Balancing the scales of privilege and responsibility

An old fashioned pair of weighing scales, one side up higher than the other.We don’t talk much in the UK about privilege. We talk about justice, access and equality; about diversity and difference. We discuss statistics and metrics, programmes and principles, but we don’t talk much about privilege.

So what is it?

Privilege is a way of framing issues surrounding social inequality, focusing as much on the advantages that one group accrues from society as on the disadvantages that another group experiences.

Some of us are privileged.

I am.  I had access to a good education, I am financially stable, I work in a way that both suits and excites me each and every day.

I believe the more privileged we are, the more responsibility we should have towards shifting the status quo. The more we have, the more we can give. It’s the basis of much of the work I do. For me, it’s the only thing that makes sense. And yet it seems to be happening less and less.

All around me in the cultural sector I can see drawbridges being pulled up as the cuts bite. There’s still much talk about openness, pathways and reaching out – just it seems to be coming from those with little to lose.

Not everywhere. I was at a meeting of National Portfolio Organisations (the ones in receipt of long-term support from Arts Council England) recently and someone was speaking about the joint responsibilities upon them to both lead and learn. I liked this. Leading yes, but not from an arrogant ‘we know it all’ place. From a place of constant curiosity about what others know. From a place that recognises its privilege.

Privilege bestows power; and with power comes responsibility – the three are inextricably linked. Noam Chomsky said:

“Responsibility I believe accrues through privilege. People like you and me have an unbelievable amount of privilege and therefore we have a huge amount of responsibility. We live in free societies where we are not afraid of the police; we have extraordinary wealth available to us by global standards. If you have those things, then you have the kind of responsibility that a person does not have if he or she is slaving seventy hours a week to put food on the table; a responsibility at the very least to inform yourself about power.”

Are you privileged? Is the organisation you work for? Does this knowledge impact on what you do?

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