A Horse Girl’s Perspective on Privilege
Heads up, colourful language ahead…
As I write this my brain feels like it just ran a marathon and needs to sit on the couch for a week watching Netflix just to recover. You see, this horse girl just made her first foray into the world of Deep Democracy (learn more about this amazing work here), arriving at the event with terribly sweaty palms and a racing heart, prepared for a potential onslaught of uncomfortableness and things that I have had the privilege to avoid more often than I’d like to admit, like conflict and feelings.
When something is causing that much upheaval in my unconscious it usually means one of two things: either run far far away OR get a whole lot closer and take a deeper look. This event, when I checked in with my inner guidance system, was the latter, hence my attendance despite some noticeable reluctance. I should probably give you a bit more context at this point on why my palms were so so sweaty. This particular afternoon of Deep Democracy was dedicated to a rather taboo subject matter, which I have already hinted at several times. Yes, we were talking about privilege.
Now, let me give you a little background about me when it comes to privilege (and yes, this is not an easy topic to get vulnerable about, but here goes). I am hella privileged just by the pure fact that I was born white and upper-middle class, in Canada. Add to that the fact that I have a university degree, a pretty face, an able body, a steady paycheck (ish), food on the table and in the hay nets, a huge support network, and parents that are still happily together after forever and I should just be constantly kissing the ground I walk on in thanks. Despite all of these advantages, I am also sadly undereducated on the subject of privilege – what it is, how it works, and why it matters. That’s the thing about privilege – you don’t really know when you have it, but you definitely know when you don’t.
So that’s what I want to get into here – as much for my own benefit as for yours.
While we’re talking luxury (and the reason I called this a horse girl’s perspective on privilege), I also have two horses in field on the 11 acre property on a lake that I call home, who mainly hang out and eat and get bum scratches from the resident bum scratcher (that would be me) and get ridden every now and again. I don’t use them to plow the fields, or deliver mail or to go to war – my horses are my friends, partners and essentially, pets. Along with them come the expensive custom-made saddle, the big truck, the trailer, the hundreds of bales of hay and hours upon hours dedicated solely to scooping poop, mixing feed, bum scratching (it is a near constant request from Diva), heading out on trail rides, and perfecting my canter departures. Horses are, undeniably, luxurious animals to share your life with. It is the very definition of privilege to have them as part of your life. Even if you worked damn hard to get them (as I did – I have lost count of the bazzillion stalls I had to clean to make this life work) and continue to do so on the daily (yep, me too), there is no getting past the fact that you would not be here, covered in horse hair and riding gear and farmer’s tans if it wasn’t, at least partly, for the influence of your rank and privileges.
Take me as an example. My horse obsession was began early. Luckily, in my extended family of caucasian, upper middle class, educated folks, I had three cousins with horses that I was able to hang out with and ride from an early age, well nourishing the seed of my horse addiction. I also had parents with the resources to pay for riding lessons and drive me the 45 minutes there and back every week. Not to mention all the gear that is required just to take said riding lessons. In the summers I would get flown off to my aunt’s farm in Prince George to nurture my obsession for a week or two, fanning the flames and building my knowledge base. My privilege meant that after leaving university, I had help from my family to support my leap into the vast unknown of becoming an Equine Sport Therapist and an entrepreneur, along with the purchase of my mare Diva, all at the age of 23. If I had been born into another family, one without this kind of privilege and without the advantages I enjoyed, my horse obsession may well have stopped abruptly at cutting horse pictures out of magazines and books and taping them to my walls. I may never have even had the opportunity afforded me to touch a horse, much less ride one. And I more than likely would have never even dipped a toe in the world of equine wellness and healing. Yes, I did a shit ton of hard work to get where I am, and overcame a great deal of adversity in the process, but I would be lying to myself and to you if I didn’t attribute some of the trajectory of my life to the privilege I was born into. And I would hazard a guess that if you too took a good hard look at your path, privilege played a role in one way or the other.
Let me give you a metaphor on privilege, just to really drive home the crux of what is happening here. In the dictionary, privilege is described as an undeserved advantage – a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people. Those people didn’t necessarily work to earn it, but it’s given to them none-the-less. So let’s think of privilege like a horse.
Imagine that a group of people is walking along and several of these people have lighter skin, rather than darker skin, due to a difference in pigmentation. For some weird reason, someone in the group determines that the people with lighter skin should have an advantage – hence they are given a horse to ride. Everyone else has to walk. And the fact is, riding a horse just makes everything way easier – you use less energy, you can travel further faster, you can move stuff and plow stuff and do stuff you just can’t do without said horse. Giving a horse to these particular people makes no sense to start with, but then, as it always seems to, the unusual becomes the new normal, an expectation. Of course these people should ride a horse while we walk. And the people riding the horses expect horses for their children and the children beyond that, merely because of the colour of their skin, looking down on those who only walk. And the expectations are set, without regard for whether they make a lick of sense. Without the acknowledgement that the whole system is, in fact, just a tiny bit insane (I may be underestimating as much of the time I think it is downright crazy).
