I read a story on the @blackdisabledcreative Instagram page about a young girl called Grace. A 15-year-old Black girl from Michigan living with ADHD, Grace was arrested for not completing her homework and waking up late for online school, an apparent breach of her probation. You read that correctly.
I can’t fathom how a 15-year-old girl is on probation in the first place without understanding the prison industrial complex plaguing the United States. In high school and before I reached NCEA, I hardly ever did my homework and often faked being sick. There are a few reasons for this, but one reason is because I was drained from the emotional baggage of my rapidly changing world due to my deteriorating disability. Not once was I treated like a criminal.
2020 has taught us all about privilege in more ways than one. From having a safe place to quarantine in, to being able to sleep in your bed without being shot by the police. The reality that these rights are not afforded to everyone has slapped us all in the face.
I have written a lot about my experiences growing up as a New Zealand born Indian, Muslim, and wheelchair user. There is no doubt that these parts of my identity have put barriers in my path that I was forced to navigate. I was only able to navigate them because I had endless family support, access to a private school education, New Zealand citizenship, financial stability, and the right networks. These forces enable me to do what I do. The world will always try to put people into ‘boxes’, but the reality is that there are no boxes. We all bring our own experiences and histories to the table. Two of us are never the same.
Nothing I listed above was earned by me through my own hard work. They were handed to me and I used them to get where I wanted in life. I often ask myself how much more energy I would have to use to get through my day if I didn’t have those resources. Would I have been able to achieve everything I have without them? The conclusion I reach is always confronting.
None of us can control the conditions we were born into. What we can control is how we respond to the systems that put us ahead of those for whom the same systems have consistently failed, and designed to do exactly that. True entitlement is calling someone ‘brave’ for navigating a world designed to keep them out, and going about your life while doing nothing to challenge a world where being ‘brave’ is nothing more than a trauma response.
Now to the question I get asked all the time, and the most important. “I understand how the world is messed up, but what now?” The answer is quite simple. Use your privilege.
Covid-19 has put the injustices of the world under a spotlight, to the point where simply acknowledging your privilege is not enough. What do you have in your toolbox to enable a world where ‘privileges’ becomes the norm? Can you pass the mic and amplify the voices of the silenced? Challenge an employer or friend to think differently? One conversation will cause a ripple, multiple conversations will cause the tidal wave we need to fix everything that is broken.
More on Grace’s story by The Cut is here
Read Latifa’s amazing piece for Needs and Co here