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And the crowd goes wild

  • Published at 06:54 pm May 14th, 2017
  • Last updated at 02:33 am May 15th, 2017
And the crowd goes wild

There are many reasons why our generation has very high hopes pinned on it, and at the same time, tends to be on the receiving end of a lot of criticism as well.

Are millennials entitled good-for-nothings, or groundbreakers in the century of innovation?

Are we changing the work-life balance and revolutionising the workforce, or just making excuses to not get out of bed early and using that time to constantly complain on social media?

Are we coming up with solutions to climate change and globalised systems of inequality, or just competing with each other over the most innovative hashtags?

One of the main points of recognising your own privilege is realising that your voice is louder than others’, and that it is your duty to try and share that platform with those who cannot reach it

There is no denying that we are faced with many serious problems. We are essentially the last generation that can do something about climate change.

Problems inherited

We live in a “post-truth” world, and many of us feel the collective responsibility to stand up for science and logic and fight the “alternative news” that is no longer a footnote on the internet but coming from the presidential office of one of the world’s most influential nations.

We live in a world that is seeing a resurgence of the nationalist far-right, and a lot of us worry we are going backwards in terms of recognising the gendered, racial, and socially-structured forms of inequality that exist within our societies.

And in a world where technology and trade continue to flourish, we are increasingly struggling to ensure human rights, especially in sectors influenced by globalised industry.

In that backdrop, it is truly heartening to see young people do what they can to make a change.

While the real impact of the rising, young entrepreneurs, not just in Bangladesh but across the world, is a whole different debate, there is no denying that there are many people out there working to fight for rights, provide expert knowledge, debunk myths, and build a more progressive society.

Whether it is breaking the taboo on discussing sexual health, providing relief to flood-affected areas, or working to ensure better working conditions, there are plenty of young people out there doing important work that needs to be done.

Have you checked your privilege lately?

And one of the most important things facilitating this work is the recognition of privilege. Development professionals will tell you of far too many stories where starry-eyed change-makers decided to dive into the latest social catastrophe and make it worse, simply by not listening to local voices and needs.

But things are changing, and changing … fast. I genuinely believe one of the greatest strides our generation has made is not in technological advancements, but in recognising the many layers of privilege that make society what it is.

If you are Bengali and Muslim, you are more likely than your parents to realise what sort of privilege that accords you in our society.

If you are a man, you are likely to have a better grasp of the gendered societies we live in.

If you are proficient in English and middle or upper-middle class, you are more likely to recognise how there are doors that are open to you but not to others.

Or so one would hope.

A response in kind

But then you get articles like “Far from the Gulshan crowd,” published last week, which take crucial concepts of privilege and social class and turn it into a pseudo-intellectual, uninformed rant that essentially divides Dhaka -- a city of around 15 million people, a large portion of whom are employed in the informal economy -- into the Gulshan elite and the Dhanmondi everymen (which by the way, used to be the Gulshan of the 80s).

Without even going into the divisive language and massive generalisations in the article -- what really stood out was the complete absence of the writer’s own positionality in a discussion on privilege, while ironically lamenting the lack of “self-reflective criticism” in our society.

But what really bothered me was what was left out.

The sweeping and cynical statements fixate on the state of our beloved city and all its inhabitants, trapped in their exclusionary bubbles and judging others, either for their “alcohol-flowing Western-themed parties” or “virgins making out in shoddy lounges.”

But what exactly does this have to do with the thousands of economic and climate migrants pouring into our city looking for subsistence?

What does a Gulshan-Dhanmondi divide have to do with the rickshaw-pullers, construction workers, and sex workers?

What about the 150,000 Biharis stranded in the heart of our city -- do they care? How about the people in squatter settlements all across Dhaka?

One of the main points of recognising your own privilege is realising that your voice is louder than others’, and that it is your duty to try and share that platform with those who cannot reach it.

I’m not sure how the writer can advocate for a greater focus on non-mainstream voices while painting the entire city of Dhaka with these ridiculous binaries, but he effectively did exactly what he was writing against -- wiped out the stories of all of the voiceless inhabitants of Dhaka. If that is not an exercise of privilege, I don’t know what is.

There are too many issues that this city needs to deal with. There are too many things for us to bicker about. The “ideological divide” between the upper classes and upper-middle classes is not one of them.

The more we trap ourselves into this self-constructed divide, the more solid our own positions in said classes become. It is truly only the privileged who have the luxury of writing about non-issues and turning them into real ones.

Shuprova Tasneem is Deputy Magazine Editor, Dhaka Tribune.