So it is with our world and our culture, certain people exalted above others, revelling in advantages unearned and resenting others resentment of it, while others become victims to a system that is fundamentally flawed, a system that states that anyone with dreams can achieve anything that they desire. And that statement, my friends, is a whole lot of bull shit.
I will never have to worry that a loved one will get shot and killed by the police because of the colour of their skin. I will never have to experience racial stress or hatred for how I look. I have never felt looked down upon because of something I cannot change or control. I will never have to exist in a war zone, fearing for my life every single day. I will never be falsely accused of being a threat to my country because of the my faith or my skin colour or the country my grandparents came from. Never. I will never be forced off the land I was born on, which my people lived on and cared for for hundreds of year, and treated with contempt in my native territory. My privilege ensures that. It gives me shelter where others have little or none.
My initial response to the above realization was to feel very very ashamed. Shit, I didn’t ask for these advantages, it was just how it all went down. I felt defensive, scared of what the truth meant. It’s easy to feel at fault for your privilege, like you did something wrong by getting born into the life path that you did. You may feel the same heavy uncomfortable feeling. Yes, it’s a part of the process to feel a little guilty, but it serves no one to stay there.
Because here’s the thing about privilege, at least in my eyes. We need to recognize it. We must. This is step one. Which means getting off your defensive high horse pronto and getting clear on what is really happening and what is the truth for you when it comes to privilege, as we each have our own.
And next, we need to get super clear on how we can start being more helpful. That’s where I get to, and what I witnessed in the 25 other people at the workshop. The constant raising of the question: How can I be a whole lot more helpful? How can I get past my own stuff and do what needs to be done. How can I start having the important, though difficult, conversations. What does it look like to get past my fear of imposing or ruffling feathers, to speak up about what needs to be said and to set boundaries where they need to be set? I see now that our daily choices about what is and isn’t ok really mean something. This article is my jumping off point. It’s my “I don’t have much of a clue, but goddammit I would love to start a conversation about this and to help others do the same.” It is my starting point – a place to get the ball rolling on what it looks like to be more helpful and more controversial than my typical, “I don’t want to upset the apple cart” way in the world.
Let’s face it, there are a lot of people (and animals) experiencing oppression in this world. People who will never ever have the opportunity that you or I had. They just won’t. The system that we live in has determined that. It ain’t a fair fight. And many of us base our truth on the fact that things are fair, when they actually aren’t.
It really really sucks that this is the case. It is the shits that we live in a world where the colour of your skin, your gender, your sexual orientation, your age, and your attractiveness, have any bearing on how you are valued as a person and the advantages you receive as a result. There is nothing at all cool about this reality. In fact, it makes me feel angry. Anger is essential in mobilizing us into action, and quite frankly, this is a damn good thing to feel angry about it. This is something worth getting angry about, it’s worth getting up in arms. It’s little wonder that anger has fueled every revolution – it is a powerful force for change, an emotion that says “this is not right, I will no longer stand for it and it needs to change.” It holds powerful momentum for change – it sets a clear boundary between what is and isn’t ok.
Here’s the next step, after we painstakingly digest the deeply uncomfortable truth of what’s happening. We’ve got to get our heads and our hearts wrapped around the fact that, the people walking while we’re riding the horse, in fact, have every reason to be speaking up about it, and we, in fact, have every reason to sit down, shut up and listen. To me, that feels like where the healing begins. When we stop defending our position and just open our hearts. When we get off our high horse and start a conversation from a place of utter humility and even unknowingness. From a place of “I really am not sure what to do, but I am open to your sharing and willing to be as helpful as I possibly can be”. And most importantly, from a place of “I am deeply sorry for the hardship you have faced and the oppression you have encountered, and I acknowledge the part that I have played knowingly or unknowingly.”
The biggest gap in our workshop was encountered when we all stared over the abyss of this great divide and begged for a bridge that brought us to reconciliation. What I recognized in myself was a sense of powerlessness, a fear that arose when I realized I had no idea what to do and where to start.
And in that thread, in that vein of thought and feeling, I have included several resources and articles that began bridging the gap for me, or at least educating me on a subject in which I have felt remarkably clueless (I feel slightly more knowledgeable and adept now which is relieving and encouraging). I acknowledge, with deep humility, how much further I have to go. For now, from the depths of my horse-loving heart, please know that I am trying and that I am open and that I am sorry. I will do better, I can promise you that.
Important and Helpful Resources:
Photo of Diva and I by the amazing Candice Camille