I have been asked two fascinating and thought-provoking questions in recent months. Having read all the guest blog posts shared with us by my fellow students from around the country, I felt a strong pull to write my own and attempt to answer each of these questions. First, I was asked why I study sociology. Second, I was asked what I am prepared to give up for what I believe in. It occurred to me that the timing of each of these questions was not isolated and I think the answer to both is the same, if only in perhaps a convoluted way.

I returned to tertiary education after some major life events caused me to question the path I was on. Not only that, but these life events gave me pause to question what my values truly were. I do not mean what the values were that I portrayed to the world, but what they truly were. What it was that truly mattered to me. What I cared about. Moreover, perhaps most relevant to this piece, what irked me the most about society.  

Before studying sociology, I had previously completed a degree in another field. I fancied myself to be quite the little businessman and expected that I would continue down that path to great success. While I still work in this field and it supports my study, I realised that being successful in business was, in some ways, in contrast to my true values and that is maybe why I never did take on the world like I expected I would. Relatedly, when I was asked why I study sociology and continue to be a student when I already have a career, I found it easy to answer. Because I cannot do anything about the issues that I believe I can do something about without venturing away from the business world. I am not saying I can change the world; I probably cannot. Yet that is a weak reason not to try. Sociology and university give me the opportunity to do that. To try.

That is why I study sociology.

Now, what am I prepared to give up for what I believe in?

If I am to be completely honest with you, dear reader, I must say that I just don’t know. I mentioned before that I believed the two questions I am discussing here were linked and this is because I felt that I had already given up something for what I believe in: a wide-ranging career in the business world. However, a close (and very insightful) friend of mine was quick to point out that I willingly made a choice to return to, and stay in study. No one forced me. That being noted, have I given up anything I wanted in the first place?

That hit me like a tonne of bricks, and I asked myself the same question again at that moment, months after I had first been asked it and many times since.

What am I prepared to give up for what I believe in? Have I already given up anything by continuing to be a student and by pursuing a PhD? 

Let’s step back for a second; perhaps I should tell you what it is I believe in? I hope by now that this blog has given you pause to question what it is you believe in, and while reading the remainder of this piece you may consider your own beliefs in the context of the questions I am asking. Let me tell you mine before I continue.

Well, maybe like most of you, I believe in a lot. Yet, what I am fighting for is an overhaul of the racist social management system left to us by our colonial past. The institutionalised (and often blatant) racism existing in and perpetuated by the New Zealand system results in fundamental breaches of basic human rights – rights that the state has committed to fulfilling and protecting. What do I believe in? I believe that the inequality resulting from these structural failures needs to be eradicated. Not in 50 years, not in 20 years, not even in 5 years. I believe it needs to be eliminated now. People are suffering from these injustices right now, as you read this. I will not accept that these things take time and I will not put them in the too hard basket just because this is such an enormous undertaking. That is weak, that is an excuse used by the state to stall. I believe we are at a point in time where we understand enough to be able to call that reason out for what it truly is, an excuse. Together we can make the necessary changes.  

What am I prepared to give up for what I believe in? If someone came to me tomorrow and had the magic key to fix this inequality, the racism and the related oppression and asked me to trade something with them for that key, what would I give up?

I actually don’t know. I would like to be righteous and altruistic right now by telling you that I would give up almost anything. That I believe that much in this that I would let the magic key holder take whatever they wanted. Take my home? Take my car? Take my ability to think and to study? Take my life? However, I cannot do that. I simply cannot answer my friend’s question with complete truth.

I still want to try, and thank you for joining me on that journey to an answer by reading this blog. I sincerely hope you are on this journey with me right now.

If my wildest academic dreams come true and I – along with others working in similar fields – are successful, then I will lose the privilege I receive just for being a white male. If the injustices within the system are eradicated, then I will no longer receive privilege because of the ‘colour’ of my skin and because of my ‘gender’. If we are all equal, then people like myself will no longer receive special treatment.

That is a good thing though, right? Real social equality. Extending beyond discussions of race and privilege, I am referring to freedom in the form of equal access to resources and services. No barriers in place because of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, etc. Surely, that is a good thing?

Some scholars will argue that those in power being fearful of losing that power and privilege is one reason why racism and oppression still exist. Nevertheless, does equality mean that the currently privileged must lose out? I don’t know, and I don’t think I can answer that with any certainty. I can only attempt to ponder if I am prepared to lose the benefits of my privilege for what I believe in.

I am committed to working toward eradicating the racism and resulting inequality in the New Zealand system. Of course, the irony is that I am able to do this work and to make a declaration in that vein because of my white male privilege. I think I have been blessed with some skills in this life (apart from making a tasty lemon meringue pie!). I have made it this far, so I must have some. That doesn’t mean I am under any illusion about the benefits I have experienced and enjoyed because of that privilege. Those who deny the existence of privilege are kidding themselves or attempting to fool others for their own benefit. Or, perhaps to keep their own privilege untouched?

If you are still reading, then thank you. I hope the ramblings of a PhD student wrestling with human rights and inequalities have made you think about what you would give up or be prepared to lose for what you believe in. If you figure it out then perhaps you would be willing to write your own blog and let us all know!

For now, what I am prepared to give up for what I believe in? I don’t know with any level of certainty, make me an offer.

Kalym Lipsey is a PhD Candidate (Sociology) at Massey University