Written by : Priyangee Guha
Edited by: Shobha S V
Reviewed by : Rohini Lakshané

Inroduction

Through this module, we encourage efforts to deepen our understanding of our identity and explore nuances in what "identity" means, how we think about it, how it works in society, and how it affects our everyday life and interactions. Furthermore, it will help you understand how the multiple identities we carry in our everyday life impact how conveniently we get access to resources, and how easily we benefit from resources such as Wikipedia and its sister projects.

Before we start the module, please answer these questions:
[Note to learners and trainers: These questions are deeply personal in nature. If you feel uncomfortable revealing the answers or writing them down, answer them silently to yourself.]

What gender (or lack thereof) do you identify with?

What was the gender assigned to you at birth?

What religion, if any, do you follow?

What caste, if any, do you belong to?

How would you define your sexual orientation?

What is your primary language of communication?

Do you own a laptop or a personal computer?

What is privilege?

Flickr/ MPCA Photos, CC BY-NC 2.0 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mpcaphotos/31655988501)
Image description: In the picture on the left, three people of dif erent height have been given a foot stool of the same height and they are trying to pluck a fruit from the tree. This is equality. In the picture on the right, three people of dif erent height have been given a foot stool of dif erent heights and they are trying to pluck a fruit from the tree. This is equity.

When we roll a dice, the possibility of getting any number from 1 to 6 is one-sixth or 16.67%. Every number has equal possibility of showing up. When we flip a coin, chances of either heads or tails are half or 50%. Don't we often wish every event in our lives had such equal chances? Then, in a job interview with 5 candidates, each would have 20% probability of getting selected irrespective of what they were wearing, the accent in which they spoke English, their place of origin, hometown, gender, etc. Yet, reality is very different. This is because we live in an unequal society. One way that women have it hard can be noted from the fact that it is still difficult for women to travel or venture out late at night without having to worry about sexual violence. This also has a bearing on women's choices in the job market both from the perspective of an employee and as an employer. For instance, according to a recent World bank study, Indian companies still prefer to employ men over women1 . In comparison, men have it easy. In an ideal world, everybody should have the freedom to venture out of their house without any fear for their safety. However, men have been having it easy over a period of time just because they are men. This is a classic example of male privilege at work.

Sociologists define privilege as an invisible package of unearned benefits by particular groups that accumulate over a period of time based on their location within a social hierarchy. It is unearned because we often get it simply owing to the circumstance in which we were born. For instance, the quality of education we will have access to in our lifetime depends on our family, the socio-economic condition and the location where we are born. It will determine the social standing we have and the kind of opportunities we get in life. It is invisible because we are often unaware of its presence. Since it is something we have had since birth, we assume that it is normal and acceptable to have it. The nature of one's privilege can range from the caste, class, gender, sexual identity and orientation, religion, language, etc. one belongs to. These benefits are showered by the society without the privileged people asking for them. This video entitled "Race of life" illustrates this concept pretty well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBQx8FmOT_0

The discussions pertaining to the idea of 'privilege' were widely prevalent among many sociologists. However, the term gained currency in 1988 when academic Peggy Mcintosh published a seminal article - White privilege and male privilege - decoding white privilege and male privilege2 . She used this opportunity to introspect her own identity and the privileges associated with it.

Case studies

Case study 1 Case study 2

Rakesh is an information technology (IT) professional. His father runs a construction company. Rakesh grew up in a neighbourhood in south Delhi.

As a Brahmin by caste, Rakesh's father believes that education is very important for a person's growth and future. Rakesh went to a private school in Delhi. He also had a computer and an internet connection at home. Rakesh was good at computer science, so his teachers and family encouraged him to participate in various activities related to the subject. During his summer holidays, Rakesh’s father would enrol him into summer schools in India and abroad. Rakesh graduated with an engineering degree and then got a master’s degree.

Rakesh spends his free time volunteering for projects he cares about. Rakesh's family is very proud of his achievements, and appreciates him for all his hard work.

Ranjita lives in an unauthorised settlement in south Delhi. Her father is a daily wage earner, and her mother works as part-time domestic help at the residence of a renowned entrepreneur. They are of a lower caste, and do not own any land holdings.

Ranjita studied at a government-run school for girls. One day, an NGO visited her school, and introduced her to the world of computer science programming. She felt very excited, and was interested in learning more about it. With the limited resources Ranjita had, she visited the "community library and computer centre" where she lived, and taught herself one computer language.

However, after she completed high school, her family discouraged her by saying that courses and jobs in computer science are for boys. Ranjita also felt that she should work and supplement the meagre family income, although her parents did not explicitly asked her to do so. She tried to find a job where she could put her computer skills to use. However, as she had no formal education beyond high school, candidates who had higher qualifications were chosen over her.

Like her mother, Ranjita now works as a domestic help in a few homes. She works 12 to 14 hours a day to make ends meet. She still hopes to pursue her dream of getting an IT job, but she finds herself too sapped of energy, time and money to update and sharpen her existing skills, or to study a formal course.

Do you think Rakesh has any dis/advantage because of his identity? If yes, what aspect of his identity do you think accelerated/ hampered his professional growth?

Do you think Ranjita had any dis/advantage because of her identity? If yes, what aspect of her identity do you think accelerated/hampered her professional growth? How is her story different from Rakesh's?

