Friday, July 2, 2010

Am I privileged? You bet your butt I am!

Privilege is something I've been thinking about a lot lately, and I was inspired to jot down some thoughts on the subject after reading a blog post written by a women who gets mad when people assume she's privileged (or wealthy) because she can stay at home and homeschool and such. It may just be that she and I have two different definitions of privilege, but I would argue that pretty much everyone I know is privileged.

Am I privileged? You bet your butt I am! To say that I'm not ignores the almost ridiculous amount of advantages that I've been blessed with and furthermore belittles those who haven't had the same advantages. I have lately been participating in a stimulating discussion with someone who is absolutely convinced that privilege based on anything other than economic status does not exist - in other words, this person believes that being male or white or attractive or whatever does not come with any benefits whatsoever.

I do think I understand why people try to argue up and down and all around that they are not at all privileged. It's so easy to look at life and see the 'nots.' I'm not independently wealthy. The BabbyDaddy does not make gobs of money. Neither of us looks like a model. My field does not pay well. We do not live in a big fancy house. There have been plenty of times where we have not had much money to spare (like, er, now). There were even times I did not have money to eat. We do not have fancy this or fancy that. We have not had a honeymoon or ever really gone on holiday. So, yeah, there are plenty of nots in our life.

What people fail to take into account is all the good stuff that is just always there. I'm not talking about million dollar windfall stuff, just the stuff that makes it that much easier for one person to do X, Y, or Z than for another person to do the same. Here are some examples from my own life:

  • I am light skinned, able bodied, and not entirely unattractive. As much as it absolutely shouldn't be so, research has shown that most people will automatically ascribe more positive traits to a person who is white, to someone who isn't handicapped, and to good looking people. How this manifests: There are people in the world who will be nicer to me than to someone else or more likely to give me something because of how I look. It's wrong, wrong, wrong, but it's still true.
  • I am smart enough to capitalize on my understanding of how the world works. How this manifests: No one, to give one example, could trick me into taking a bad home loan. I know enough about money to handle my finances competently. I have an advantage in a job-seeking situation and to some degree socially over someone who couldn't figure out a way to go to college. I can hold my own in an interview. If I absolutely needed to, I could get a job in a shop or office without any difficulty.
  • I have a supportive family who always stressed that I could be and do whatever I set my mind to. Family support doesn't have to be in the form of money - being born into a family that will cheer you on confers numerous advantages. Consider the alternative, being born into a family that is abusive. How this manifests: I am pretty sure of myself, and believe I can succeed because I was told I could repeatedly as I grew into adulthood. Now, when I'm feeling down, I know I can ring up my mom or dad or whoever for an instant burst of self-esteem.
  • I have a supportive mate! When it comes to doing things like working from home so I can take care of the Babby, this is a biggie. You might say I chose my mate, and I did, but who's to say he wouldn't have changed after a few years? Maybe in some other scenario he stayed in Reno and we never met. Circumstances that had very little to do with me led us to meet. How this manifests: I can announce that I want to accomplish certain goals and the BabbyDaddy will do whatever he can to help me accomplish them.
  • I was born in a time where women are allowed to choose their own direction and a place where I'm not limited due to gender by religious rules. Is gender equality absolute in the U.S.? Not by a long shot, but there are much worse places I could have been born. How this manifests: I got to choose whether I'd stay at home with Paloma and work from there or work outside of the home. Because I can work!
  • I have a supportive social network. Being alone in the world makes doing almost everything more difficult - there is no shoulder to cry on, no one to feed you when you can't feed yourself, no one to lend you a fiver or help you move furniture, no couch to crash on, etc. How this manifests: In my life, I have had friends put me up for free, cook for me, drive me here or there, lend me what I needed to get by, send me care packages that bolstered my spirit, etc. Without those people and the hand up they gave I would probably not be where I am today.

(Keep in mind that I'm not saying any of the above is right or good or makes any logical sense! And also, that is by no means a complete list.)

Which is not to say that privilege is this thing that lets the privileged sit back and let the blessings roll in! Privilege is not Eddie Murphy in White Like Me. Privilege is just the advantages you're born with (e.g., a supportive family) or accrue along the way (e.g., an education, formal or otherwise). Privilege doesn't go very far for most people unless they also get out there and bust their tushies making life happen. But still, privilege is huge and to deny it by saying "I had no advantages! Everything you see here I built myself with no help at all!"is to suggest that the advantages one has had just by being born in the right place at the right time do not exist when I'd argue that they clearly do. It's also hurts those haven't had the same advantages by suggesting that, well, they're just not as awesome as you are.

