Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Opposite of Privilege

I am not a fan of the way in which we often use the world "privilege." I am not sure that it means what people think it means.

But I read a post by a mother who noted that her three blonde, blue-green-eyed sons would be the epitome of privilege. And she felt that this gave her a burden. And I understood what she meant, and so I chided the pedant within me for his lack of charity.

For a mother, white privilege means your heart doesn’t hit your throat when your kids walk out the door. It means you don’t worry that the cops will shoot your sons.

It carries another burden instead. White privilege means that if you don’t school your sons about it, if you don’t insist on its reality and call out oppression, your sons may become something terrifying.

Your sons may become the shooters.
A Mother’s White Privilege
Her words were heartfelt, and eloquent, and I understand why people found them moving. But I think that I disagree, somewhat. I think that the burden of privilege is not to educate our children about it. It is not to insist that is is real to people who do not perceive it. It is not to sound the alarm whenever there is oppression.

The burden of privilege is to obviate it.

Privilege, as I understand it, is nothing more than to be at or near the head of the line in the face of scarcity. Near the head of the line for scarce jobs. Near the head of the line for scarce respect. Near the head of the line for scarce justice. Near the head of the line for scarce love and sex. Near the head of the line for scarce housing. Near the head of the line for scarce understanding. Near the head of the line for scarce health. Near the head of the line for scarce security. Near the head of the line for scarce praise. Near the head of the line for scarce time. Near the head of the line for scarce fairness. Near the head of the line for scarce peace of mind. Privilege is simply being brought close enough to the head of the line for a scarce resource or benefit, by those like yourself, that you receive a portion of whatever it is before it runs out. That's all.

As such, the fear of missing out is the mother of privilege, and the perception of poverty its father. For example, the "peculiar institution" of slavery in the United States started out as nothing more than a way for outwardly wealthy landowners to solve the problem of finding enough skilled, long-term labor to work their farms without eroding their profits. When labor is dear and one lacks means, the freedom to work for who you will and at a wage that will keep you can become scarce. And Englishmen wanted their fellow Englishmen to come to the head of the line. It was just that simple. It was not the beginning of privilege, and it was not the end. It was simply the reaction to people to the understanding of scarcity that has dogged humanity since before it learned to stand upright. And every instance of privilege, injustice and oppression, I think, may be modeled in this way.

And what that tells me is that the opposite of privilege is plenty. And that the burden of privilege is creation.

When there is enough that even the last person in line can bear away all that they can carry, and there is still more besides, the head of the line is no longer sought after. There is no need to seek to guarantee that your receive a portion, even if others must go without.

Thus, perhaps the challenge of privilege is to teach our children to create for the joy of creation. To teach them that they are competent and capable, and that no matter how much of something that they give away, there will always be more. There will always be enough. That they can say: "Here, you take this," without having to wonder how they will provide for themselves. Likewise, that they will never need to take from another that which is not freely given. Because they have it within themselves to create whatever is asked for. And still more besides.

In this, perhaps the responsibility of privilege is to be secure in ourselves, so that those who learn from us will be secure in themselves. It is to live a life without the fear of want, or loneliness or death, and to pass that on to those around us. It is to always understand that whatever you have, it is enough. Enough for yourself, enough for your neighbors, enough for everyone you come into contact with, for no matter how much of it you sell, give away or throw up into the sky, there is always more where that came from. So that the children will see us, and, through their constant quests to be like us, learn.

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