On privilege, intersectionality, and how a Trump presidency could affect New Zealanders

While I chose not to join my friends and hundreds of others in Auckland who marched in solidarity today with the Women’s March on DC, I was very much there in spirit. Rather than marching, I spent the day researching this essay; consider it my contribution to the very important work that is currently happening around the world.

***

Last night as my yoga class was closing, the topic of the March came up. Another student, a white woman in her early 40s, asked if it was an “anti-Trump March.” I tried my best to offer a different perspective, in the spirit of “When they go low, we go high:”

“I prefer to think of it as a march FOR women’s rights, and for the rights of people of color and immigrants and people of all sexual orientations and–”

That’s as far as I got before she interrupted, “so, it’s an anti-Trump march.”

Her interest in simplifying this for herself only started to get under my skin (consciously, at least) after my post-yoga bliss wore off.

Today's #ActivistAday features myself, ShiShi Rose (@shishi.rose) and I am one of the admins here. . For some people, their outlook of this country deeply changed on November 9th. For the rest of us, this is how it has always looked. I want to remind you that that is a privilege. It's a privilege that white supremacy wasn't at the forefront of your reality, because you benefit from it. I want to remind you that no ally ever got very far, in any movement, without acknowledgement of their own privilege daily. You do not just get to join the efforts that people of color have been working for their entire lives to both teach and survive, without doing work, too. You don't just get to join because now you're scared, too. I was born scared. Now is the time for you to be listening more, talking less, spend time observing, taking in media and art created by people of color, researching, and unlearning the things you have been taught about this country. You should be reading our books and understanding the roots of racism and white supremacy. Listening to our speeches. You should be drowning yourselves in our poetry. Now is the time that you should be exposed to more than just the horrors of this country, but also the beauty that has always existed within communities of color. Beauty that was covered over because the need to see white faces depicted was more important. Now is the time to teach your children, to call out your family, to finally speak up. You have been silent for long enough. Now is the time to realize that you should have joined us sooner. But since you're here now, it's time to get to work. #WhyIMarch

A post shared by Women's March (@womensmarch) on

I’m going to give my yoga classmate, and most other Kiwis I’ve spoken with about Trump’s election, the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they are inherently good, well-intentioned people. Indeed, the average Kiwi that I have encountered thus far seems to be FAR more politically aware and progressive than the average Americans I encountered at home.

But there’s something about their flip dismissal of what the election (and now, inauguration) of Trump actually means that has really been bothering me.

Thanks in part to this excellent article (“What every white woman attending the women’s march needs to know“), I’m realizing that the source of my discomfort comes from something I’ll call “ignorant privilege*.”

The way I’m trying to get my head around it, ignorant privilege includes a combination of unexamined privilege and/or dismissed privilege, plus some but-they’re-not-coming-for-me privilege based on some belief that distance from the US and Trump will protect them from whatever they think his impacts will be.

The distinction I’m making between unexamined privilege and dismissed privilege is that in the former case, one hasn’t given the intersectional elements of their identity (skin color, class status, cisgender identity, etc) any thought with regard to how they might bestow benefits unequally compared to people who do not share those identities, and in the latter, one denies or declines to speak up about how their identity might bestow any benefits at all.

Neither unexamined nor dismissed privilege are that surprising to me; behavior and speech coming from these forms of privilege are rampant in the Bay Area, too. So I am used to checking people, in the most go-high-and-pick-your-battles type fashion I can muster, when I notice them saying or doing something .

One part of but-they’re-not-coming-for-me privilege is already familiar to me, too, and I’ll let Pastor Martin Niemöller’s poem speak to this rather than attempt to unpack it in a less eloquent manner myself:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

But if this sort of privilege is a function of looking out for oneself and others like oneself, and an associated willingness to turn a blind eye toward atrocities that one would not tolerate if directed at one of their own, enormous questions remain: why do Kiwis, and/or anyone else for that matter, believe they are outside any potential impacts of a Trump presidency? What do they believe their “distance” (geographic? economic? ideologic? national/citizenship?) affords them in terms of immunity?

I decided to do a very small bit of research so I’m better prepared next time I hear, “you got out just in time!” (um, presidential politics were not the main impetus for our decision to move) or “at least you’re as safe as you can be this far away” or “I feel sorry for Americans.”

