Day 5:  I really shouldn’t be writing this down

Credit: Neil Winton

Public Privilege Challenge Day 5: Acknowledging my privilege of literacy

Today, in the last day of this Challenge, I explored my privilege of literacy.

Again, I was limited in this experiment in that I need to be a productive member of my workplace, and that productivity includes utilizing my literacy skills. Which says something in itself. So my blogging and interactions are only outside of my work day.

So in the morning I wanted to check the Winnipeg Transit website to find out when my bus would come, but the website is text-based. So I trudged outside to get the number of the bus stop to call into Transit to get the times. Not a big deal, really. But I was thinking about how much signage required for people to get around the city. I wondered why Winnipeg doesn’t label their busses with varying routes 10A or 10B instead of 10-Tache or 10-Provencher. This simple change would make it much easier for non-literate citygoers to get around.

My journey today took me through familiar routes, so getting around wasn’t a problem. But I did wonder at how much we depend on written signs to get around in new places. Street signs in this city are not numbered, directional signs are writing-based and not picture-based. I thought at how overwhelming and seemingly impossible this would all be if I were not able to read.

I also considered how much our society depends on literacy levels for individuals to get ahead or to do anything “official.” Applying for a job means that you need to either fill out an application form or hand in a written resume. Visiting any government office or health professional requires that you fill out forms, even applying for a health card in order to go to the professional requires that you fill out forms. Forms forms forms. Getting a bank account, cell phone, credit card, all of these things require us signing our name and aggreeing to the terms outlines within. What if you had no way of understanding what you were agreeing to, or were at the mercy of the person helping you and potentially benefiting from you signing the form?

I slipped up a few times today and didn’t even realize it. It is almost impossible to not use this privilege as it is so automatic. I checked lots of text messages and read lots of signs today before my brain remembered not to. It was a helpful exercise is mindfulness and remembering and in seeing the world in a new way.

This whole week has taught me a few meaningful lessons, and I am thankful for that. Foremost, I am really surprised at how powerless I feel about changing the world around me. I have always been pretty idealistic and really believe in pursuing utopia and social change, but this week felt mostly frustrated and limited. I can foresee paths of resisting privilege politically and as a larger social group through peer education and feminist pedagogy. But in my day-to-day actions, I have found it very difficult to map out ways to effectively not use my privilege. Part of this is that I am only one person and nobody cares or notices if I refuse to use a gendered washroom, or refuse to support a non-accessible vendor. But as I discussed in my last post, if we ALL decided to resist these certain privileges at least, the world around us would change dramatically. Resisting privlege on an individual scale can be meaningful and educational; resisting it as a large group and society would be world-changing.

Some of the posted comments on my posts are bang-on; I did beat myself up too much this week and focused more on the guilt and the paranoia than the fumbling. I should take my comments on being graceful to each other more to heart to myself and to others. Again, balance balance balance. Demand better, be firm in the demand, but be gentle on myself and on others. Good learnings, and I always struggle with that.

Thanks for your feedback, thoughts, and for walking with me through this week.


Read Day 4 Resisting my cisgender privilege

Why am I doing this? Click here to find out.

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  1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful engagement with privilege, Bre, and for sharing it in this blog. I even learned a new word (cisgender). The honesty you bring to this experiment is beautiful. With deep appreciation, Jennifer

    Jennifer Northern Ontario November 26th, 2011 1:45am

  2. This was a silly experiment that I can only deduce was designed to either generate unnecessary and improper guilt in the readers, or some sort of self-masochistic pride in the writer…

    You’re a white woman whose parts match her gender, and who can read/write while she walks down the street to catch a bus. The sooner you’re at peace with who you are the happier you’ll be, and the more effective you’ll be in helping others.

    Andrew November 26th, 2011 10:09am

  3. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I’ve found that the more I pick apart what privileges I see I have, the more likely I am to advocate for and act in solidarity when it’s appropriate and needed. So it might feel trite or unhelpful, but I disagree. Our mass refusal of accepting privileges isn’t the only thing that needs to happen. Deliberately including awareness of oppressions and privileges in our own thoughts and hearts can push us to act, demand change and support one another in ways that might not have occurred to us. You’ve encouraged us to expand our repertoires. Thank you.

    cmcm urban prairies November 26th, 2011 2:03pm

  4. I suggest adding a facebook like button for the blog!

    Geraldine USA November 28th, 2011 11:53pm

  5. I’ve really enjoyed reading about these challenges, Bre, and your reflections have been inspiring. Privileges related to class, gender, race, embodiment, and literacy can be so insidiously invisible to those of us who aren’t confronted with their absence, but you’ve brought to light many ways privilege affects my everyday life that I hadn’t realized! And you know? I’m glad I’m aware of them now.

    It’s true: guilt over one’s privileges can stir up in these kinds of experiments. But the point isn’t to feel bad; it’s to observe what we’ve overlooked, glean an increased understanding of others’ experiences and perspectives, and ultimately, change our behavior for the better. How we experience and move through the world isn’t how everyone does.

    Awareness and advocacy over self-loathing guilt, ya’ll.

    Sarah December 15th, 2011 1:01am

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