I mean, of course I'm privileged! I was born an able-bodied white person in a country that is not full of rapist revolutionaries into a family that isn't rich, but nonetheless is very supportive and positive about what a person can accomplish. I'd go so far to say that I've had advantage upon advantage heaped upon me. The one advantage lacking? Heaps and heaps of cash. Maybe also powerful connections. But I guess where I was going with all this was just because you don't have lots of dough or massive earning potential doesn't mean you're not in many ways very, very privileged.



  2. "Neither of us looks like a model." Lie. You have always been the visual standard by which all other nodergals are held to. You would not believe how many meets I've gone to and overheard guys saying "why aren't there more hot girls, like Chii?" You, lady, are lovely. And classy. Your classiness is just as attractive as your person.

    Anyway...I feel that people who say there is no privilege are usually those who are white and/or male and have no idea how different their life would be if the were not. I have a hard time seeing my life as privileged, but I know that I am and have been. I live in a huge house, more house than we need. Are we rolling in cash? No. But that we have been able to buy such a house in such a neighborhood with such a school system on one income, even if we scrape by, speaks to a certain amount of privilege. The fact that Chris was able to get two degrees without a single student loan or scholarship screams of privilege.

    It's strange to live where we do, on the edge of what is seen as a wealthy neighborhood filled with retired neurosurgeons, college deans, artists, engineers, lawyers, etc. and facing the Cleveland city limits where people are afraid to drive through to visit us because it is generally filled with poor black neighborhoods and a certain amount of crime. We relate more to the people we face than the ones we live beside, but still..we live beside them.

  3. @mkb I am totally down with the invisible knapsack concept, especially when kittehs are involved. This is my fave:

    @Audrey I very much appreciate your compliment! And I'd rather be classy than a hot girl as defined by noderguys any day! (And I'm kinda squicked by noderguys who would say such a ridiculous thing...)

    Re:Neighborhoods I know how you feel, even though my desire to stay up north and stay quite near the coast meant I could buy a lot less house. (I sometimes look at what our money would have bought in a different state and cringe, but I've lived by the water all my life and can't give it up now.) Our part of where we live is actually sort of in the middle of two very swank areas, with the depressed part of town on a third side. A walk to downtown shows me run down apartments and huge waterfront homes. Whatever any of that means - I was just kind of rambling - I certainly feel privileged that we were able to find a house within walking distance of the beach. Never thought I'd manage that!

  4. love. this. post. most of all for your refreshing honestly. I wasn't born with any advantages (per your analysis) and neither was my hubs, but we both worked our tails off to create privileges for ourselves when we got older.

  5. @Teresha Love that! I think it's really important to recognize that privilege exists (which might help even the playing field) AND to recognize that it's possible to overcome a lack of privilege (but that it's ultimately damaging to assume that everyone starts on equal footing).

    Maybe if everyone keeps in mind that there are advantages that we often have no control over (gender, what we look like, etc.), we'll be quicker to remember that many people are born with disadvantages they didn't ask for. And more importantly, that people can use one's advantages to help others and people can say "I'm not going to let my disadvantages define me."

    I would add, however, that my analysis was very short and simple. There are all kinds of inborn advantages that go unrecognized (and aren't privilege) but pay off in the long term: kindness, strength, courage, etc. I think those kinds of advantages are important, too!

  6. Great post! You might like Anastasia, who has been dealing with much of the same, but in relation to the whole "Thank God I'm an American" thing that comes around each fourth of July:

  7. OK, so after reading the blog post to which you are replying, I guess I really only have a problem with the very last sentence in which the author believes that her only privilege is her kids. The assumption that a stay-at-home mom does so because her husband makes a lot of dough is problematic, irrespective of other privileges gained from being white, cisgendered, heterosexual, having all limbs and disease-free, English speaking, educated, etc. etc.

  8. @mkb I guess I disagree to a point - I think we need to define what "a lot of dough" is. Maybe it's just that my childhood was kind of rough where money was concerned and that I tend to think of these things from a less-than-local perspective, but I'd say that anyone who can stay at home with kids without working or working part time from home like myself because a partner is working *even if that means crazy budgeting* has what most of the world would consider "a lot of dough." Maybe not a lot of savings or what we all laughably call 'disposable income,' but still money enough.


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