Illustration by Marcelina Jagielka.
Whether it’s about mumble rap, TikTok, or the sheer amount of work you are expected to complete at this godforsaken institution during a pandemic, I have found that it is very easy to be bitter. Yet, as much as I would love to chalk all my previous pessimism up to spite and hormones, it is irrefutable that we live in a world that thrives on injustice and inequality. A lot of my pessimism stemmed from that exact realisation – because while people with privilege may not recognise they have it, people without it have no choice but to acknowledge it.
But what do you do after you realise that, and life simply carries on?
What do you do when you enter an institution that transforms you into the people you are bitter about? What do you do when you start learning about classical literature, or get used to Latin traditions, or you begin saying fancy words and writing fancy essays you would never have said or written in your state school? What do you do when you befriend people with no student loans, who have fancy cars, and parents in healthy marriages with even healthier trust funds? What does it say about you when you start to really like them and they transform into real genuine people, not caricatures or stereotypes?
It’s a phenomenon so much deeper than the simple: everyone suffers, and everyone’s struggles are valid. It’s more: privilege is dynamic, it can be inherited, revoked, and most interestingly, transferred. If I have children, they will have a parent who has attended Oxford, a privilege which I would envy a peer for. If I start a company and offer my child, or my mum, or my sister a role in it, I’m contributing to nepotism. If I give my child a car for their birthday, if I pay for tutors when they are struggling with a subject, if I send them to a school which focusses specifically on enhancing their individualities and teaching them skills to an incredibly high standard… if I do all of that, I become part of a system of privilege that I have grown up to be resentful of.
But that is what I want to do with my life. I want to provide for those I love. I want to pursue my passions. I want to be comfortable. I want a better quality of life. I never ever want to consider being made homeless again, and wondering whether to prioritise food or heating. I don’t want to worry about roofs leaking, or malfunctioning toilets and missing door handles, about walking home in the rain with tattered shoes knowing that I can’t afford to replace them.
These desires, when articulated, seem completely reasonable, so why does it feel that if I pursue them, I am doing something wrong? If I throw my hopes and dreams on a balance and they finally tip in the direction that I want, why does it feel that by gaining something, I lose something. And why does that loss feel like I am losing myself?
Maybe it’s because I understand that when you take, you take away. If one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, for me, securing my own treasure feels like condemning someone to trash.
I haven’t fleshed out this topic very well and for that I apologise, but the reason that this is so difficult to articulate is because it is impossible to reach a satisfying verdict. It makes sense now why a lot of rap speaks about survivor’s guilt but that concerns itself with the aftermath of facing poverty and struggle. What about being on the cusp of escaping it, the moment just before you leap, where you don’t know if you will fall off or fly?
Maybe I’m scared of living in a sort of no-man’s land, a purgatory. But which book of Dante’s The Divine Comedy is for those who exist in neither Hell nor Heaven? Because that’s the issue with purgatory: you don’t know where you will end up, but you also don’t know whether you want to end up anywhere. If that sounds unreasonable and people are thinking “well, Heaven of course”, consider this: in one of my Oxford University lectures, we considered two kinds of empires, an empire of growth and an empire of stasis. An empire of stasis will eventually be swallowed up by bigger empires, but an empire of growth will swallow up other nations until it collapses from within. So do I want to explode or implode?
Isn’t it interesting how revealing any answer that comes to one’s mind is right now? How passionate people are about loving or hating private schools; how aggressively for or against people are about inherited wealth and pursuing extravagance. It’s a conflict that I am right in the middle of since I got accepted to Oxford, and it will follow me throughout my journey. One good thing it has done, however, is make me realise just how dynamic and precarious the human experience can be, and that preconceived notions and chips on your shoulder are most burdensome to the people carrying them.
In a way, then, I am turning a new leaf on my perceptions and tolerance of privilege. I am also acknowledging that, in the story of my life, I can’t ever rewrite previous chapters or stay on this current one. More importantly, I have realised that I shouldn’t spend too much time wondering what will be on the next page and instead simply turn a new leaf.