Friday, 9 June 2017

My Middle Class Privilege

I'm going there.

For as long as I haven't posted, I've been mulling this over in my mind. I've been wondering whether I felt I needed a soap box to say my say, or whether this is actually a valid point that needs some kind of spread (even if only to the friends and family that read this) to allow others to think about it as well. I still don't have the answer. So if nothing else, this will be something of a journal entry for me to look over down the line from now.

It's not like I never knew middle class privilege existed. I'm the first to admit that I have classist prejudices. They stem from my own childhood when it was assumed that because I attended a Model-C school, spoke proper English (without a flat accent), and didn't listen to the local radio station, I was trying to be white. I never understood that. I was fortunate to not be affected by colour. I didn't want or feel the need to be another colour. I did, however, want to be better, and probably therein lies the issue.

Fast forward nearly thirty years, and I live a fairly open-minded, middle class life. I have not experienced overwhelming success in any area. I am not rich. I do not live in in an affluent area. We try to keep things simple. We have to. Yet, I am considered far more fortunately and privileged than many in my country. I live in a solid structure covered by a roof. I have access to clean (hot) running water and sanitation. I have a permanent job. I can (just about) afford medical aid. In this country, in this day and age, that makes me rich.

So as the drought we currently found ourselves in has become increasingly dire, I have challenged myself in the area of using more than I need. The truth is: there is plenty I don't need. So when I asked questioned the water consumption for water-birth on a local water saving social media page, I was not prepared for the onslaught I was going to receive.

To cut a long story short, I was bombarded with accusations of calling birth a luxury, not wanting to give (my) children the best possible start in life, justifying c-sections and the water used there etc. etc. etc. I didn't get a chance to respond because the admin turned off all the commenting rights, but here's the truth, for me anyway:

Never mind my thoughts on natural v c-section births ( I have plenty, most of them documented in this blog). While child birth is not a luxury, in my books, a water birth most certainly is. While I don't deny the pain-relieving and intervention-reducing benefits of birthing in water, using 650L of water - the equivalent of one person's allotment for the week under our current 4B water restriction - is for comfort, and certainly not essential. Just ask the many women who give birth (vaginally, mind you) down the road at any local MOU or government facility.

Would I like the option of water during labour? Absolutely! But am I willing to ask for it at the expense of someone's water quote for a whole week? No.

Similarly, we experienced a pretty bad storm this week. In some areas it was no worse that any of Cape Town's annual ones, but the reality is that in other places buildings had roofs blown off, people were left homeless and destitute, and lives were lost. Even worse than that, not far down the national road from here, part of the Garden Route is engulfed in flames. Nearly 30% of Knysna has been burnt to the ground. But we see things in the rose-tinted lenses of our designer sunglasses.

Please don't think that I'm self-righteously pointing the finger at anyone. This problem is my problem. I'm part of the population for whom it is too easy for us to disregard the plight of others, justify our choices, or give our critical opinion as we sip on gourmet hot chocolate in comfort of our warm, dry homes. And all because we think we've worked hard enough and earned the right to our luxuries.

This torments me so much. It's not something I know how to solve. But I do know this: we will never get to the point of having exhausted all avenues for us to help those who have less than us - there is that much to do. And until we get up, and walk a mile in someone else's shoes, we will never know the extent of their burden, and we will always think we are better. When really, we aren't.

Vluit, vluit. My storie is uit.

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