The First Step is Acknowledgement: I Have Class Privilege
Aloha . . . Mahalo . . . Hula . . . Hana Hou . . . are a few Hawaiian words I’ve learned this week while visiting Hawaii. You know, I think Hawaii is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen with its luscious green mountains and its sparkling blue beaches. There is something special about this place that makes me want to be less troll-like to people who attempt to break my camel’s back or who attempt to pull my last nerve. Indeed, Hawaii is a special place. Perhaps, it has something to do with the bounty of green vegetation that encircles the island. And given that I grew up in an inner city, went to school in an inner city, and probably will die in an inner city, seeing the abundance of fauna and flora is simultaneously breathtaking and a little disturbing as well.
Breathtaking for all the reasons listed above. But disturbing because I seem to be allergic to Mother Nature and of course I have capitalism, pollution, and chemically enriched foods to thank for all of this. Furthermore, seeing all the vegetation and the beauty of Hawaii is equally unsettling because it reminds me of how privileged I am and how many in my immediate biological family will never be able to visit the land of Hawaii because they do not have the funds and/or time to do so.
Yep, you’ve guessed it this blog is not about Hawaii per se, but more about my inner turmoil with dealing with my increasing class privilege. I know the phrase “inner turmoil” seems a tad bit dramatic, but it’s the best phrase I can conjure up to use while struggling with jet lag. Also, Hawaii is a metaphor for talking about privilege. Well, even though my going to Hawaii was based on my services of being a part-time grad school nanny. It still feels like a privileged state because I did not have to pay for anything. Furthermore, the child was extremely well-behaved and I had an abundance of time to explore Hawaii. So, to say the least I felt inner turmoil about being in Hawaii when so many in my family struggles to keep their heads above water.
Recently, my mother told me she and my two younger siblings will have to move yet again because of a faulty housing agreement. This will make the fifth time they have moved in the last five years. Of course, my mother told me not to worry about her because she’s a hustler, but I can’t stop worrying about her and the need for my younger brother and sister to have a stable place to lay their heads. In addition to this, my older sister is continuously in and out of the hospital because her insurance–which she got only a year ago after working at the job for two years–does not provide her with the best doctors to ensure correct diagnoses. And these examples of hardships are just the tip of the iceberg.
In response to me telling people I have “inner turmoil” about my class privilege, they say, “Well, you’ve made the right decisions in life. You’ve worked hard in school and so you deserve to have.” There is something unsavory about their response because they assume I’ve made the right decisions at every moment of my life and that if you make one bad decision than you are forever doomed to be poor living pay check to pay check.
When I told my mother and sister I was going to Hawaii they were happy for me, but they also said or at least I heard in their happiness,
“Well, you’ve always made good choices about education. I wish I would have made better decisions when I was younger, but I am going to make sure your niece/nephew/brother/sister do well in school.” And when they say things like this my heart grieves because I know I’ve not always made the right decisions and that some things were simply given to me because “I was good polite little black girl” or because “I spoke the King’s English” or because “an undergraduate professor took time out of her schedule to teach me how to write even though I graduated valedictorian of my high school class” or because “I kept my legs closed” or because “I was clean and articulate” or
because “I filled an affirmative action quota for a program” or because “I was a good Christian black girl.” Embedded in most of the “or because” statement listed above is a power structure—patriarchy (appropriate femininity), white supremacy, appropriate heterosexuality, Christianity—that shapes who enters the promised land of privilege. And some of the “or because” statements are simply a result of chance and being at the right place at the right time. So, it was not simply my “hard work” or “good choices,” but structures that opened up to grant me access and chance.
And of course, my sister and mother do uphold the ideas listed above, however, what shines through in my conversations with them is that since they made one mistake—not doing well in school—then they deserve their fate. That’s some bull shit and a lie fabricated by capitalism and liberalism to make people blame themselves and not the fucked up public school systems that manufacture kids of color to occupy pink collar and blue collar jobs. And let’s be honest, for capitalism to work (most of the time) it needs a thriving number of unemployed and unskilled people to exploit.
Working hard and good choices bah hum bug.
And so when I finally saw the movie, The Princess and the Frog and listened to Tiana’s constant downright annoying refrain of working hard to get your dream, I said to myself how this idea of working hard and making good choices is all smoke and windows meaning many people often people of color and poor people work hard and don’t get while others like George W. Bush don’t work hard and still get to become of all things President of the United States of America.
I recently had a conversation with a friend about my inner turmoil and she responded by sending me article from the Root written about Lenita McClain, a well-known Chicago journalist, who committed suicide last March because of her battle with depression and because she had inner turmoil about being middle class and seeing her family daily struggle with poverty. In the article, McClain is quoted as saying:
“My life abounds in incongruities. Fresh from a vacation in Paris, I may, a week later, be on the milk-run Trailways bus in Deep South backcountry attending the funeral of an ancient uncle whose world stretched only 50 miles and never learned to read. Sometimes when I wait at the bus stop with my attacha case, I meet my aunt getting off the bus with other cleaning ladies on their way to do my neighbors’ floors.”
Before, anyone gets worried. I am not planning on killing myself. I feature McClain’s words because it shows how this feeling of inner turmoil about class privilege is real for some people and it also shows how unjust the system is. The more I think about it, I like that I can feel inner turmoil about the privilege I have. First of all, because I do not want to become the type of black person who thinks that he or she is where they are simply because they worked hard and made good decisions. Secondly, I do not want to be the type of person who looks down their nose at other black people in their family or community for not working hard.
All in all, Hawaii was beautiful . . .