The art & skill of recognising your luck

15 June 2019 by Jennifer

What we sometimes call “privilege” can also be thought of in terms of “luck”.  But pure luck can be random, whereas privilege shows a non-random pattern. 

That is, history and the resulting current systems mean that different kinds of “luck” are more likely to come to different groups of people.

"the art & skill of recognising your luck", on a background of grass and buttercups

In science, the art of setting up an experiment is to hold, say, nine variables steady, and look at how the tenth variable makes things change.

Recognising your advantages has to be done in the same way.  It doesn’t make sense to say, for example, “I don’t have any white privilege, because look, I’ve got no money”.  Those are two different variables – two different ways to get lucky.

To get a sense of how whiteness gave you some luck, you’d have to compare your situation with how your exact same situation would be for an equally skint person of colour, who’s worked just as hard as you have – who’s dealing with all the same problems you’re dealing with, plus racism as well.

Plus, you’d have to run that thread back into history, to see how your ancestors gained a bit of luck from being white, and how you might’ve indirectly benefited from their luck.

Obviously the details vary from family to family, but for example, both my grandads held jobs that I’m pretty sure a Black man in England in the 1930s wouldn’t have been offered – one as a pattern-maker in a shipyard, one at the Trustee Savings Bank.

If my parents’ families hadn’t had that financial security, then maybe my parents wouldn’t have been able to go on to college, which in turn helped them to gain skills and earn money… and my life might have been a lot different.  (if I’d even been born! because maybe they wouldn’t have met!)

Likewise, to see how I’m disadvantaged by being a woman, I’d have to compare my situation with someone exactly like me, except for being a man.  It doesn’t mean I haven’t had loads of lucky advantages over some men, which come from other aspects of my life, like being white, relatively financially secure, in pretty good health, etc.