Privilege is a loaded word these days. What does it really mean? I remember my maternal grandmother telling me that her family was called Shanty Irish back in the day. I remember her putting water in a ketchup bottle and shaking it up so it would go farther. She learned that trick in the Great Depression. My Granddaddy was a coal miner in Northeast Alabama. Privileged?
I worked for the army in Fort Carson, Colorado in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. I was at Child and Youth Services. Anyway, we had a little blond haired boy in a class. Must have been privileged right? Well considering he had Cerebral Palsy and couldn’t feed himself or get out of a wheelchair I’m not sure privilege would be a word he would understand.
I think about things like this sometimes when I hear the victim culture of identity politics. Everyone wants to be a victim now. It’s cool. It’s hip. I think about the black folks from the 60’s who couldn’t go to a lunch room or use a certain bathroom. Now everyone from a tanned white person to a dark Hispanic to an Asian teen wants to let you know they are either a person of color or ¼ African American. They are oppressed don’tcha know? I sometimes think I can hear the actual black folks who couldn’t go to a certain school or eat in a certain place or travel on public transportation. I hear them (in my own mind of course) saying “Now you want to be black?” “now you want to be a person of color?” Where was your skanky ass when a “Person of color” couldn’t apply for a job or go in a place to eat or shop at the latest department store or attend a concert?
I’m reminded of my own experience. I was born (and yeah it makes me uncomfortable to talk about it.) with a cleft pallet. I was reminded daily as a child that I had a scar by certain other kids. I guess the little asses didn’t realize I had a @#$% mirror and didn’t need their input. Now was I privileged? In some ways yes. I learned at an early age to have an inner toughness. I learned the value of talking to God and finding my own self worth. But, would I have traded places with the young black football player with perfect smile and the confidence to walk in a room? But, I was privileged don’tcha know?
Not long ago I saw a pretty little Chinese/American college student slanging snot in an interview. She had started across campus and some jerk had called her an eggroll. Still, she needed a safe space. I thought “Honey, if someone had called me a bowl of grits (I’m southern) and that was the worse thing I had ever been called?” Well, anyway I have little patience these days with safe spaces and victimhood.
Look, I haven’t always been right. I haven’t always been brave or noble or strong. In my youth I hid behind beers and pot way too often. But, I have learned to live and I have had a certain toughness instilled in me by life. No, I’m not fearless. I have often been full of self pity and angst. But, I have never needed a safe space and I have never been part of a “group” that would protest for my rights or make someone attend sensitivity classes for insulting me.
All I’m saying is be careful with that word “Privilege” we all have some privilege over somebody else. I have the privilege of putting on a pair of glasses and seeing the world. Ray Charles would have loved that privilege. Lebron James has the privilege of making millions of dollars by putting a ball in a ten foot hoop. Many of us who work for a living would love that privilege.
So, no I’m not saying racism doesn’t exist. I’m not even saying that African American culture hasn’t been oppressed and held down. I’m just saying that when you look at an individual human you should be careful of the word “privilege.” Some of us have been through battles that would have put you in the fetal position in the corner. Some others have been through stuff that would put me there. But, I’m tired of all this victimhood.
Finally, I’ll say this. I didn’t have a leave it to Beaver upbringing. My mother was 17 when she was pregnant with me and barely 18 when she gave birth. She was not going to be mother of the year and we had issues. But, one day she said something to me that contributed to my waking up. She told me “Steve, I made a lot of mistakes. “ I did some things that I wouldn’t do again. I also did some things that I would do the exact same way. So you can lie there and feel sorry for yourself because of me or you can get up. It’s up to you.
I got up.