In a lot of the conversations I’m having with others these days, the word privilege seems to surface. Whether we’re discussing the plight of people all over the world, or in our own backyards. Whether we are discussing the global pandemic, or gun violence, or mental health, someone will mention privilege and the conversation will inevitably blur into a new one about how we can help, how the privileged classes can impact the lives of others, whether or not we should ever feel bad for ourselves.
My friends usually say something like, “I feel guilty because…” then insert the reason they feel guilty right now. Maybe they have great health insurance. Or maybe they are still working full-time, with full-time pay, just from the safety of their home. Or maybe they have healthy children, or partners they love to spend time with. The point is this here world is made up of a lot of different people, and some of us, just by being born who we are, or where we are, live a life of privilege.
Now would I consider the life I lived as a child a life of privilege. Let’s recap: I grew up in poverty, the last child of a single mom of four, we were welfare recipients, Section 8 people, I was a free lunch kid. I watched my mom struggle to make ends meet every month, play the whole Which-Bill-Is-Skipped-This-Month Game. We didn’t have the best healthcare, etc. etc. So did I live a privileged life? Yep, I did. Because while we didn’t have money, and I missed out on some things growing up, I learned a million life lessons. I’m also, as it happens, a white person, born in America. So even though my childhood was rough, even though I had family members in prison, and several addicted to alcohol, or drugs, or gambling, or all three, I still led and continue to lead a life of privilege.
One of my professors once told me that she hasn’t figured out a way to write about guilt. It’s a tricky subject, a tough emotion. And I suspect as a member of a privileged class she doesn’t want to upset anyone. And honestly, since she told me that I’ve been trying and trying to figure it out too. But have come up short every time. Maybe it’s a dead end. Probably it is, but just talking about it in a space like this might be good enough. Because here’s the thing: Some of us do recognize that we live a life of privilege, and we do all we can to try to help others. To be compassionate, to lend a hand, or an ear. To make donations. To reach back and lift others up.
But it may, at times, seem like we are ungrateful. For example, I’ve stopped myself a thousand times in the last two months from complaining about one thing or another because honestly, it just isn’t right for me to be complaining right now, when there’s so much uncertainly in this world. But the truth is, I have had hard times. I still continue to, even with my privileges, and like all people it feels nice to discuss them sometimes, lest I invalidate my feelings. If I wouldn’t want to invalidate the feelings and emotions of a compete stranger who lives 3,000 miles from me (I’m just wired that way, it makes me sad to think I have unknowingly hurt someone), so why am I okay with invalidating my own struggles and feelings?
Yep. I can see now how this is a messy subject. Can you? I hope you can. And I hope maybe you’ll think more on it. If you come up with anything let me know. I’m drowning a bit here.
Stay safe and sane, y’all.