You’re a fish.
You were born in the water. You breathe it. You crap in it. You fuck in it. You never think twice about it; it’s just there. It’s omnipresent.
Then one day a catastrophe happens.
You get caught in a fishing net. You’re tossed unceremoniously onto the deck of a boat. You’re immobilized. You can’t breathe.
A minute goes by; then two. Your eyes are drying out, your gills are gasping for water. Five excruciating minutes pass: you’re not sure how much longer you can hold on, and your little fish life is passing before your little fish eyes. You’re ready to consign yourself to oblivion, wondering if you’re ever going to see your roe again, when a miracle happens! For reasons entirely unexplained, you get tossed back into the ocean.
You swim away, thankful like never before, for precious, life-saving, life-sustaining water. As you try to put the traumatic experience behind you, you wonder: how do those creatures on the boat survive? What keeps them going?
This is what privilege is like. You didn’t make the ocean. You didn’t ask to be born into it, yet you’re ensconced by it. Privilege is being so entirely and constantly surrounded by something that sustains and protects you that you’re almost entirely unaware it exists. If for some reason you’re temporarily removed from your privilege, it feels like you’re going to die, and you don’t understand the creatures who aren’t afforded the luxury of just swimming away. Being in the water is no guarantee of a long, prosperous fishy life; the ocean is full of predators. Maybe your dad’s a shark, maybe you come from a long line of clownfish. Being born in the ocean doesn’t mean you can’t suffer; it doesn’t mean life underwater is easy. It does mean you’re intrinsically advantaged over the fish that are trying to survive on land. Given a choice, this isn’t something you are ever giving up willingly. If you’re a fish, water is awesome.
Marginalized groups—minorities — are fish on the deck of the boat. They’re born there, they live there, and most of them will die there. They will spend their entire life gasping for what fish in the water take for granted: the barrier of protection, the unquestioned right to exist. These fish can strive to be smarter, work harder, create a life for themselves, but ultimately nothing they can do affords them the kind of freedom of movement the ocean provides. Some of them – a select few – might make it to the ocean. Just like fish who were born there, this does not guarantee their survival. They’ll still face the same challenges and struggles of the perilous deep blue sea, but given the choice, none of them would ever return to land.
Here is the beauty of the entire scenario: the fish on land have absolutely no desire to force the fish in the water to experience their suffering. There’s enough water for all fish, and it literally takes nothing away from the fish who were born in water to share their freedom, the protections they enjoy.
It’s a big ocean. There’s water enough for all.
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