The Cost of Having a Head Start

Running. You either love it or you hate it. But just for this moment, let’s pretend you’re a sprinter. You train 12 hours a week, building up speed, strength, and endurance, all so that first place is in the bag. Right now? You’re lined up at the starting line of the 100m sprint. There’re butterflies in your stomach, adrenaline is pumping through your veins – you’re ready. But as you begin to crouch down, the loudspeaker rattles off a list of commands. Take one step forward if you have two parents. Take one step forward if you can afford to go to university. Take one step forward if you’ve never felt like you should be ashamed of your culture. The orders continue and before you know it, you’re still stuck at the starting line while all your competitors are miles ahead. You realise that no matter how hard you work, or how fast you run, there’s simply no way for you to beat those who had the head start.

But you still have to run.

This isn’t about some race at the athletics carnival. This is a race dictated by privilege. In today’s world, simply belonging to a certain community can sentence us to disadvantages that impact our lives every, single, day.

But, with Gen Z—with us—we’ve seen a new dawn of awareness. And while sombre Instagram posts and relentless news articles make it impossible for us to ignore the hatred in our world, they’ve made it just as easy to realise how truly lucky we are.

Living in this country means we don’t have to choose between getting cancer treatment or paying our bills. Living in this country means we can stick our heads out of car windows without coughing up polluted air. Living in this country means we can still have an income without having a job. But the high standards that we take for granted are merely a foreign concept, a dream, for many in other countries.

Now I’m sure you’re all sitting here feeling hopeless, perhaps even outraged by this reality. So, today, I’d like to share three tips to bring everyone back to the starting line and make the race fair again.

Tip number 1 – Recognise. Recognise that privilege comes in many forms, and we are often blind to how much of a head start we’re going to get. While I’m never going to be able to list off every possible example – though I’m hoping after this speech you will be inspired to do some self-evaluation and research of your own – our privileges may include being rich, cis-gendered, white, straight, and/or fully abled.

Ultimately, privilege is being able to pretend that privilege doesn’t exist. But since those with these advantages have never known otherwise, it remains largely invisible – and this is when it’s most dangerous. Why? Because when we ignore the issue, we support it.

Tip number 2 – Understand privilege is not our fault, and those further ahead in the race aren’t deserving of criticism. Over the last decade, the term has deteriorated into a form of weaponry used to invalidate the achievements of those who have it. However, privilege and hard work have never been mutually exclusive. Having racial privilege doesn’t mean life is easier. It just means that race isn’t the thing making it difficult.

That’s not to say that privilege is never misused. Too often, people believe that they’re deserving of special treatment and use their privileges to oppress others. We need look no further than Amy Cooper – otherwise known as a Karen – who hurled racial slurs at a black man just because he asked her to put her dog on a leash.

But, as Brene Brown once said, what separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.

This leads me to tip number 3. Generate gratitude.

It’s very easy to distance ourselves from injustices that don’t affect us. To keep our eyes in front, rather than be heartbroken by the amount of people left behind. But the reality is, everyone has something to be grateful for – regardless of how much or little we have.

I don’t need to quote studies that show that gratitude makes us happier – we’ve all seen them. What’s not said as often, is that generating gratitude allows us to understand and connect with those who aren’t in our unique position.

We can’t control where we’re born. We can’t control the colour of our skin. But we can be grateful and empathetic with the knowledge that people three steps behind could be wishing to stand in our place.

So, let’s look around the track. Let’s acknowledge just how staggered our positions in the race are, and let’s bridge those distances. Because when we finally do, we will accomplish miracles.

By Iha Agrawal (10R)