To better understand the concept of privilege, do check out this episode entitled "On A Plate" from the comic The Pencilsword by Toby Morris that looks at the life trajectories of Richard and Paula, which comes to be determined by the social and economic backgrounds they come from.

Points to Ponder

  1. Think about the different identities you have. (Refer to the list of questions you answered at the beginning of this module.)
  2. Make a list of identities that you think put you at an advantage, and those that you think put you at a disadvantage.

[Note to learners and trainers: This exercise involves questions that are deeply personal in nature. If you are uncomfortable doing it in a peer-group, you may reflect on this exercise and do it in private.]

Activity

Make a list of things that you think one needs in order to effectively contribute to Wikimedia projects.

  1. Which of those mentioned in the list do you have access to?
  2. Which of those mentioned in the list do you think are accessible to everyone, everywhere?
  3. What happens when one does not have access to the resource(s) you listed? Explain using examples.

Intersectionality

In the previous section, we studied how we sometimes have access to various resources simply because of our identities at birth. But at any point in time, we have multiple identities. When someone asks about our identity, our answer will vary depending on the situation. When we are about to enter a bar, we will mention our age. When we enter a religious place, we will mention our religion. When we go for a professional meeting, we will mention our profession and designation. When using a dating website, we will mention our gender and sexual orientation and preferences.

Wikimedia Commons/ DTankersley (WMF), CC BY-SA 4.0. Source:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Intersectionality_diagram_(from_a_slide_deck_presented_by_Russell_Robinson) _at_All_Hands,_January_2018.jpg

Depending on the identity and the context, the level of a person's vulnerability or privilege also varies. The more layers of under-privileged identity one carries, greater is the vulnerability. For instance, a homeless person on the street is at greater risk of being subjected to street-based crime than someone who has a home. If the homeless person is a woman, the chances of her being subjected to sexual violence are also higher. If she is a trans woman, she may fear being harassed by public officials as well. If she is also disabled, she is at far greater risk. Thus, with each layer of vulnerability, a person's chance of being oppressed increases. Hence, it is important to view a person's identity holistically. This is called intersectionality.

Let's look at another example. In case studies above, we saw how Rakesh and Ranjita both live in south Delhi. However, there are several differences in their lives:

Class: Rakesh belongs to an affluent family of entrepreneurs, Ranjita to a family of low-wage workers.
Caste: Rakesh hails from an upper caste, Ranjita belongs to a lower caste.
Gender: Rakesh is a man, and Ranjita is a woman.
Despite living in same city and the same neighbourhood, Rakesh and Ranjita's access to resources vary because of the circumstances in which they were born. For example, Rakesh has two professional degrees; Ranjita has completed high school.

Now, let us imagine a story similar to Ranjita's, in which she is a Brahmin from a family of a lower economic class. When we compare Rakesh's and Ranjit's story, both Brahmins, we will realise that even though both have privilege of their caste, Ranjita will face the following disadvantages:

Class: Rakesh belongs to an affluent family of entrepreneurs, Ranjita to a family of low-wage workers.
Gender: Rakesh is a man, and Ranjita is a woman.

Twitter/ Nathan W Pyle https://twitter.com/nathanwpyle/status/999294987195035649?lang=en

Let us take another scenario. Let us imagine a story similar to Rakesh's where our protagonist is a woman, Sonam. When we compare Sonam's and Ranjita's stories, both women, even while being subjected to similar gender-based prejudices, they will have the following differences:

Class: Sonam belongs to an affluent family of entrepreneurs, Ranjita to a family of low-wage workers.
Caste: Sonam is an upper caste woman, and Ranjita is of a lower caste.

These differences, which are totally outside the control and sphere of influence of Rakesh, Sonam and Ranjita, will determine which one of them gets access to resources and the quantity of resources at their disposal. This will also determine how they experience life in general. Hence, no two people will ever have the same life experience. For instance, you may believe that every child should have equal access to education. But Sonam may go to a private school with several amenities that make the learning experience rewarding and enjoyable for her. Ranjita to an under-resourced local municipal school. And we all know that the quality of education differs in both these circumstances, which in turn, has an impact on the future prospects of the children who read there.

Wikimedia Commons/ Su--May, CC BY 2.0

Likewise, when we talk about privilege, we cannot discuss privilege of only one identity at a time. This is because we live our multiple identities simultaneously. For instance, when we talk about rights of queer people, we cannot ignore the fact that a Dalit queer person will face more challenges compared that a Brahmin queer person. This issue was especially highlighted in Pune's Pride March of 2017 where the organisers came up with the rule "No slogans on religion, caste, political parties, politicians, leaders, Supreme Court will be allowed"3. This is a classic example of how we choose to exclude the experiences of people because of the intersection of various identities they carry without choice. When one aspect of identity becomes the focus while others are excluded, full inclusion will not be achieved. In our third scenario above, if we have to advocate for Ranjita's rights, we need to bear in mind all her identities that holistically define her. She belongs to a lower caste, a woman, and from a low income family, and that she is at the intersection of all three identities, and more.

In the previous section, we watched the video entitled "Race of Life". This video clearly describes the meaning and implication of intersectionality. In the next section we will discuss how identity, privilege and intersectionality are relevant in the context of the open knowledge movement.

next: Allyship