The Oblivion of Privilege
Privilege is the reality of having one less thing to think about. When one is privileged they have the luxury of not having to be conscious about their every day actions. We all have various levels of privilege, some more than others. But I often, even as a young black gay male that deals with multiple levels of marginalization, think it’s important to check my own privilege. Male privilege, able-ism, and educational privilege are just a few advantages that I have and must remain cognizant of. If you have privilege than it becomes your duty to become allies to those who do not, if only to advance human rights.
Time Wise, speaker and anti-racist activist came and spoke in Chicago this week. He writes and says:
““What whites have rarely had to think about—because being the dominant group, we are so used to having our will done, with a little effort at least—is that maybe the point is not victory, however much we all wish to see justice attained and injustice routed. Maybe our redemption comes from the struggle itself. Maybe it is in the effort, the striving for equality and freedom that we become human.”
Tim Wise words and his struggle for equality for all of humanity reminded me of a time in my own growth, when I spoke with a black middle class women about ideas of equality for all of humanity. To this day, I still thank this woman for showing me how privilege can make you oblivious to the truth.
“The more one walks around as a black male, the more one gets acclimatized to people’s negative assumptions about his life.”
I’m use to it. I’m use to the stereotypes, the pre-judgments, and the general ignorance. But yesterday, for the first time in my life I felt as though someone talked to me like I was in some “inner-upper-class-circle.” I didn’t like it.
The woman was black and appeared to be middle aged. (we’ll call her Ms.Privilege for narrow intents and purposes) The conversation started off nicely. She noticed a folder that had the word “summerlinks” written on it (The program at University of Chicago that gave me the grant to work at an internship this past summer). She realized I was a student as U of C, and I can only assume that she took this information and attached a connotation to it that didn’t exist. (You know, black male student at Ivy+ School, he must be from money, right?).
Our discussion about Summerlinks and Chicago spilled over into recent changes in the school system. There is a new law out that will ensure a certain number of poverty stricken students to be inserted into selective schools. She explained to me how a student in the United States has a better chance of getting into Harvard, than a student in Chicago getting into Whitney Young Magnet High School. Of course all three of her children have gone to this Chicago “almost-public-pretty-close-to-private” School.
Ms. Privilege seemed to have it all together, she explained her successful career as a journalist and boasted about her sons attending Yale and Princeton. I almost wanted to give her a high five until she fixed her mouth to spout out themes that continue to separate not only the black middle class from the black lower class, but themes that overall separate the rich from the poor in America.
For 20 minutes she ranted about how this new law in Chicago is a threat to the middle class, and shrieked at the thought of someone in poverty making it into Whitney Young HS over a person with higher test scores because of economic status. She continued on by explaining how it’s unrealistic to expect someone of a lower class to be friend with a middle/upper class person because the poor person would not have the money to meet the social expectations (she specifically used the example of how expensive it is to snow board). She concluded by explaining how she felt “threatened like the white parents.”
I was in shock. Ms. Privilege clearly didn’t understand that once upon a time I was the poor boy given a chance by the public school system to succeed in life. I have no problem with people achieving success and wanting success for their children. I have similar aspirations, but my issue comes in when people of privilege facilitate the protection of their status at the cost of poor people who only need a chance and have only a fraction of the resources to offer their children. My issue with Ms. Privilege comes with her pushing a bias of class so far, that she couldn’t expect her child to be friends with someone poor.
Her narrative was like a slap in the face to all the hardworking people without the same resources and opportunities that are allocated to her due to her class.
At the end of the day, I respectfully disagreed with her and got off the bus. But her words, still ache in my stomach Her way of cut-throat individualistic thinking continues to sadden me. And the worse part is, I know she is not the only one. She just assumed I was something else due to my education and was candid enough to say what she thought out loud.
I can only hope that there are still people out there that fight for the common good of all people. A society that wants to see that gap between the poor and rich closed. Unfortunately, I feel that this type of thinking is far too rare. Unfortunately.