Just as the elements of privilege and identity are intersectional, so are the relationships between two countries, especially when the brand new president of one of them has a dubious relationship with the truth, plus a history of changing his tune whenever it suits him. With that in mind, I offer the following:

International trade

screenshot-2017-01-21-at-3-37-00-pmWe’ve already seen the power of the US to shift the global economy. To vastly over-simplify a phenomenon that even financial experts had trouble understanding at the time, the global economic crisis started in late 2007 because of corporate financial practices then deemed legal by US regulations.

Last November, Trump’s team pledged to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act, which was put in place specifically to reduce the likelihood of a similar crisis happening again.

Because New Zealand has relatively high net international debt compared to the sum of its gross international assets plus liabilities, it is especially vulnerable to changes in the global financial markets.

Economy

Exports comprised 38.8 percent of New Zealand’s GDP in 2015, and the US imports exports more New Zealand goods and services than any other country except Australia and China. So  Trump’s isolationist promises with regard to international trade could seriously affect New Zealand’s economy.

Furthermore, many of the top New Zealand exports are agricultural or aquatic [that doesn’t seem like the right adjective to describe edible marine species but I can’t come up with a better one] and are therefore vulnerable to impacts of climate change.

Climate change

Global Warming ContributorsThe New Zealand Ministry for the Environment has listed a number of likely climate change impacts in New Zealand here. Included on the list are two that are already happening: higher temperatures (and with that, increased risk from subtropical diseases) and rainfall, plus rising sea levels, more frequent extreme weather events such as droughts and floods, and changes in rainfall patterns… all of which have implications for New Zealand’s agricultural and edible marine exports (see Trade, above).

According to this Concordia University study published in Environmental Research Letters, the US is the largest contributor and the second-largest contributor per capita after the UK**.

If Trump will appoint someone who denies the existence of human-induced climate change to head up the US Environmental Protection Agency and remove climate change from the White House website, one can only imagine how the US contribution to global warming will rise under his watch — and with it, temperatures around the entire globe.

Employment

How did the economic crisis affect New Zealand? If you’re a words person, Statistics New Zealand reports, “As economic growth declined throughout 2008 and the first half of 2009, unemployment rose. The annual rate in 2008 was 4.2 percent, rising to 6.9 percent in 2012”. If you prefer visuals, take a look:
NZ unemployment stats

Along with several other contributing factors, employment rates are also a function of population rates, which are in turn affected by immigration.

Immigration

I hope it’s already clear that I believe that people who are looking to leave the US are a bit short-sighted in their belief that they can escape the effects of a Trump presidency, but no analysis of how such a presidency will affect New Zealand would be complete without mentioning the fact that after the election results came in, the number of US visitors to the Immigration New Zealand website skyrocketed, and three times as many from the US registered their interest in studying, working, or investing here via that site. (A similar phenomenon occurred after the Brexit vote.)

Contrary to what I believed prior to looking up the numbers, New Zealand accepts refugees at a much lower rate compared to most developed nations (~1200 annually across all categories, making it 87th in the world by number of refugees as a proportion of population).

Depending upon how closely the Trump administration stick’s with Trump’s stated intentions with regard to foreign policy and immigration, it’s entirely likely that the US will accept fewer refugees (Trump said Germany made a “catastrophic mistake” by allowing more than a million refugees in). Under Trump, the US may also increase deportations of refugees who have already reached US soil. By extension, it’s entirely possible we may see an increase in the proportion of refugees taken in by New Zealand; the refugee quota here has recently been changed to increase in 2018.

***

To conclude: while many people may be tempted to think that Trump can’t affect them, they might want to think again. Even if someone doesn’t personally experience impacts from any atrocities he may champion, I invite them to consider “safety” a form of privilege; better yet, consider how to use that and any privilege to not only stand against any behavior that oppresses other people, but also to contribute to the important work of building something that protects — even lifts up! — others in less privileged positions.

Footnotes

*There has been so much good work done around the origins and impacts of privilege, so I have to believe someone has already given names to the things I’m working through here! If you’ve got good leads for language around these issues, please let me know and I’ll continue to educate myself.

**If you’re surprised by this ranking, as I was, not that the methodology took into account a number of factors that contribute to global warming, including CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and land-use change, as well as methane, nitrous oxide, and sulfate aerosol emissions… in other words, their results include far more than just the greenhouse gas emissions, which is what many other rankings refer to.

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