So, first off, I apologize for the lack of blogs these past weeks. I’ve been incredibly busy, then came down with a cold, which turned into bronchitis. I’m not sure how I, as a reasonably healthy, moderately active 30-year-old, got bronchitis in summer; but I managed it. Fortunately, modern medicine & my insurance are a heck of a thing, and I’m on the mend.
Speaking of privileges, though…I wanted to chat about that.
The rapper Macklemore, who tackles such issues as race relations, white privilege, LGBTQ+ rights, and consumerism, in his lyrics, wrote:
“Don’t get involved if the cause isn’t mine
White privilege, white guilt, at the same damn time.”
This might not resonate with some people, but it certainly does with me. Macklemore, in those two lines, sums up a few major ways that people with privilege (whether that’s being white, being rich, being insured, being able-bodied or neurotypical, etc) avoid getting involved in causes. And while I, in some ways, could be considered underprivileged/oppressed/second-class (mental health conditions, female, queer, no college degree), I am in SO many ways, SO privileged (able-bodied, employed, insured, white, came from a high-class neighborhood).
And I’m aware of it more and more, the further I “get ahead.” I chase the same things that many of us do, especially in this intensely capitalist society; I worked hard for years to “earn” full insurance and a full time job. Recently I bought a car. It’s a beautiful little sedan, about 5 years old, in great shape. Air conditioning. I love it.
Now, that car is partly because the harassment at bus stops has, in my mind, reached proportions that I am not willing to deal with. I was getting hit on, propositioned, and threatened so much and so often that I just wouldn’t take the bus at all.
But, I didn’t pull money out of the air to buy that car: I had a reasonably large sum of savings that was designated for such expenses. A large proportion of people don’t have even $50 in savings. And yet here I am, plunking down…uh…a lot more than that, just so that I can drive myself places whenever I want, even though there’s a (technically) functional bus system around.
I’m struggling with gratitude, to be honest. I had a sort of depressive breakdown about a week before I bought the car; I called a friend, crying, saying “I don’t deserve this. I don’t WANT all this. The car, the job, the apartment. I wish I could just give it to someone who actually deserves it!”
Not whining, just saying: The conflict between the pressure to be grateful and the pressure to be aware of my privilege and check it daily is kind of breaking my brain.
The solutions I’ve come to, which has helped and which I recommend to anyone struggling with privilege and guilt, is simple:
Use it for good.
- Got a car? Drive your neighbor to the grocery store so he doesn’t have to lug 6 bags of heavy groceries all the way across town to feed his family. Or help transport donations of food or clothing from churches to local food banks and clothes closets (it’s surprising how often churches have donations of goods, but no one to drive them).
- Got money? Donate some. Doesn’t have to be a lot. Get a windfall of $1000? Give $50 to a good cause. This may not be an option for everyone, but please, it if is for you, and you feel that it’s a wise choice, do it.
- Got extra clothes? Donate them. Having access to new clothes can be the difference between a homeless person getting a job or remaining on the streets.
- Got skills? Find a way to apply them in your community. If you have experience with addiction or mental health, maybe you can be a peer counselor. Or, if your skills are more mechanical, see if Habitat For Humanity might need someone strong and handy to help provide a home for someone.
- Got time? Give it. Sit with people at a retirement community and just talk. Or listen. Sometimes the best thing we can give is just being there and listening.
My recommendation is always action. Pay it forward. If you have it and it feels like too much of a gift, don’t sit around whining about how guilty you feel. Take action.
Me, my commitment with this car, this huge privilege, is to help fellow recovering women get to the support groups and meetings we need to stay safe and sober. It seems like a small thing, but having been that newbie who couldn’t get to a meeting, like, EVER…Those people with cars who would pick me up without a second thought, they saved me. Over and over.
The beloved writer Toni Morrison passed away this week. I was moved deeply by a certain quote by her:
“…Just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”
It is hard to know what to do, in situations where we are aware of our privilege and kind of think “well now what?” My answer, again, is always, always action. Never sit there in your comfy car, or your comfy apartment, and wallow in “oh poor me, I’m so privileged and guilty.” We need to get off our collective armchairs and get to work freeing people, empowering people. Doing our real jobs.
I encourage you to give it a shot, in whatever way is right for you.
All the best,