Privilege. I hate the word (as much as I can hate a word). You hear threats about having your privileges taken away. About perks at work being privileges, not something you’ve earned (because apparently there’s some rule that a lot of people in management use, wherein no matter how hard you work, you are never doing a good job. And I want to make it clear that I’m not talking about my boss currently, just some that I have worked for before.)
The very idea of privilege is that it’s something you could not have possibly earned and must forever be grateful for receiving. It’s a chain of guilt, of OWING someone, or a system that gave you said gift for no reason. (A gift with an I.O.U. is never really a gift.)
Mostly I hear about privilege in discussions about racism/sexism/everything-ism. Yeah, the connotations are a bit different there. But I still struggle with it.
I don’t feel privileged.
I mean, yeah, when I was back in high school living with my dad who had a great paying, I mean solid middle class, stable job, we were buying a house. If the car broke down it was a hassle but it would get fixed or replaced. (This is a particular issue now, with out car being broken down.) I lived in a good neighborhood, was in Advance Placement classes. Maybe then I was privileged.
Except there were times when I was starving because I wasn’t allowed to eat at my own house. When my sister and I wore torn up or too small clothes because we didn’t merit new clothes. When my dad would be too drunk to make sure there was food in the house. When he was too drunk to take me to get my permit, or teach me to drive. When he wouldn’t give me money to buy school lunch and wouldn’t keep food in the house, and enforced a systematic level of emotional abuse to keep my sister and I both dependent on him, and believing whole-heartedly that we were unworthy of/lucky to get what we did.
If I had a dollar for every family member who told me I was lucky he even decided to take us after my mom died I could have at least bought myself a Mcdonald’s meal. As an adult I remember all those people at one time or another saying that and I want to go back in time and scream in their faces, “NO, I am NOT ‘lucky he took me’. Taking care of your children is what a FATHER IS SUPPOSED TO DO. He should have fucking been doing it for the three years my mom was dying, oh, and the 4 months after she died when he split me and my siblings up in separate homes of various relatives instead of actually fucking being there for us.”
See. I don’t feel privileged. Because, you know–Middle Class. White.
Actually this last year I have felt more privileged than even before. When our car broke down last week, we were able to get a bank loan to get it fixed, something that wouldn’t have happened five years ago. I’ve been able to budget some money to do house type things, not fix the foundation or floors, but patch holes and repair paint and install shelves.
I just had my 2 year review at work, and got a raise! When I’ve had issues with depression I’ve realized just how big my Team Me has gotten, and I love everyone of you. I haven’t had to go to the food bank at all so far this year. People actually came to help us when the car was stuck with Jason at work, or when we needed rides to work.
But when I think of privilege in this kind of discussion I think of living in a neighborhood that two years ago was estimated to be 40% minority. I think of the times when we couldn’t keep a working car and I had to walk to the grocery store twice a week to keep us in food. When we were denied for food stamps because our house was worth too much or when our rent was too high, or because Jason and I live together.
(Aside, I know of couples who lie about their SOs living with them, or who are same-sex who dismiss them as “roommates” and still qualify for aid. I know people who work under the table in order to get benefits. I keep my mouth shut, because they deserve to survive, to eat, too. But it doesn’t help me feel like the privileged working class white girl in a cis-hetero relationship that I sometimes get shelved as. I also have outright been told by one social worker that I would be denied for Food Stamps because I was white.)
I really, really, like this blog: “Privilege” doesn’t mean easy.
It doesn’t mean easy. Privilege, she says is situational. I completely believe this. I know this. Like when my friend Steve was living in a nursing home, but still couldn’t get disability, medical aid or food stamps because SSI determined him “not disabled”. He’d lost three toes to diabetes at that point and had zero ability to work. They didn’t determine him “disabled” until he lost a leg below the knee.
Or when one of the people I worked a temp job with at a bookstore had begged U of L to let him move into his dorm a week early because he was homeless. He had no money, the temp job was the first job he had managed to find in a year, and Food Stamps told him he would not qualify for food stamps because he was an unmarried male with no children. But he was still starving.
My son will look like he has a lot of privilege, being a white male, rather smart, and damned handsome to boot. But this morning a kid from his bus rang our bell and asked us to discipline him…because he was talking to himself and it bugged her. And a psychological professional and a school told us he would never be capable of graduating, much less having a job and a family. (The professional added on that we should just put him in a home for people like him. Classy, ‘eh?) Hey, he will always be privileged enough to qualify for disability and aid.
The blog I linked to above says:
For example, a man generally doesn’t have to worry that if he continues to work after he has kids, he’ll be seen as insufficiently devoted to his family, and/or unmasculine. He also doesn’t have to worry, when interviewing for a job, that if he expresses an interest in someday having a family, it will cast doubt on his commitment to his career and make him less likely to be hired.
…And it’s true. A man doesn’t have to. Jason and I once had a discussion after he discovered his back had been broken about how vulnerable he felt being out in public. Like because the injury and the pain he couldn’t protect himself or us if someone attacked us. I told him welcome to being a woman, because I’ve never know not to feel that vulnerability.
But to add to the quote above, a woman is less likely to be judged as extremely for being a caretaker/homemaker. If a man does it he’s a lazy moocher who needs to be kicked to the curb. If a woman does it she’s making a sacrifice for her family and is noble (or worse, doing her womanly duty.)
A woman is less likely to be followed by store security for walking around a store with her young children. Jason has been followed many times when taking the kids to the store bathroom while I was shopping and a couple times has been stopped by security as well.
Yes, these situations are much rarer than those that demonstrate the inequality of women. But they do happen.
It’s just not as easy as “you’re white with a job and a opposite sex partner therefore your life is great and you have no place in this discussion.” I wish it was.
Because if I could have traded middle class and advance placement and working car and $500 dinner sprees every weekend at Applebees for clothes that fit, breakfast lunch and dinner every day instead of just dinner on weekends and, you know, a dad that actually wanted me instead of “had been saddled with me” I would have traded it in an instant.
That would have made me feel privileged.