THE FATALISM OF DICHOTOMIES: The Privilege of the Commons

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The Fatalism of Dichotomies is a collection of 8 essays written by Onkarabetse M. Mokgatle**, a Motswana writer with roots in South Africa too. The collection of pieces is framed to be objective, in that it endeavours to explore the New Black Conscious through the scrutiny of some of humanity’s most prevailing dilemmas.

I’ve always been aware of my privilege. I didn’t understand it but I’ve always been very much aware of it and known it. But there is a vast difference between knowing and understanding something. I’m not from a well-off family. The opposite is very true for my family. But in the same sense, we aren’t poor poor.  Well at least during my upbringing we were not. We didn’t necessarily get by or live hand-to-mouth nor paycheck-to-paycheck. I’ve always had enough clothes, not too many but enough. I wore reasonably priced shoes and clothes. I carried fairly priced schoolbags. I was given a reasonable weekly allowance in my teens. But we were never well-off. We just had enough to not be dirt poor and I was always aware of it, if not for nothing my mother made sure I knew this. Consequently, this made me exist in a precarious space. That space was not of the middle class or the poor but the blurry grey-shaded area in-between. However, it was not till a year ago that I realised my privilege. I was having a conversation with some of my former school mates from middle school. My seniors and juniors. The topic was relationship dynamics in regards to finances. They kept pointing out that I came from privilege. I knew this but I felt they were exaggerating the extent of my privilege. I felt maybe they were not honest with the girls they meet. I mean I’m unemployed, never been employed and didn’t graduate uni[varsity] but I seem to be meeting girls who are okay with paying for things. Anyway, we argued about this and all. A former classmate of mine then said something that I didn’t believe at first. He mentioned that in his entire life (he is a year older than me), he has never ever held 2000 cash. He has never seen it. This had me very puzzled. How does someone nearing his thirties not ever held 2000 in cash or otherwise all at once? This clearly was a lie. No ways. But I recognized something in his tone, he wasn’t lying. I didn’t comprehend this because by 18 I held 5000 at least twice or thrice. But he had never. And it was then that I truly began to understand my privilege. And to this day, I’m still studying it and beginning to fully understand it. He spoke of another privilege which I will not speak of today.

On Twitter, a while back someone argued that they did not come from privilege and they were not privileged. That where they have ended up in life and what & who they have become was simply the consequences of his hard work, persistence and commitment. And all of that was true. But said someone that expressed a notion one felt but did not have the diction to word it. They said “You can pick up privilege along the way to success. You don’t have to come from a privileged background to have or acquire privilege.” Well, it’s not verbatim but near enough. When something like that is said, you begin to have an epiphany. Privilege is one presented as the demon by which the rich, wealthy, elite and ruling class get everything. To some very scalable sense it’s true.  Life is a paradox that has been proven over and over again. The interesting thing about that paradox is that everyone you solve or think you have finally cracked it, the answer merely reveals another paradox. The paradox of privilege is that how can someone poor have privilege? By definition being poor denies one any privilege or at least that is what we assume. So what is “The Privilege of the Commons“?

More often than not, like our narrator, those with privilege lack the foresight to acknowledge let alone understand it and think by admitting to privilege it negates their hard work and genius. But it is not true. This is because privilege has been demonized because of its association to the western and it’s conquest and subjugation of natives in order to advance western society hence attain unprecedented privilege.

So what is privilege? In broad terms or colloquially speaking, privilege is any advantage one has consequent of events that may have affected other badly or simply just because of their family status/ties, upbringing, race/ethnicity, looks and so forth. In most cases, privilege is unworked for or puts others who are generally most deserving at a disadvantage. It is for this reason most people fail to acknowledge their privilege. But privilege need not be a thing to be shunned. Especially privilege gained through one’s genius and hard work without the exploitation of others. Well, it’s impossible to come to the latter but minimizing the exploitation of others. 

The narrator, in his privilege, could not fathom how someone approaching their thirties has not ever such a minuscule amount of money. That is the danger of privilege, it minimizes the experiences of others because it assumes, athwartly so, that because one has access, everyone they are in contact with has the same level of access. It is for this self-indulgence that it is seen as a pestilence, but it need not be especially in our time. By realising his privilege, the narrator begins to fully grasp the reality of others. What he assumed to be true for him and for others is not true not only for others but for him. He is now gripped by a fetter that binds him to the realities of others and age. He is now in a world that seemed farfetched but is the only reality that he must bind with. He comes to realize that he may not have money but his status allows him to have access to women and therefore relationships that his fellow former school mates can only conjure in oneirism. He now sees his own blindness. 

It is by knowing that we are blind that we can now see— how unfortunate that it is tragedy that teaches truth. But privilege need not be a cataract in our request to equity. Speaking matter-of-factly, it is the addendum we need in our arsenal to bring about the so needed progressive societal change. But only and only if;

  1. Those who are privileged admit to said privilege in contrast to where they began;
  2. Those with said privilege are willing to wield it to the benefit and the betterment of others, more so the less fortunate;
  3. And finally, those who are underprivileged are also willing to see more than just privilege in their counterparts.

But privilege does not only exist in the upper echelons of society. There is a more complex form of privilege in the lower classes of society. A jape if you will. It’s almost mockery to the conditions of the poor. That privilege is the one of oneness. An understanding of the situations, the conditions and the meek nature of humanity. Poverty teaches lessons required to weather the storm of life if one is able to survive it. It’s this cruelty of life that makes it even more senseless that tragedy is the lesson of choice. Through this paroxysm, one begins to fully comprehend how bagatelle one’s life is, yet so important to not lose the importance of it, however insignificant. From here, one begins to learn to ameliorate life and attain privilege that otherwise seems unattainable. 

This piece is an awareness of self and unbecoming nature of privilege. It is the hope of the author that the reader finds their own privilege, the injustice of such privilege and how it can be willed to necessitate change that uplifts those who said privilege is meant to diminish.

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**Onkarabetse M. Mokgatle is a Motswana writer from Mmankgodi with roots in Potchefstroom & Mafikeng in South Africa as well. He has been an avid writer since his pre-teens, but his love for literature dates back to his mastery of nursery rhymes at just 5 years old. He pursued his writing skills via various forms all through his teenage years, eventually moving into facilitating and nurturing other talents in his early 20’s. He eventually took a 2-year hiatus from writing which ended in 2019, when he rekindled his love affair with writing through a series of brilliant ideas. In 2020, these ideas would go on to grow into ambitious multimedia projects originating from Africans, For Africans.


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