Privilege Posters Stir Division

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Mixed student response to Ethnic Diversity Committee’s privilege campaign

The Ethnic Diversity Committee (EDC), run by BME Officer Chris Ebulu, recently launched a privilege campaign. This campaign has involved the distribution of posters, each stamped with an eye-catching “CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE” slogan in red.

The posters invite the viewer to observe beneath a list of identity categories which include: white, cisgender, male, able-bodied, class, heterosexual, and Christian – all of which are explained as being categories of privilege and each poster is dedicated to a particular group.

For instance, one poster describes Christian privilege. It reads, “If you can expect time off from work to celebrate your religious holidays, you have Christian privilege.” These are all summarised in a conclusive poster which states, “If you don’t have to think about it, it’s a privilege.” 

SCAN asked students what they thought of the posters

“These over-generalisations reek of anglo-centralism and naivety.”

“Good. People need to be challenged and exposed to alternate viewpoints.”

“I like them, but the heterosexual privilege one is worded kinda weirdly, and I’m pretty sure it’s describing the opposite thing? Either way, I’m glad that stuff like this is being addressed.”

“While I agree with the general message of raising awareness of inequalities and differences in treatment of people, the way these people have gone about it, using “check your privilege” as a tagline is just plain stupid.”

“As a Northern Irish Christian who has been persecuted for hundreds of years, I find the idea of me being privileged abhorrent. I constantly get labelled as ‘privileged’ purely based on my skin colour. I feel as though this ‘diversity’ campaign is not representative of all the students on campus.”

“I understand the sentiment, but it’s executed poorly. I’m confident that the police are here to protect me, and I’m not white…”

“Raising awareness about racism/sexism/class privilege/etc. is unequivocally a good thing, and it’s pretty ridiculous that SCAN is even asking this question.”

“Virtue signalling at its worst. At least the people that do this are too busy getting virtue points to ever amount to anything.”

“With the current wording, I expect the posters to deter a good amount of people who might feel negatively targeted by the underlying tone.”

BME Officer Chris Ebulu was contacted for a statement

He did not respond directly, but the EDC team released a statement on the Lancaster University BME Students Network Facebook page:

“The check your privilege posters were created by Dr. Ja’Nina Walker, Psychology Professor. The purpose of the posters is for individuals to recognise and understand privilege and to use that knowledge through engagement in dialogue, such as taking part in active discussions like the EDC debates. The posters are intended to increase the awareness of privilege, facilitate discussions around privilege, and for individuals to use their privilege(s) to advocate for others.”

“Why did we choose these posters?”

“First of all, privilege is extremely relative to the country, time, and societal context we find ourselves in. Here we have chosen posters which are relevant to England and especially relevant to us as students moving into wider society. Clearly, one can be privileged in some ways and not others. The posters do not reflect the complexity of various privileges and how they intersect with each other, and this is purely by virtue of the fact that they are simply posters. Complex explanations cannot be explored in a few words; these are merely a catalyst for further discussion and should not be taken as anything else.”

The Students’ Union Full Time Officer Team responded:

“We are aware of the posters created by our Ethnic Diversity Committee (EDC). Whilst we do not believe these posters were meant to cause offence, we understand how they may have done so. We are working to facilitate conversations between the Committee and the students who have raised concerns.”

Poster author Dr Ja’Nina Garrett-Walker from the University of San Francisco gave her take:

“The posters were designed to bring awareness to social inequity. We are at a point in humanity where people feel that bringing awareness to injustice is a divisive tool. However, it is quite the opposite.”

“Research has continuously shown that making people aware of social inequality makes people more compassionate, more understanding, and more likely to stand up against injustice. People also have to understand that just because people have some privileges, that does not mean that they have all privileges.”

“Most people are privileged in some ways and not privileged in other ways. So if someone has an identity in one of the posters, that does not diminish the hardships that they may experience from an identity in another poster. People tend to see privilege through a reductionist lens.”

“However, you have to understand privilege through an intersectional lens because as humans, we are all multifaceted. The point of the posters is to get people to think about how their individual identities may be mapped onto systematic forms of privilege.”

Intersectionality is the study of how different identity categories interact to affect an individual’s social standing. Garrett-Walker acknowledges that humans are multifaceted and unique. How, then, can posters which present people as members of categories help?

Understanding and empathising with the struggles of others can only be a good thing, but these categories appear blunt, often missing the unique, historical, and geographical circumstances peculiar to individuals, as evidenced most notably by our Northern Irish commentators. They fail to appreciate that groups don’t suffer; they can’t. Only individuals can.

Of course, these categories of privilege and oppression exist broadly, but how many categories are there? And how do we account for them all in our inevitably biased assessment of how much a given individual is privileged or oppressed? And who decides?

It appears we may be doomed to periodically repeat the transformation from group-identity to individualism in our eternal struggle with innate human tribalism.

The University was asked for its stance but declined to comment.

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