Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On privilege

Am in T-Town today, hanging out at the Chain Bread Bistro and am irked that I got more bread than bowl in my Soup in a Bread Bowl meal.

Anyway, so in class today we took the Privilege test. A variation on the test can be glimpsed at this discussion here, but here's the basics: A series of statements are read ("My grew up in a home my parents owned." "I am able to publicly show affection to my partner.") and you either step forward or backward depending on what you answer. The role of the exercise is to let people understand exactly what privilege is; not racism, but privilege, defined not as "I hate (person of differing race/ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation) and wish they'd diiiiiieee!" but to unmask how subtle privilege is, that we really do NOT start off at an equal spot, that some of us got a leg up that we weren't even ever aware of. Trust me, having parents who understood the college application process is a HUGE advantage right there.

So we go through this exercise, and I actually fell a lot farther on the "non-privileged" side than I did the "privileged" side, which surprised me and seriously bummed me out. Weirdly, I was totally prepared to deal with my privileges, but I was stunned to see the lack. I really didn't realize that some of the shit I deal with were actual disadvantages.

But that's neither here nor there. The response to the test by one member of the class was fairly typical. "White, middle class America is under attack! If you're poor or a minority, you get financial aid and so much help, but you're all alone if you're white and middle class, and these people make it feel like it's all your fault that they're poor! I didn't do anything! I'm a good person!"

Not the first time I've heard this. Not even this week. So, here's my one reply. Spread it around, y'all, please, so I don't have to keep repeating it.

First off: You're attacking the wrong people. "If you're poor or a minority, you get advantages?" Yes, because Pell grants and food stamps are such a great thing compared with being treated like a non-human (pssst, they're not.) Think about this: To get said "advantages" you have to live in areas that are both socially and environmentally harmful to your health; you have to go to substandard schools; if you can go to a "good" school that has all the resources (like a computer! with Internet! Folks, there are schools in the U.S. that don't) you have to work your ass off to stay there; you probably won't see your parents much, since one or both of them is probably absent; and you're hungry, probably often, and you didn't get the nutrition you needed to help your brain develop properly when you were a kid. Oh, and if you can survive and thrive past all that, and you get financial aid into college, well, it's still tough because you'll have to work, and you probably won't have a car to get you around. Extra-curricular activities, you know, those things that help you make connections and points to put on a resume, will probably go out the window because you'll be working and studying too much.

So yes, let's 86 the idea that being poor or a minority is so great for financial aid. Turn your ire on the people who deserve it: The 2% or whatever that have all the money, who are working through corporations, media and government to turn us against each other so that we won't notice what they're doing. We should be pulling together, people! Think on this: Your kid's spot at Yale is being taken up by the next Dubya Bush. Your kid, who was all As in high school, on every team, in every club and read to old people at the nursing home every day after school, will be denied entrance to Yale because of a C average legacy who will spend his whole 4 years partying.

And here's the other thing: OK, so some poor kid got financial aid and your kid didn't. OK, so I guess he'll have to do what the rest of us do: sacrifice. He'll have to work and not get all the things that'll make college pay off big, like the extra activities and the study abroad classes. He'll have to go half time to work so he can pay. He'll (gasp!) have to go to a land-grant university instead of the Ivy League place. He may even have to go to community college first because it's affordable and he can actually afford to pay for it.

And that, my friends, is privilege in a nutshell -- thinking that your kid SHOULDN'T have to do all that, because someone else has scooped up his opportunity.

Sucks, don't it?

This is the way things are. You are being PLAYED. Someone's making life tougher, and believe me, it ain't us (the poor, the minority, the gay). You are being duped into thinking that life for you means no-life for us, when in fact, no-life for us means no-life for you, too. We are only as strong as we all are together.

We can have a better world, but we've GOT to get rid of this notion that we're entitled to shit because we EARNED it somehow. No on earns anything. We do what we do, and it works out for some of us and not for others. We're entitled to shit because we breathe. And if we're not greedy about our air, there'll be enough for everyone. God loves us all.

So own your privilege and then let it go. Breathe. Love.

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