Privilege, it seems like the more I avoid writing on something the more I am bombarded with the issue. And privilege is what I have been thinking a lot about lately. It started with the big school move (detailed here). But then I started reflecting on my birth experience to get myself prepped for the next one (post to come soon….I hope) and then there was some sort of public twitter blogger-word-fight about poverty tourism surrounding Heather Armstrong. One of my favorite bloggers, Katie Granju, wrote about the whole thing as did mom-101 and many, many others. And for me it all boils down to privilege, and what responsibility (if any) does privilege come with?
What is privilege? Who decides who is and who isn’t? Is it always about money? I feel like I am stepping into a whole pile of stuff that is too deep for me to surf through. But it is what is going on with me, in my life. So here goes nothing.
I realized that I was resenting my new students for the privilege that they have. Their school is beautiful and well maintained. No graffiti in the bathroom stalls, always toilet paper. 20 different AP possibilities to choose from. Every sport imaginable, (including a quidditch club). And as a teacher if I need or want something for my classroom? I simply attach the need to my syllabus and the students have the resources to get it for me. When I say resources, I don’t just mean money. They have parents who value education and have the time to be supportive, transportation to the store, an office supply store in their neighborhood. All of the things that set the kids up to succeed. And you know what? It isn’t their fault they have all of those things. And it isn’t their fault that my old students didn’t have all of those things.
But mostly God held up a mirror and said, “Really Abby, a 27 year old able bodied white woman in America, raised in a Christian two parent home.You are going to hold people’s privilege against them?” Yeah, rich, I know. I am privileged. As a woman I was born in a place where I didn’t have to live in a fear of my womanhood, it didn’t equal a death sentence or a mandatory marriage at 15. I was entitled to a free education until I was 18. And the blessings the Lord bestowed on my family growing up……I could write forever and not get everything down. And yet, I was looking at these kids and blaming them. For all that is unjust in this world. Which isn’t fair.
Privilege isn’t fair. Some people are born with more than others. And if your in the more category (and if you are reading this, you probably are) what does that mean? What responsibility do we have? This year I hope to teach my students about people who have less than they do. People without safe homes or clean drinking water. I want to inspire them to use the things they have access to to make someone else’s life better. And I want them to understand that just because you recognize your privilege, doesn’t mean you are saying that you and your parents aren’t working hard. It just means you were also blessed.There is no shame in that. But there needs to be some sort of realization that some people work just as hard as you, harder than you and still come up short.
That is why I respect Heather Armstrong so much. She acknowledges her privilege. Recognizes that in a lot of ways she is just really really lucky. And she is using her position as the most successful blogger on the block to benefit other people. People who otherwise I would never think or hear about. That is what I want to do with my students. Inspire them to use their privilege for good.
Your thoughts on privilege made me think of one of my favorite homilies I've heard. The Gospel for that Mass was on the Beatitudes. They can be hard to understand – does it mean that if we've been fortunate enough to not be persecuted or reason to mourn, that we're not going to be blessed? The priest pointed out that instead, you can be the blessing for someone else. I had never thought of it like that.I'm like you – I've been blessed, so it's my responsibility to be a blessing. This is not to say that I'm necessarily very good at it. It does mean though that God doesn't mean for me to feel guilty for having two supportive parents, a loving husband, an education, and my material needs met. I just need to figure out how to help others be blessed.
wow. I love this. It's cool how I've seen the Lord change your perspective 180 degrees.