"On A Plate" Comic By Toby Morris Explains Exactly How Privilege Works
Privilege can be a complicated issue, but one illustrator has created a comic that explains privilege in an easily understood way. In a recent comic titled "On A Plate," New Zealand-based artist Toby Morris juxtaposes the lives of two kids and their respective upbringing, showing how their circumstances at home led to vastly different milestones in adulthood, from education to careers. Morris tells Bustle he was inspired to draw the comic after learning about inequality and poverty in New Zealand through reading about it and talking with other people.
"One thing I kept hearing and reading was this huge assumption that poor people must be poor because they're lazy or stupid, and likewise, that those at the top must be really clever and hardworking," Morris says. "It's much much more complicated than that, so I just wanted to think of a very simple and clear way to explain that things aren't that simple." With only pen and paper, he played around with the different scenes he could draw to explain the nuances of privilege in a way that others could recognize as well as relate to themselves.
The comic is part of Morris's monthly series, "The Pencilsword," on the New Zealand news website The Wireless, where the comic strip originally appeared. More often than not, his comics are centered around social and political topics, both issues of particular importance in New Zealand and issues relevant around the world, such as privilege.
In "On a Plate," viewers are introduced to two kids: Richard, whose home life is prosperous, and Paula, whose parents are struggling to pay the bills:
At school, Richard has access to numerous resources that help him learn his lessons and has a strong support network of teachers. On the other hand, Paula's classes are packed and it's difficult to learn her lessons since her school doesn't receive enough funding. As a result, expectations for Richard's growth and success are way higher than for Paula:
Things don't get any better for Paula, as she's compelled to stay home and care for her sick father, while Richard goes on to make connections in his chosen field and move ahead in his career:
Toward the end of the comic strip, Paula works as a server at a fancy event in honor of Richard's presumed promotion (or other work accomplishment). Just as Richard takes hors d'oeuvres from a plate that Paula's holding up, he tells his admiring friends that the secret to his success is hard work. "No one ever handed me anything on plate," he says.
"On a Plate" sends a powerful message about the origins of privilege and the power dynamics between people who are provided with more opportunities throughout their lives than those who were born into poverty or oppression. It's worth pointing out that Morris refrains from using political jargon or education buzzwords, such as "charter school" and "taxpayer dollars." Rather, he describes Richard's and Paula's advantages and disadvantages in the most basic terms possible. "I think a big strength of comics is that you can provide a really accessible and non-threatening into some topics that might otherwise be quite daunting or intimidating," Morris says.
"Often, I feel like screaming and yelling my own thoughts on a topic, and I think there are certainly times in life that it's important to scream and yell your opposition to things. But what I find with comics is that it's often also effective just to present a situation very clearly and calmly, and let the reader make up their mind about it, without it feeling like they've been hammered over the head or preached at," he added.
Since political issues can often become polarized, Morris says he didn't want his comic to pit people against each other. "I didn't want it to be like Richard is the villain or there is a witch hunt against privileged people. Life is always more complicated than goodies or baddies. It's more about understanding," he says. "I think when we try to understand the bigger picture of this stuff, then we can start to take that into account the way we move through the world — the way we treat other people, the way we speak and how act day-to-day, and the way we vote, even."
"I hope it can provide a moment for people to think honestly and realistically about their own situation, and at the same time have some empathy and understanding for people with different situations," he says.