This is an ongoing series of mine. I am discussing the confusing things about privilege. I don't hope to draw any "Solutions." Mostly, I am hoping that I can process my current life situation (highly privileged from every perspective living in a low privilege area) and become a more loving person as a result.
In Part I, I pointed out that privilege is confusing because you can't escape the privileged worldview. On top of that, I pointed out that rhetoric that defines privilege as a problem is too simplistic because the goal of that rhetoric is ostensibly to give everyone the benefits of privilege. Even so, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that unequal distribution of the benefits of privilege is yielding some concerning social trends (and importantly individual problems).
Today's confusing topic is that some people earn privilege, so it feels like due reward.
You can't earn privilege is BS
Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, Beyonce, Ben Carson, Dolly Parton and the list goes on. If you tell me that these people don't walk into a room and instantly command respect, then I will tell you that you are crazy. Of course, there are some small minded people that will still insult these highly successful individuals because of being black, female, or redneck, but they certainly haven't let that stop them.
So yes. It is possible to earn privilege, but that doesn't mean that you did.
I didn't. Neither did my parents, or even my grandparents. I have to go back 4 or 5 generations to arrive at an interesting story of overcoming great odds to become a success. Please don't take this to mean that I think my parents and grandparents are schmucks or never had any adversity, they did. It's just that they had a lot of help in achieving their goals, just like I've had a lot of help in achieving mine.
There are two unique formulas for achieving the benefits of privilege:
1. The traditional route: Be born to privileged parents + Don't Screw Up too badly + No major social uprisings= Privilege
2. The less traditional route: Be born to unprivileged parents + Work Really Hard + Overcome lots of adversity= Privilege.
I am thankful to know people in both camps. I also think it's valuable to celebrate excellence whether it finds its roots in original privilege or inherited privilege.
Privilege, whether you earned it or not, will undoubtedly help you achieve your goals. It will help you overcome future adversity, it will equip you to face life without a sense of desperation and need for acceptance which will actually help you achieve greater abundance and greater acceptance (typically speaking of course). The benefits of privilege compound over time and across generations, and they are enhanced by hard work and character.
The thing is that the when we work hard and achieve rewards we believe that they are the rewards that our due to us. So we have to buy into narrative two, or our rewards seem empty. Unless we are willing to accept empty rewards, then we choose to frame ourselves as being in Narrative Two.
I think that's a little bit of a bummer. I know that everyone is a born story teller, and we can't make sense of our lives without a narrative, and the overcoming plot is the only one worth telling. Blah, blah, blah.
My point, is that the overcoming adversity narrative is too strong to not tell, but buying that narrative is a disservice. As a result, I hope that I don't forget the various privileges that I've had to get me to where I am now, and where I am going. I hope that when I advise people that I don't assume those same privileges. I hope that I will freely give to others the privilege that was freely given to me, at least to the extent that I can.
What's confusing about privilege to you?
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.