Thursday, November 22, 2007

The problem with privilege

I have been thinking about pieces of this post for a long time now, and figured today was as good a day as any to actually flesh out my thoughts.

I think the primary problem with privilege is we keep expecting more of it. Privilege is the fount of entitlement, which, in turn, is the fount of injustice, at least in my mind.

I have been realizing more and more lately how much privilege I enjoy. Both on a worldly level, and even by American standards. (For the record, I feel guilty about having many of these privileges, so I'm hesitant to even name them. I suppose in some ways, they could be my "thanksgiving list" but in other ways, they are a challenge to me to try and live differently, to understand others, and to not live with notions of entitlement).

Here are just a few privileges I enjoy:

1) A guaranteed job
2) 4 weeks paid vacation, promised by my church, plus study leave.
3) Enough funds to actually go places with my paid vacation.
4) Guaranteed medical insurance.
5) Freedom, for the most part, of sexual harassment in the work place and the ability to raise a fuss if an incident does occur.
6) Private transportation...a.k.a. a car.
7) A family that is on speaking terms, across the board.
8) The privilege/freedom to walk into a store and buy what I want, even if it's not on sale or not on my shopping list.
9) Being able to loan money to friends when they are stretched too tight.
10) Having a little bit more than living paycheck to paycheck.
11) Being able to work in a profession I love and care about.
12) Being able to express my opinions openly and honestly in just about any forum (this is as much a privilege of having been taught to express myself as it is a freedom of speech...)
13) Having clean drinkable water from the tap.
14) Being able to take a hot shower every day, any time I want.
15) Having a home that more than suits my needs.
16) Not having to endure abuse in my home.
17) Good credit.

I enjoy lots of other privileges. I'm sure I could go on and on and on. And others could probably also point out others that are so much a part of my privileged-ness that I don't even realize they are privileges. I think in some ways I struggle with a desire to renounce my privilege, because although in our modern world they are privileges, there are many I think of as rights, not privileges. I think everyone has the right (or at least should have the right) to express him/herself, to have a job they love, to have potable water throughout the day, to have enough to eat, to be free from abuses, etc. So there are some privileges I don't want to give up, both because I enjoy them, but also because I think all of us should be able to enjoy them. But in that I also have to recognize that as long as there are others who are not enjoying those privileges, it is, at least in part, because I have not fought hard enough for justice, or because I am hoarding the privilege for myself. And that is a problem.

I've thought about doing a Lenten discipline of trying to avoid the use of some of my privileges--of making a strict and limited budget and forcing myself to stick with it (in a sense forcing myself to live on minimum wage), even if things are tough, of not using my private transportation and forcing myself to use public transit or my own two feet, of not buying with credit. As I had mused on this post before, I had other ideas for what I should deny myself (including meat and specialty foods), but am lacking for some of those ideas now as I write. I also think that I shouldn't be so privileged as to wait until Lent. Maybe I should start today....and then I start justifying my actions..."well, it's Christmas time and that means shopping and so I don't want to begin a more limited budget now" know, the normal stuff--the normal stuff anyway for those of us with privilege enough that we can afford to wait.

Some might say I should just count my blessings today. But for those without these privileges, I probably stand as a reminder of what they don't have, of my elitism, and the nature of the beast where those with power and privilege refuse to actually change the system for fear that they (meaning me) would actually have to give something up. This post is humbling, and, in many ways, guilt inducing, which is probably a good indicator that things need to change.


chai said...

i really liked this post and idea. thank you, deb, for reminding me the beauty and ugliness of privilege. here are a few from me:

1) i am human.

2) i have full functioning limbs, organs, and brain (yes, it is it's own category).

3) i have shelter, with running water, heater, and gas.

4) i have the ability to stock my fridge and pantries with desired goods, along with necessities.

5) i am a woman.

6) i was born in another country.

7) i have a U.S. passport.

8) i have a two degrees that provides job security and societal safety.

9) i am heterosexual.

10) i have a nourishing family life.

11) i have many friends, of all races, ethnic, and sexual orientations.

so many privileges.

Tennessee Methodist Man said...

very well said friend. I appreciated reading this.