I don’t remember exactly when I first became aware of my privilege.
As a child I certainly took the various extracurricular lessons, summer camps and family vacations at face value. What, you mean every family doesn’t have a nanny and a housekeeper? Existing only in the bubble of ones family makes it difficult to have perspective as a child, aside from the occasional volunteer experiences I had through our synagogue.
I became more aware of having more than most people as I became a teenager. I saw the kids who were bussed in from the inner city to our summer camp in upstate New York. I became involved in the Ronald McDonald house and worked with families who were drowning in medical bills and counted on the organization for shelter during their impossibly hard times.
With this new found awareness I became more intentional about expressing my gratitude towards my parents for the things they had made possible for me- I didn’t want to feel like I was taking any of it for granted.
When I got to college I made friends with other students who were part of posse, an organization that brought together inner city kids from low income areas and helped them form community in order to thrive in small liberal arts schools (an unfamiliar territory for most). I had some issues with the way posse allowed students to further self segregate students (i.e. Telling them they were different, introducing an even louder us. Vs them dynamic) but I understood why it was necessary. The levels of wealth among a small minority of students at Trinity was a harsh contrast to the levels of poverty the community in Hartford experienced. It drove me crazy to see the amount of importance placed by the students on having designer brand coats and shoes, how thin they could be or where they were headed for spring break. This is a large generalization of course, but being stuck in such a small bubble of 2000 people made me reevaluate my own values daily, and also made me desperate for college to be over.
I’ve now been living in San Francisco for over three years, and never before have I existed in such a purgatory of privilege. I live with an ever so mild guilt for enjoying the advantages I have- not having student debt, being able to afford my $1280 a month rent (which I pay without any financial support from my parents- or doing anything illegal), being able to spend money on healthy food, travel, and the occasional superfluous item. I’ve worked hard to keep myself employed since day 1 of college graduation, and I don’t want to discredit my own hard work, I simply feel it’s crucial to stay aware of how big my handicap (to appropriately use a golf term) was out of the gate. It’s like the analogy of seating a group of students in a classroom and asking them to all throw paper balls into a trash can at the front of the room. Of course the kids sitting in the front row are going to have an easier time getting them in than those sitting in the back, they’re already that much closer to the goal.
Over this past summer I allowed myself to drink some of the kool aid. I went to soul cycle after years of bitching about a spin class that could possible cost $30. I went 5 times. I quickly understood what is so appealing about the class- they play off the psychological need for belonging. It’s a brilliant business strategy. I had my “wait, what the fuck am I doing here?” moment while in line for the showers with a friend. I was commenting on how weird I found the song lyrics to one of the songs that had played during class, and how much I didn’t like it. A girl walked by me, overheard what I was saying and said under her breath (but loudly enough to be heard), “it’s BEYONCE.” Oh shit. I knew I’d overstayed my welcome in the world of over privileged white girls, and I’d just been found out. C’est la vie.
I left this piece unfinished for a few weeks and came back to it today. I recently finished reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I really enjoyed reading it, and the reason I sought it out in the first place was because I recognized how different the experience of the storyteller has been from my own. I mention this because I was in a Lyft line a few days ago where the driver was an African American woman from New York City and the other passenger was a woman from Nigeria. We were all of similar age and made pleasant conversation. But when the two of them started talking about Nigeria and their experiences in various African countries I felt like I had nothing to contribute to the conversation (it’s pretty unusual for me, extrovert that I am, to have nothing to say). I bring this up because it relates to how I feel about all of this. I have thoughts and feelings about privilege, but I don’t know how to contribute to the conversation at large beyond this is a real thing we should acknowledge, and maybe experience a little gratitude for. Maybe then we’d understand why things like Prop Q are entirely inhumane. (But that’s a whole other blog post).
Rant over (for now).