Privilege: according to the Oxford dictionary is “A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group”.
There has been a lot written about privilege, especially recently. Last evening, I was listening to a speaker at the library, an accomplished business woman and active volunteer in our community. She also happens to be Cree. Her name is Cheryl Alexander and her talk was about the indigenous people’s experiences in Canada, a country she nevertheless agreed is “wonderful”.
She was describing her mother’s experience in residential school, one of which left her unable to speak her native language. As a child she had been forced to eat a bar of soap for daring to speak Cree at school. Her experiences left her traumatized in many ways, and left her unable to give her children the legacy of her language because every time she would try to speak Cree she would experience anew the taste of soap in her mouth and the feelings of shame that accompanied it.
So, this morning I am thinking about everything this wise woman shared with the group. Unfortunately, I was unable to take in the whole of her talk and sat in for only a part of it during a lull in the library where I work. At any rate, I heard enough to compare the experiences of the downtrodden with the life of privilege many have known and still know today.
There are people who say, “why don’t they get over it? After all it happened so long ago.” Of course, the people I hear say these things are white, and perhaps do not understand the long-reaching consequences that continue to reverberate as a result of childhood abuse. The pain many people have suffered led many to self-medicate using alcohol or other substances to numb the pain. It left them unable to parent their children in many ways. And the cycle of neglect and/or abuse of children continued, and in many cases still does.
The purpose of the talk was to bring awareness around the experiences lived by most, if not all, indigenous people in Canada.
Comparing the story of First Nations Peoples to the Kavanaughs of this world is mind blowing. When a group of people are privileged they seem to be woefully ignorant of the experiences of those who are not so fortunate. It seems to me that privilege has a price too often paid by those who can ill afford to pay it. My mother used to say two things, “there, but for the grace of God go I”. And, “walk a mile in their shoes”. I have to say it is incredibly difficult to imagine the pain and the suffering experienced by indigenous people. It is almost too painful to even try to walk a mile in their shoes. It is equally as difficult to imagine why the privileged of this world seem to think it’s okay to live in gated communities and to continue to amass wealth on the backs of the poor.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to hear Cheryl’s talk. And I am grateful for the discussion that is continuing in the wake of the Ford/Kavanaugh story, and others like them. We have an opportunity to learn; to grow; to make a better world. I hope we do.