Meredith’s Musings: The Privilege of Complaining
I was in a lecture the other day on privilege. I committed this past semester at school to creating lectures and organizing speakers around the topic. My thought process was: we always hear about oppression, to the point the unaffected roll their eyes. How do we get them to listen, many for the first time? So I tried a different tactic; how are we born blessed, a step ahead? And how much empathy could we evoke if we were more aware of it? Some questions in the lecture made me even more aware of my own privilege, and many have little to do with race.
My parents are still married, convenient on holidays, not to mention the sense of my home being in one place, with both of my creators. I grew up in a house my parents owned, with our own space. I never heard any discussion about “money for rent.” The neighbors weren’t near enough to be bothersome. My dad taught me financial independence. I never wanted for anything. I never remember hearing the words, “We can’t afford that.” And no, we never traveled to Europe, but we did go to Six Flags over the summer, and to a seven-year-old, it doesn’t get much better than that. The creakiness of the Texas Giant still haunts me in a thrilling way. My parents encouraged my education; college wasn’t debatable, like brushing my teeth. I was sheltered, assuming everyone lived as I did. As we age, we know better. I had my own room, even though I often bunked with my sister. I still to this day like the comfort of a warm body nearby when I sleep. I remember the first time I stayed the night with a friend who lived in a dirty, cluttered house. It took being uncomfortable in that space to realize mine was clean. I hugged my mom tighter, when I returned home the next morning. We learn in contrast. We don’t know what we have until we see someone who doesn’t have it. Often our first response is to judge, as if I had anything to do with my surroundings. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to count my blessings. This constant state of awareness has created an empathy in me that challenges my upbringing, my political viewpoints and my sense of humanity. It’s more weight to carry, but I was weightless for so long. I had unknowingly seen myself as being above others. I need this awareness to ground me.
A girlfriend of mine was berating her son for not cleaning his bathroom. A man who worked for her asked, “How many bathrooms do you have in your house?” The look of shock on his face made my friend feel selfish, entitled, privileged to have this simple complaint. To him, the concept was foreign, having only lived in homes with one option. For my friend, it put the “problem” into perspective. It’s a humbling moment, one that doesn’t come often enough in the bubbles we create for ourselves. We look for people like us, who speak our language, who frequent our places, who think like we do. We often shelter ourselves from diversity. But in doing so, we limit our ability to see someone else’s perspective, often forgetting how blessed we are. When we forget, we take those blessings for granted.
The concept of privilege is not a new one, but many of us look up when it’s mentioned, focusing on those who have more than us, rather than those who have less. We victimize ourselves, assuming because some people have more, we are suffering with less. Most of us don’t know true suffering. We’re lucky to be Americans. We’re lucky to be free. Someone fought for that; someone is fighting right now. Someone sacrificed for us to have better lives, for us to have the convenience of complaint. And often instead of focusing on the good in our lives, we exacerbate the negatives. We should instead use our energy to help others, to lift people up without judging their circumstances. We all have been on the receiving end of kindness and empathy, when we didn’t deserve it. At a time when we’re so divided, so intent on judging others for their choices or beliefs that vary from ours, perhaps understanding, a little more listening would begin to heal us.