Remembering personal privilege

With some of the things I’ve talked about over the years you would think that I felt like someone who had really struggled through life and had little going for me. Some points have been this way, but I am still afforded great advantage others are not. I find it’s good to recognize that even at the highest of high points and especially at the lowest of lows, because sometimes even the most well-intentioned of us can easily lose sight of this and put out potentially harmful messages.

I’d like to point out a specific example of someone doing something like this, but I want to make it clear now that firstly, I won’t be using any specific names just situations. Secondly the people I mention here are perfectly good and fine creative people putting out wonderful things that I am totally behind.

To a good extent that is OK because this can apply to many creators I am sure and as such makes it worthwhile as a message for us all to keep track of our personal messages, privilege, and position in any community. It leaves a message that no matter what the situation we can easily fall into the trap of making statements that can be inadvertently negative. Or if not negative, somewhat thoughtless.

The person I want to reference was someone I followed on a social media platform, they were smart, talented, furiously creative, and driven by a desire to make something good. One would never suggest that they didn’t work hard to create the things they did in their personal creative field. While I don’t know them in a close personal way I know enough about their years prior to their success to know that they came from a comfortable if working class background, both parents were around had jobs, and they had pretty much a comfortable childhood.

That life wasn’t perfect, they had history with mental health issues they overcame as many of the people who work in and around the communities they work in and around did growing up, and they had challenges and bad times they had to get through, as we all do. I want in no way to imply that they had life easy. Yet it could be argued they still had it easier than many.

I remember two occasions standing out to me on social media. Two times when they put out a message that they had intended to be encouraging but where they couldn’t see the possible false and damaging message they could also simultaneously be putting out.

The first time was while they were working at a big industry website. They had worked for a few years in retail and also had used equipment they had bought or been gifted to get a start with their own indie website before getting an opportunity at the place they happened to be a fan of. They would be in the websites’ forum a lot and fostered a relationship with the websites staff. As such an opportunity arose, and they got what many would call a dream job.

I have no doubt that this was something they absolutely appreciated, that they understood for the most part that they were lucky in ways others were not, they had gotten a spot many more people were now not going to have the chance at.

In this new role for the big website they worked hard and made good things, eventually opening up an opportunity to create a passion project. It was video content on a subject that mattered to them, and it showed. Very quickly the community gave the work and them the praise they deserved.

Then it happened, a simple post on social media. While I do not remember the exact wording it's more or less said. “I’m glad to have made this, but I’m nothing special, all I did was travel to a place and interview some people. If you want to make something, you can, just make it!”

Innocuous a statement as can be you would think, and made in the hope it would encourage others. Yet I read it and felt somewhat saddened. This message that was intended to give people the little push to try, was easily going to make those who couldn’t feel like failures before getting out of the starting blocks.

I felt that what this statement failed to take into account that for many people this simple option was and may always be an impossibility. That this impossibility would cause people who were unable, feel deeply inadequate.

I responded to this original statement with a question. “Where did you get the camera to film this video?”

Maybe it was a little crewel or unintentionally rude, but I know (or a hope so) that my intended message got through. In the instant they had posted this message, they had forgotten that they we’re doing it at a big website, using its equipment for free, possibly travelling to places other couldn’t afford to, probably with money the website gave them to cover expenses for travel. So many factors had been forgotten in an attempt to encourage. Then came another unintended statement of privilege “Seiibutsu has a point. But I bought my first camera and THEN paid for it doing side work recording events with it”

At that moment I realized that while a good person, that they would always have a little gap where they were never FULLY AWARE of the privilege they had. I cannot speak from anyone else’s point of view, but at the time I could not even begin to dream of owning ANY video camera. Let alone buying one for one thousand pounds or so and then just, paying for it later. The initial hurdle was always going to be there. Even now I have never been further north than Stockport. Let alone pay for a train ticket as far as they had travelled, carrying a camera that cost more than a month’s wages and having a PC good enough to edit and store the footage on. They still had an inability to see that people like myself existed at the time. Let alone people even worse off.

The second time this came up was a few years later. They had stayed with the big company a while and had been enough of a success that the American wing of the website eventually hired them to work permanently overseas. They worked there several years and made even more great work. Yet eventually they became, unhappy. Not in life I don’t think, but instead with the freedoms they had. They wanted more creativity and control.

As such after working over half a decade in their dream job they left the website and went out on their own.

They would do what many people do now and create a Patreon to find funding for their work. This was a well deserved success and even today they have the support of over 4000* people creating video and audio content that is wonderful, fun, and informative.

(* for reference that’s 4000 people plus paying about £3.00, the lowest supporter tier, each equalling around £12,000 plus per month today. Also, for reference my pay is under £7.00 ph, about £10,000 per year at 37 hours a week. It is important to note there are differences in currency, taxes, business costs and rent, among other things but even factoring in these things that’s quite the difference. It’s important that's as of today 11th October 2020 after the dips many have seen and may continue to see due to the ongoing effects of COVID-19)

I remember it was after the initial week they had found their starting success that they once again posted something intended to encourage others, yet utterly forgot the position they were in before venturing out on their own.

“It goes to show, it’s possible for anyone can do this and create a new business un-beholden to big sponsors “

Here’s the thing though, clearly that’s very wrong. It’s well intended yes, but very wrong and damaging. This person had started already on a better foot than many, had work their literal dream job for several years and had made connections to people on two sides of an industry, let alone communicated with many fans of their work. Fans they had found and work they had shared because a larger website had a big platform to share it. Friends and well-wishers inside and around the industry reblogged and shared their project, as did fans. Many from both groups even supported. This wasn’t a starting from ground zero situation and it was never going to be. Yet they still were unable to see this when sharing this message of success. An almost guaranteed success.

I don’t doubt that this person, like many others think they are doing a good thing sharing their personal story of success. I also have no doubt that they worked super hard to get the chances they had. I just worry that there’s still the distance between perception of their hard work and the understanding that someone else who dreams the same dreams and has the same wonderful ideas and drive, has to work ten times a shard to even get close to as successful. Many will never get there. I wonder how those people will feel after having been told anyone can do it, only to work twice as hard and be left with nothing at the end of the day.

It’s good to encourage others, to share resources, and to foster talent. This has to be done with cautious optimism and less frivolous a nature. One day giving someone false expectations could cause them to reach too far too soon and do them literal real harm in the long term.

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robin smith

Making things ~ the internet’s best kept secret ~ greatest man who never lived