I have a fabulous car named Lupa.
She is undeserved. Unearned. She epitomizes privilege. Purchased with generational income, not even earned in my arm of our family. I love her. While I can absolutely never, ever, make up the carbon footprint of the construction of a new car (ok, I have not done any breeding – so maybe I can), it has great fuel consumption (5.7l per 100kms) and takes me and my friends (many without cars of any sort) on adventures to wild places – while there are still wild places to explore.
Paul has an even more fabulous car.
When we park in town, car guards argue over who will be ‘guarding’ his car. We strike up conversations with car guards. On one occasion. Clint (the car guard), told us that it was his birthday, and that by parking this gorgeous car in his spot (randomly on Victoria Road), we had made his birthday. Naturally, I sang Happy Birthday to him on the pavement very loudly and Paul gave him an enormous tip for the 10 minutes he had spent in the company of Sebastian (the name of Paul’s car).
Recently, when Paul was having a ciggie in the carpark after visiting the dentist, the Ampath delivery guy walked out with all his samples. “Ooh sir, that is a beautiful car – do you mind if I take a selfie with your car?” He took a whole bunch.
Today, a taxi slowed and stopped in Main Street to allow Paul to cross. It literally stopped, and waved him across. He was puzzled and looked to see what else was happening on the road – nothing. So he crossed and thanked the taxi driver.
Sometimes, I wait for minutes to cross this road. Many minutes. I long for traffic lights, or I turn left and do a round-about circular route so I don’t have to wait. If I do wait – it is mainly silver Atios and white bakkies who trundle past me.
I love my car, I think it is cool. But clearly it is not cool enough for anyone to stop and let me pass.
Our Finite Planet
We are screwed. Everyone wants a cool car, around here. Aspiration is the way.
Personally, I am over aspiration. I am over even doing very much at all. I think ‘doing’ is the cause of much harm. Aspiring is the cause of even more damage to our fragile planet. However, I already have all this stuff so it is easy for me to be disparaging.
I don’t think many white people actually understand privilege. I could scream for the number of occasions that acquaintances have said to me “my family was poor” or “I worked my way through varsity”. No, your family was not poor – the fact that your dad had a job on the railway, or that you lived in a prefab while working for a sugar mill – was privilege. That you were admitted to University at all was a privilege. You were able to get a job as a waitress because you had the right connections. That’s it.
It is embarrassing to make excuses or explain how hard you worked for your money. Seems to me that people are constantly trying to defend their privilege. Probably, if you look closely, your ancestral privilege was built on pillaging the earth – plantations ravaging our hilly grassland, mining of many kinds, any sort of farming – do you know that farm workers are virtually starving in South Africa? The minimum wage does not even come close to covering a basic food basket for a family – let alone buying mangoes and other fruit supposedly abundant in our glorious country.
I am as white and privileged as the next person reading my blog, I don’t deny that. Not only are we living this privileged life as if it was the natural way, we are constantly providing an example of how life could/should be to less well off people aspiring to emulate this lifestyle.
I think we all have to pay attention to the fact that we believe that the world works the way that we see it. It doesn’t. We are a teeny tiny minority, who have sticking plasters to match our skin and reliable (often gorgeous) cars. The world is actually very different. Acknowledging privilege makes us uncomfortable, but it is only when we do, that we may be able to take action or start to change.
What we do about the terrifying fact that most of the developing world on this finite planet is aiming to have the luxury we have taken for granted for generations, is another question altogether. I’m not sure that we (the privileged) have the right to even enter the discussions.
Probably the wealthy need to lead by example if we are to claw back any hope of not spiraling into climate crisis. To discard our privilege – or at least not keep adding to it. Not that this will necessarily improve the lot of the poor, but it is the only moral way.
You go first.