We hear so much these days about “privilege.” White privilege specifically, but also in regards to gender, sexuality and class. And it’s such a weird concept, right? I mean, it was for me anyway. The first time I was told that I had “white privilege,” I got defensive. Kinda hot and sweaty. Like I just got busted cheating or something. But then, after reading and watching and most importantly, LISTENING, it clicked. As a straight, white, Protestant American woman, I am one of the most privileged people on Earth, next to only my male counterpart. And so are most of you, I’d say. And I wonder how many of you fully GET what that means right now. How many of you are already bristling at what I just said? YOU ARE PROBABLY LIVING A LIFE OF PRIVILEGE. YES YOU. NOW STOP BEING DEFENSIVE AND LISTEN FOR A MINUTE.
If you are feeling kinda pissy right now, you don’t get it yet. It’s hard, I know. It’s one of those concepts, like algebra or proper eye makeup application, that takes a while to fully GET. There are some great articles and videos out there. You could easily Google it if you weren’t
so lazy so busy, but here are a couple of good examples. Bottom line is, if you have privilege, it is not your job to apologize or feel guilty about that. That’s a waste of time, and misses the point. If you have privilege, what you mainly need to do is RECOGNIZE it and don’t ABUSE it. Because that makes you an asshole. Still confused? Let me help.
Today, I witnessed someone being a total privileged asshole. And by telling you about it, maybe it can help you understand how to keep your own privilege in check.
Simon had a half-day today, so we went on a little adventure. He requested a trip to a specific library branch that has a really great children’s area. Now, if you are local to me, you may figure out which one I am talking about, but I’m not going to name it because I love our library system and I’m not a narc. Anyway, this particular branch is in a location that caters to a very mixed crowd of customers. You are as likely to see an upper class family in there as you are to see a homeless man. Business professionals and transient people share the same door. Bottom line is, I would assume the workers are trained to deal with all walks of life. And this is a good thing. Unless you can’t keep your privilege in check.
So today, Simon and I are playing away in the kids area when a family comes in to the room. A black family, a woman pushing a young toddler in a stroller with a man. I assume mom, dad and daughter. Based on the very narrow perception of their clothing and — to be honest — outdated phone technology, I would guess they are of a lower socioeconomic group. They were not anywhere close to the rougher crowd often seen around this branch, at all. My perception is based strictly on outside appearances, not behavior, so I absolutely could be wrong. And while none of that should change a thing, it does matter when we talk about privilege. Anyway, the little girl was precious and was happily drinking her bottle while her parents began perusing the DVD section. Because of my location, I could hear every word of their discussion, which was an in-depth conversation about what DVDs would be the best choice for their little one. They wanted something educational and also entertaining. She likes Minnie Mouse and Elmo, also music. After a few minutes, they asked a young employee (young is relative, I know. I’m guessing 25) for assistance. They had very specific questions about the DVD selections offered, and spent about 10 solid minutes asking questions. The worker was patient, if perplexed a bit, by the line of questioning, but it was clear they wanted to make good choices. After a while, they moved on to the read-along audiobooks, with some confusion over the technology required. Eventually, they made their selections and left the room.
About this time, Simon and I moved to another part of the room that was directly across from the staff. The young worker began regaling her coworkers with the HILARITY of the situation she had just experienced. HOW RIDICULOUS it was that they just could NOT figure out which Sesame Street movie to get. How could SHE KNOW if Elmo was in it? GOD, it’s not like she’s WATCHED THEM. Just READ THE BACK, she laughed. She realized I was staring her down (and hopefully that other customers were present with children), so she lowered her voice briefly, but started up again. She didn’t know WHAT they were talking about with the audiobooks. She guesses they have a LeapPad or something? OBVIOUSLY those audiobooks won’t work. LOL. Literally, she was laughing out loud at their stupidity. I was seething.
First of all, I understand complaining about customers. I’ve worked retail and restaurants and know the frustrations that come with customer service. In this case, however, this family was nothing but polite and inquisitive, so hardly anything worth complaining about. Second, a librarian’s job is basically to help people find things in a library, so I’d say any annoyance she had was misplaced AT BEST. But to hear this young woman, who I’d be willing to guess is college-educated and based on her appearance, not struggling for any needs to be met, PUNCH DOWN so hard on a family just trying to do their best is the PRIME EXAMPLE of not recognizing privilege.
I’m not going to lie, I wanted to go off on her. After listening to her go ON AND ON about the situation, I had had enough, especially in front of kids. As we were leaving, she turned my way, and I stopped and looked her in the eyes. I said “Parenting is very hard. Most of us are trying the best we can to do right by our kids. They were really trying.” She blushed and said “Oh I know, it was just funny!” I said “No, it wasn’t. They wanted help. Be kinder,” and walked off. I could’ve said so much more, but I know her defenses would’ve come up and blocked any chance of hearing me.
I can’t assume to know the personal history of any of these people, but I have been around long enough to know when someone thinks they are better than someone else. I’ve acted like that person on many, many occasions. I’ve mocked people for how they dress or their hair or their accent. I can be a first-class asshole, no doubt. But once I learned about privilege, my empathy has grown immensely. How can I laugh at someone’s bad outfit when maybe that’s literally all they can afford? How can I lose patience with someone for not understanding something if they didn’t receive the same education as I did? How can I question someone’s life decisions when I don’t know what struggles they’ve had? THAT is recognizing my privilege. And I needed this girl to recognize hers.
Now, I reserve my acerbic commentary for the likes of celebrities, Kim Davis and the GOP presidential candidates. All of them are better off than me despite being idiots, so they deserve it. Punch up, people. Not down.