Monday, October 13, 2014

I Have Privilege and so do You!!

My mother introduced me to the concept of privilege when I was ten or so. I'm not sure they had named it privilege yet but it is the same concept.
When I was tiny infant my father skipped out leaving my mother to raise me and my three year old sister (suffering from myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease which killed her when she was 12).
Needing to take my sister to the doctor and having lost her job because there was no mandatory maternity leave, my mother needed social services. She had never gone to a welfare office before. She assumed it would be like any other office she had been in.
She sat down with a case manager and he asked her some questions. Fairly invasive, but she answered.
Then he asks "So, where is the father?" To which my mother replied "I don't think that is any of your business"
He closed her file, looked her in the eye and said "I can just close your case right now"
At which point my mother realized what privilege was. My mother was "white and bright" and had never experienced this sort of behavior. People who are white and bright don't get challenged. We rule the world. She got to see that day how poor white trash was treated.
It took a moment to sink in. It didn't make sense. He was acting crazy.
No. He was acting like she was "poor white trash". He did not bother to hear how she spoke. That she was college educated. That she was 10x brighter than him. No. She had her privilege stripped away. Ten years later she recounted this to me. It made such an impact on her. I realized then that people let me talk whenever I want. Minorities look for my approval. I can walk into almost any building in the world without hassle.
Once I wore a suit to court and was told to sit past the bar (where the lawyers sit) before I corrected the Judge. He had me sit with the other lawyers anyway. No law degree, but I was white and in a suit.
Sure I am bright. I speak well. But I am also white, like my mother and additionally a man. People never look at me suspiciously (except in sketchy areas where I am the freak and privilege becomes temporarily reversed in a weird way). I am the accepted norm.
I try to remember that. I am a bright, white, straight, cis, male.
Imagine a black man in my mother's position. College educated, bright, well spoken, being treated like a gangbanger or drug addict. Imagine that and you imagine the way most of my black friends are treated. I can put on a suit. Go from trailer park to Park Avenue with a change of clothes. The black man can't change his skin and it makes him a lesser class of human. We should not forget that.

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