Privilege Check

“Thankfulness carries an attitude of humility.”
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Privilege is one of those buzzwords that’s become a behemoth of controversy in our culture. The debate surrounding the word seems to have taken on a life of its own on the internet and college campuses. Of course, the word itself, and even the sentiments behind the modern usage of the word, have existed for a long time. To my thinking, the controversy has more to do with its usage and the political power of the word than with the concept of benefits of unearned advantage itself. Take a moment to appreciate the origins of the modern repackaging, and the sentiment behind it: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-origins-of-privilege.

This is just a quick look into some of the privileges I’ve had in life. I felt compelled to make this list for many reasons. For one, I think it’s a good lesson in humility. Note that I find all of these “privileges” (or blessings if you prefer) to be good things in and of themselves; however, many of them exist as a result of some not so good things. That’s the root of reason number two why I felt compelled to not only create the list, but share the list. It’s good to openly admit the positives and negatives surrounding privileges. Next, I realize that I don’t give nearly enough thought to how these facts impact my life, and how others’ perspectives are equally informed by their experiences. Finally, it’s an exercise in thankfulness. You can’t be grateful if you don’t know what to be grateful for.

1) it’s a privilege to be born and raised in America. America is far from perfect and experiences vary but there’s no denying that being an American in the 21st century means that you reap the benefits of freedom fighters, colonizers, imperialists, and revolutionaries of every stripe that came before you.

This is a strange privilege for me to wield, because I never really thought of myself as American until I began to travel outside of the US. Echoing Hannah Arendt’s thoughts on her Jewishness, being American was one of those indubitable facts of life that I was aware of and would never have sought to change, but certainly never gave much thought to. I was much more conscious of myself as black, or as a woman, before I was conscious of myself as American. It wasn’t until I studied abroad in Taiwan a few years ago that I really began confronting what it means to be American.

I’ll say this about being American: due to many factors, it was the most successful at doing what all the other 20th century powers were attempting to do. In the 21st century, that gives you an identity and passport that many would kill for.

2) I come from a comfortable middle class family. Coupled with the first fact, this has afforded me tremendous benefits in life. The older I get the more grateful and frankly the more in awe I am of my parents, that they were able to carve out such a life for my siblings and I.

3) This is one that I don’t hear brought up much in discussions of privilege, but coming from an in-tact two family household has definitely had an overwhelmingly positive impact on my life. The shocked reaction that so many people have when they learn that my parents have never been divorced, and yes, all five of us come from the same parents is a sad statement on the state of marriage in America.

4) I’ve been fortunate enough to receive a degree from one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country. But even before that, I benefited from being a part of special programs in high school and of going to pretty good public schools. This educational background gave me the opportunity to travel to China and Taiwan in high school and college, participate in a myriad of competitions, receive research grants, and in general expose me to so much more than I knew existed when I was younger.

5) I haven’t quite traveled the world, but I have done pretty extensive traveling around China and Taiwan. In fact, I’ve been living in Taiwan for about two years now. Experience traveling and learning a new language has broadened my outlook and given me experiences that I never thought I would have.

6) I have been blessed with a healthy and able body and mind. Though I am very grateful for all the blessings in my life, I have to admit that this is one of the blessings I am most grateful for. I have had so many rich experiences in my life quite simply because I am physically able to have those experiences.

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So that’s it. The thing with youth is that most of what you have in life has been given to you, in the developed world at least. But even in the things that we have worked for, there is always the element of unearned advantage lurking beneath the surface. This isn’t a bad thing, but the appropriate response is always acknowledgment and a grateful attitude.

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One thought on “Privilege Check

  1. Andrew C. says:

    Counting one’s blessings and privileges is always a good exercise to do. I’m with you on #1. It isn’t until you leave the US and go somewhere where you are a clear minority that you begin to get a clearer picture of what it means to be an American in the eyes of non-Americans. I’m baffled sometimes by super-patriots who have never stepped foot outside of the country. They may be proud to be American, but they have at best an incomplete grasp of what that means. It’s more than just, “Give me my liberties and kick all the illegals out!” Much, much more.

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