How did you react at the time?Hm, my first memory i guess would go back to teacher’s college and it wasn’t such a positive experience. The year i started at Mowbray Teacher’s Training College [as it was called then], 1992, was the first year black students were allowed to go to what had been an all-white college previously. i remember doing a Biology project and as we were looking through some of the projects other students had handed in, we found one from a black student who had obviously copied her work from a textbook as it said “see diagram 3.2” at one point and there was no diagram. In the moment i was angry that this person had cheated and i had done a lot of hard work [very unlikely, i had thrown something together last minute probably more truthful] but it was a little bit later when we looked back and the realisation that the black students had been failed in a way – they had been thrown into a college situation when they were not academically at the level they needed to be at and so they were treading water and just trying to con their way through in some cases where they should have had people who had grown up in a system of good education mentoring and tutoring and walking alongside them. i feel like that was a blatant example where the basics of doing an assignment had been drummed into us from a young age at school, but some of the people we were studying with had had a less privileged upbringing. i would love to say that got me started on my deep thinking about race and unjustice and privilege, but it was only years later really when i actually got a bigger picture of what that was all about. i completely regret my slowness and blindness in many ways as i wasted a lot of years where this stuff could have been at the forefront of my vision and action as it is now to a much greater extent.

What are some things that helped you understand privilege? 
To be honest, i think i have only started to really understand privilege in the last 5 years, maybe even less, but ironically enough it was my time in Americaland [as i call it] that triggered something in me and made me want to dive in and get involved when we came home. We lived in Philly for 18 months and in a really rough neighbourhood that was largely black and latino and we got to see the different way in which the police for example would treat white people and black people – the two sides of presumed innocent until proven guilty [white] and presumed guilty until shown to be innocent [black/latino] that existed around us. We spent time with people who spent time with people who were huge civil rights advocates and got to hear some of them speak. i attended a conference called CCDA which was all about community development and there was a huge focus that year on the Native Americans [First Nations] people and watching how that played out at the conference in terms of stage time and facing up to the wrongs of the past and interactions and forgiveness was very powerful. Then we lived in Oakland and our friend Nate worked with a bunch of young black guys and hearing some of the stories of them being stopped and frisked for no reason at all helped me to see that privilege is very real and alive in the US and again helped me to start thinking about those things back home. The case of Trayvon Martin and just the idea of how different does it look for a person of colour and a person who is white to wear a hoodie and walk through a neighbourhood was a big one. Ferguson and the #BlackLivesMatter movement were also a big help to me. i am a lazy researcher and so i will tend to skim read an article on something that interests me a little, but when #Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter started trending on Twitter, i just found myself on blog after blog and article after article reading about white privilege and racism and why #AllLivesMatter was not a helpful countermeasure and so much more. The majority of what i read was written by people of colour and i found that particularly helpful and am so grateful as it really did help kickstart my own interest and involvement and i now have a huge passion for that area of life.
And… come back tomorrow for more! Feel free to comment and ask questions below! And if you have not checked out Brett’s new book, YOU SHOULD!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo see more of what brett “Fish” has to say about ‘White Privilege’ head over here to read his post “I’m not sure you’re against that thing you think you’re against.”  Brett blogs at: Irresistibly Fish

You can get hold of Brett’s new book, ‘i, church’ for R100 plus postage if you are in South Africa by dropping him a mail, or connecting with him through his blog.  ‘i, church’ is also available in softcover or digital version over at Amazon
You can follow Brett on the Twitterer at @brettFishA
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