Mixed Salad of Thoughts

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Why "I'm not privileged because..." riles up so many

Why "I'm a white male and I am not privileged because..." only indicates that you are and that you are unaware... 

  • "People act as if white men get all this privilege but if you aren't a jock or you don't look a certain way you don't have any real advantage."
  • "I'm discriminated against too. People look at me and they see an scrawny, nerdy white guy and they automatically make assumptions."
  • "I'm a white guy and I've worked hard and yet I'm still scraping by. If I really had privilege I should be a millionaire by now, right?"
  • "I know because I've done it myself. I had an abusive father and crappy public education and no one gave me anything. I still managed to work hard at crappy jobs until I made it. Other people need to stop complaining and start working. Don't tell me I don't know because I've been there and I've done it."
  • "I'm tired of being called privileged. At one point I worked three jobs just to make ends meet and pay student loan bills. I’m tired of people saying it’s easy to be white."

Being privileged does not mean you've been handed a golden ticket with 6-figure jobs and opportunities knocking at your door. Recognizing and admitting privilege does not mean you haven't worked hard. It does not mean you cannot be proud of your accomplishments. It does not ask you to feel ashamed. It takes nothing away from you.

priv·i·lege (prv-lj, prvlj) n.
1.a. A special advantage, immunity, permission, right, or benefit granted to or enjoyed by an individual, class, or caste.

Imagine that as an infant a shackle was attached to your ankle. And like an unwanted charm bracelet some things were attached to your shackle. *

  • If your mother was unable to receive adequate nutrition and medical care during her pregnancy (a key factor in delayed cognitive and physical growth and a host of future ailments) add a 10 lb weight
  • If your mother had to return to work and was BOTH unable to breast feed you and spend time holding you for 8 or more hours a day add a 4lb weight.
  • If due to family size, education, culture, financial or personal issues your family was unable to speak to you and interact with you  (increasing your vocabulary and cognitive growth)  using the same English as is accepted in higher education and the professional world at least 12 hours a day in your first 6 months to 2 years add a 4lb weight.
  • If health issues from birth or premature birth inhibited your growth during your first 5 years add a 5 lb weight.
  • If you felt from a young age that you were not of the gender of your birth add a 5 lb weight.
  • If the majority of instruction in your first 6 years of school were not in your primary language, add a 6 lb weight. outside of your cultural or regional dialect add 3 lbs.
  • If the majority of instruction in your first 12 years was from teachers outside of your race add 6 lbs.
  • If you were diagnosed with a learning disability or ED add 6 lbs.
  • If the majority of doctors, police officers, and other people of authority you interacted with were not of your race add 6 lbs. If they were not of your gender add 3lbs.
  • If you were encouraged by way of direct/indirect teaching, compliments and/or lessons in propriety to be more submissive than peers of another gender or culture add a 5 lb weight.
  • If you were taught that being emotional or showing weakness/crying were wrong and disgraceful add a 2 lb weight.
  • If you were expected to  help care for siblings or work at some sort of job for more than 4 hours per day between the ages of 3-15 add a 4 lb weight.
  • If your commute to and from school was over 2 hours per day add a 2 lb weight.
  • If you missed more than a week of school per year or transferred schools more than twice during the school year  add a 4 lb weight.
  • If you were physically or sexually abused add a 10 lb weight.
  • If you went hungry due to lack of food more than once a month add a 4 lb weight.
  • If you had medical conditions such as asthma and allergies that required you to be constantly aware and vigilant about your environment add 3 lbs.
  • If you were homeless or in foster care for more than a month add 3 lbs. (Add an additional 1lb for each move to a new school caused by this situation)
  • If you were bullied for physical appearances, family situation,  or gender add 6 lbs.
  • If you learned from an early age that shopkeepers didn't trust you because of your ethnicity or a part of your appearance that could not be controlled add 4 lbs.
  • If you heard slurs against your race spoken by a person outside your race add 2 lbs. (Add an additional 1 pound for each repetition.)
  • If you could expect to see your race represented less than half the time in movies and television you watched add 6 lbs.
  • If you could expect to see your race represented  in advertising less than half the time add 4 lbs.
  • If you could expect to see your race or gender represented in movies, television, or the media in positions of power or prestige (CEO, doctor, pilot, lawyer, president) less than half the time add 7 lbs.
  • If you can expect to occasionally have your views and statements dismissed as invalid, unimportant, or simply ignored due to your gender, race, or age, add 10 lbs.

Now imagine, with the shackles you've acquired trying to navigate life, trying to thrive and succeed. Being told from an early age that if you only ran faster, jumped higher, worked harder you would be able to achieve. The issues above are almost all challenges some people face before they've even finished school. While some may be completely overcome and removed, the effects and the weight of many others will be with them for life. For some who face poverty, racial discrimination, unstable family lives, etc. they are lucky if they are able to function and walk around at all by the time they're in high school. Is it any wonder that they are likely to give up when they've fallen multiple grade levels behind in math and literacy not because they aren't smart or hard working, but because of the circumstances of their lives they are struggling to overcome?Additional weights will likely be added throughout life. Racial, ethnic, cultural, and gendered prejudice do not end with a college diploma or home ownership or becoming president. These issues will continue to influence and burden their owners for life.

priv·i·lege (prv-lj, prvlj) n.
1.a. A special advantage, immunity, permission, right, or benefit granted to or enjoyed by an individual, class, or caste.
Being privileged does not mean you don't have difficulties or that life is easy. It means that of the many anchors, chains, weights, and shackles we are born with you have either less or different ones from others.  It means that you were fortunate enough to not have to carry some of those weights and face some of those challenges that lack of burdens gave you an advantage. When we lined you up academically as toddlers and you trounced the other kid it wasn't because of your hard work learning a larger vocabulary and developing a healthy immune system. It was due to advantages you had. When you tested in the 50th percentile for reading in 1st grade it wasn't because your bootstrap skills were so advanced. Sure you should be proud of what you've overcome, how hard you've worked and all you've achieved. But this does not give you free rein to dismiss, belittle, or judge others for not having the success that you have. To say "they only need to work harder" is to deny the weights that have been placed upon them and the challenges they have overcome and have yet to overcome. And really,  even if you live next door and grew up together and had your own difficulties, you can't be aware of all of ANY individual's challenges, so who are you to judge?

No one can claim every item on my list is true of them. No one living can say they've suffered "THE MOST" or faced "THE GREATEST" challenges. No one can say they have taken on the heaviest burdens and faced the most.  Even the country you are born into likely has offered you privileges unavailable to some.  The reason "I'm not privileged because..." riles up so many is that it indicates that you are either oblivious, or unwilling, to recognize the privileges you have... and therefore can never fully understand and empathize with the burdens placed on others.

*Note: The list created is in no way comprehensive. I tried to make it encompass some of the major common issues endemic to issues associated with poverty, race, and gender  in the United States during an individual's early/formative years. Please feel free to contribute additional criteria in the the comments.