I Don’t Want To Be A Well-Kept Woman With White Privilege.
I have found myself in the throes of white privilege, and it could be overlooked as normal if I weren’t so morally opposed to it.
It’s clever, because society tells me I’m winning. Society tells me I’ve got one-up on living in the projects. Society tells me I’m better than the factory workers, the night-shifters, the people who scrape around for cigarette butts on the floor.
Really, I have one luxury only, and it is space for self-reflection.
Mental illness is described in Shamanism as a doorway to understanding, because life becomes so torturous it is no longer a dream — it’s a nightmare.
Just like real nightmares, we often wake up moments before we die, and see our human experience for the illusion it is.
I am realizing that relief from the burden of the ego is much harder to come by with a safety net. That’s one reason rich people, who were brought up rich, are often assholes.
There is some profound healing and self-knowledge I came across only because I was in a genuine struggle for survival. I want to pay my due respect to what I learnt during that time:
I live in a house with spare rooms that I walk past daily, the same way I walk past the long lines of African-American homeless queuing up to get into a shelter for the night. These are fully-furnished rooms that aren’t used for months on end.
My boyfriend’s income could support a small country. I have a pool outside my front door. Mexican gardeners prune the roses weekly. Filipino women clean the house from top to bottom.
Just as they do not deserve the deficit, I have done nothing to deserve the benefit. It is not even my family; I was not born into this. I’ve not earned it either; I’ve fallen through a series of romantic glitches in the Matrix and ended up in what should be an oasis.
Basically, my boyfriend is loaded — and I’m reaping the rewards. But I can’t just accept these rewards the way he does, because I know some version of the other side.
As a victim of white privilege, it is more difficult to find life experience gritty enough to get reason to change; I can’t get movement the way I used to.
Prior to being whisked up into a saturated fantasy, where the grass is evergreen (it’s astroturf), I was motivated by extreme pressure.
I had to figure out a way to pay my rent; my landlord was flying in from Turkey and I owed him a small fortune.
I had to get from an illicit job an hour across London (and sober up en route) because my dad was visiting out of necessity, to give me food and a bath — something I was seemingly incapable of doing. There was very little room for maneuver.
The worse it got, the deeper my resilience became.
Keeping myself out of harm’s way engaged all my faculties. I had profound revelations and breakthroughs, and progressed more spiritually, in that time of mayhem, than I have on any pre-established path.
I had to start all over, again and again, because I lacked the mental clarity to plant roots. When desperation ran my life, I had to change — or die. I see this resilience every day in men and women who live on the streets.
Theirs are the faces of survival; of passion hardened into a deep commitment to survival. Theirs are the faces of stoicism, hope, and connection to the essence of life without it’s glamour.
There is little else that could keep them holding on if it was not for a faint hope, that one day things might get better. Their life is a colorful drama through which they learn every shape and size of God.
Like them, I learned to be resourceful and determined. It wasn’t like I was on the poverty line; I didn’t have children to support, and I was educated, and friends almost always gave me somewhere to crash. I had left a few bridges unburnt.
But often, for more than five years of my tender adolescence turning into my tender womanhood, giving up was easier than making my life work. In those blackest moments, the animal instinct of self-preservation was the only thing that saved me.
Sex also develops in this mode of survival; the animal body thrives on the edge. The fire in me is harder to spark now that I no longer feel in danger.
Up until now, life has consisted of hitting the unmovable iron pole within, only to finding out it will bend and stretch but never break. I learnt advanced poses because foundations are unnecessary in accomplishing one-off extreme feats.
That’s another thing I miss from living on the edge; I had so few expectations (having earned nothing) that everything was a miracle. I would somehow, every day, wake up with only a raging hangover and go to sleep that night having had yet another adventure.
Street-roaming and back-alleyways have experiential gold hiding in their depths.
However, if sustainable, permanent growth is desired, the slower it takes, the longer it lasts. I committed to get a foundation in something other than fear. I caused as much bad as I did good, but against all odds I survived. That can no longer be my rite of passage.
We go out for dinner a few times a week. We do Yoga together. We meditate in the morning. We have slow, loving sex. But some part of me is falling away; do I need danger and uncertainty to feel alive?
Now that I am supported emotionally, financially and socially, I have to find new reasons for success that are not because my situation is killing me. I’m not exhausted. I’m not terrified. Here lies the opportunity to live a normal life.
The curtains of sleepy, comforting conventionality beckon me into their folds.
I’m noticing how easy it is to lose passion in happiness. The fairy tale’s complete, now what?
It’s just comfort upon comfort upon comfort, and all of a sudden there are a thousand nuances overlooked, and I’m worlds away from him, feeling like I need to run, jump, dive, ski, swim, anything to get out from underneath this blanket of suffocating care.
I don’t want any more smooth edges. I don’t want three meals a day. I don’t want to eat with a knife and fork. And that’s part of the problem; I don’t want for anything, nor do I need anything.
A part of me is dying. It’s this part that was dependent on causing chaos to see her effect in the world. It’s this part of me that fights tooth and claw for affection and self-worth. Now I have no need for that reckless abandon.
The voices tell me there is no growth here. I am not finding out what I’m made of. My life is easy and it’s killing me. I need to face disaster. I don’t want to be a well-kept woman.
I cannot forget what it means to be passionately moved by something outside my control. I remember what it felt like to be flushed with adrenaline as I stole from stores. I don’t receive death-threats anymore.
I don’t start random fights with passers-by for bashing me with their shoulder bag, or have debates with strangers spouting religious dogma. It is so easy to collapse into disassociation and sit in the passenger seat of life.
In the midst of this, I’m actually learning how to love myself.
People we judge as living on the edge have gifts — faith, salvation, community values, real-talk, madness and passion. Socially superior isolation is too pretty for most to admit what’s missing. The experience of scarcity is priceless.
Am I excusing the disgusting way our culture perpetuates unfair hierarchy, racism, and misogyny in all its guises? No.
Do I think it’s okay that people are suffering needlessly because of a lack of healthcare and pure small-mindedness of the few that control the many? No.
But I would like to offer the world new eyes through which to view what you perceive as suffering. My experience is, there is no greater suffering than that of a soul who is searching for answers in our consumerist culture.
We need to start looking at those people we pity with profound admiration and curiosity. They continue to light the burning fire of survival. Very often, the further-flung the outcast, the greater their understanding of the human condition.
We think these people are suffering; and in ways I no longer have to imagine, they are. But take time out of your day to ask these men and women what they know about life, and what stories they have to tell.
And you might realize that your own spirit’s truth is crusted over with materialism, and drowning in propriety.
Jane West is a writer, recovering alcoholic, life-coach and philosopher. She studied female sexuality and communication for two years (and then for the rest of her life). She likes sadness as much as she likes happiness, and the truth above everything. She likes quotations and believes in past lives, astrology and magic. She grew up in London and recently moved to San Francisco. Find out about coaching with her at her website.