So yesterday, I tweeted:
Vance Joy and Chet Faker went to school together, which means the Hottest 100 has had more winners from St Kevin’s Toorak than women
— Erin Riley (@erinrileyau) January 25, 2016
I knew this was true. I thought it was an amusing example of the complex way privilege works and how opportunities and success in art tend to concentrate around people who have certain advantages- usually, straight white men from privileged backgrounds, who are over-represented in every major and commercially successful artform in Australia.
It wasn’t a comment about St Kevins. It wasn’t a comment about either artist’s merit. It was simply a reflection of the way success correlates closely with privilege.
Here is what privilege doesn’t mean: that if you went to private school or were born straight and white and male, you were handed everything. It doesn’t mean you didn’t work. It doesn’t mean things were easy. It doesn’t mean you don’t deserve your success.
Here is what privilege means: systems work together in complex ways to make success easier for some people. It doesn’t necessarily mean someone says to you “hey, you went to this school, have an opportunity.” It’s more that a whole bunch of factors: for example, gender, race, access to tertiary education, financial support through education, and not having to worry about supporting their families.
I really didn’t think this was a revolutionary idea, yet the reaction I had to this pretty simple tweet was far more aggressive and, frankly, abusive than anything I experienced after I published a piece about sexism and cricket a few weeks ago.
It’s important to recognise how privilege works in art: that the opportunity to create, that the position on the playlist, the audience- the whole audience- listening to the story. No single aspect of being privileged explains any of these benefits. But together, they work to mean wealthy white men are overrepresented in art. And that’s a problem.