Privilege. A wonderful thing for those in ignorance of having it, and darn awful and demeaning notion for those who do not. I have spent the past month in Calais, volunteering with the Refugee Community Kitchen (RCK) and witnessed the brave, tireless, relentless and inspiring operations.
When faced with humans, many of whom voiced to me that their only goal in life at that very moment was to reside in a country that you take for granted every goddamn day of your life, it is unavoidable that the overwhelming feeling of privilege slides into your very core and grapples with your conscience.
The very city I dread to pass through in and out of my journey back to my university, is the oasis that many resilient and motivated people just over The Channel dream of reaching one day. I had an exam I needed to go back for to revise, which interrupted my time volunteering in Calais. This exam is to complete my undergrad degree. I am doing this, whilst hundreds of thousands of young women and men have missed out on years of education. A generation in transit, in limbo.
The politically labelled ‘migrants’ and ‘refugees’ are entangled with bureaucratic obstacles. Nevertheless, persisting to provide food to these humans is an act of concerted resistance to the lingering climate of hostility. The fundamental basic need of food is restricted, monitored and prevented by the French state. Although this is a similar story in many European countries, the very fact that my own nation is fuelling these hateful policies makes me feel sick and extremely frustrated.
However, although thinking rationally in a totally irrational circumstance is difficult, these people are just that; people. They need food and water, shelter and medical aid. If they are denied that, then they are denied the very right to be human. They are rejected as fellow citizens of the earth and that is possibly the most dark reflection I have had about the situation that migrants and refugees have found themselves in. Because when politicians actively allow and enforce the rejection of humans, never mind humans in need, then the onset of privilege is starkly evident.
So what RCK do is very simple, really. Some could argue that they have politicised the act of giving food by providing where they state has failed. But I would argue that politics does not matter here; people in need of food, so we feed them. This is the issue with being allowed time to reflect. If you give yourself a period to look at this mess and think about it for too long, then you too may be paralysed with inertia because of the complexity and controversy of it all. But when you decide to act, you do it with humanity at the core of your decision. When you realise that the basic need must be fed (excuse the pun) then you will choose to make the right decision.
We can let the crimes of our political leaders go unpunished; ignored; acquitted, by witnessing the atrocities they directly and indirectly have a role in and do nothing in response. But in today’s globalised and interconnected world, we have absolutely no excuse to say ‘we did not know’. The only way that this could be true is through concerted ignorance. We can watch from the side lines- from our sofas, from our homes- and comment on the issues we face and make irrational remarks based on the foundation of basic opinion. Or we can resist the commentary we hear on buses, the dialogue in the pub, the comments from the racist uncle that are nothing but religious stereotypes. Because the easy and selfish option would be to allow our comfortable lives in the UK to continue unfettered by simply doing nothing. But we need to resist that temptation, and understand what empathy feels like. What it really feels like to be in the shoes of someone who’s life back in their homeland was so bad that they chose to get into that boat; chose to leave their mother behind; chose to say no to guns and yes to liberty. Tap into that mind-set and then reassess whether you make your life decisions based on your privilege or with your humanity.
With resistance comes challenge. Being privileged is not a hall-pass for inaction. Challenge those who make statements backed by nothing but ignorance. Challenge those who wish to lead your community into a insular, non-progressive bubble that’s all for making ‘Britain Great Again’ but not for remembering who’s lives were lost at the expensive of Britain ever having been great before. Learn your history; understand where our country went and who it left behind and why these people are now wanting to leave their home countries (or being forced to).
Lastly, take action. If that means choosing more carefully who you place your trust with in the media, what you choose to read, who you vote for. Or in acting physically by donating your time and labour to a charity like RCK who do everything they can to ensure that privilege does not prevent one human providing another with a basic human need.