The confusing thing about privilege is an ongoing series.
Part One discusses that Privilege is essentially the absence of unnecessary struggle which isn't fundamentally a problem, but the unequal distribution of privilege aligns with alarming social trends which are a problem.
Part Two discusses the difference between inherited and earned privilege, which in the comments I refined as being Respect vs Privilege.
As part of full disclosure, I come from an extremely privileged background. Not only am I white, employed, healthy and educated* (*a future topic), I come from a wealthy-ish family, and I've really never known lack. While my parents and grandparents weren't wealthy (though we were certainly upper middle class by the time I hit elementary school) when I was young, I had the unique opportunity to see my them build and grow businesses from the ground up to the point where they are now quite wealthy.
The struggles that my parents faced were a mixture of personal and business problems, but they always directed attention and resources (financial and otherwise) to solving these problems and using them as teaching moments without worrying us kids (I am one of five kids). As a result, I grew up in a very stable house, with loving parents, and I not only grew up with financial advantages, I grew up where the "try hard, try smart, persist" mentality was part of the fabric of our everyday lives.
At this point, I cannot possibly undo the effects of my privileged life, nor do I want to. My goal is mainly to observe what privilege is, and try to become a more loving person as a result of seeing other's struggles are different than my own.
Privilege makes NO easier
I recently started a post called Frugal "Nos" can make "Yes" more frequent in Parenting (working title, obviously), but I haven't finished writing it, mostly because I feel a little bit bad giving parenting advice when I have one two year old child whose greatest Earthly wish is probably to have a whole bar of chocolate and a helium balloon.
One of the premises of this post-to-be is that it's important to teach kids that status symbols aren't that important for happiness. As I was reflecting on this, I began to wonder if this advice only applies to privileged kids (and privileged adults too). My conclusion is that it theoretically applies to everyone, but the advice is much easier to take if you are privileged.
As a privileged person, I can hear "don't spend $5 a day on lattes, and don't eat fast food" and interpret, "that sort of spending is silly and gives me no happiness."
However, if my life were in a frequent state of instability (like not knowing who will be living in your house next week, or not knowing if the child support will come through, not knowing if your health will allow you to work tomorrow, or having to coordinate time off from two jobs to get your kid to the doctor, etc.), I think that advice would be a tougher pill to swallow. I might think, "my $2 cup of coffee is the one thing that keeps my coworkers from knowing that I spent four hours at a laundromat in a dingy neighborhood last night. The $8 for Happy Meals for my son and his friend at McDonald's is to prove to my son's friend's parents that my son is a safe and good playmate."
How many times have I been judgmental about a woman spending a good portion of her income on nice clothes, hair and nails or a guy who pulls out the newest smart technology, or wears $200 sneakers? What about the parents who take their kids to Chuck E. Cheese even though they know that their Rent-A-Center washer and dryer is going to get taken? In the personal finance community, we have an almost derogatory term for this type of spending called keeping up with the Jones's. Do you know what everyone else calls it? Everyone else calls it maintaining appearances, which seems to indicate that you have something to hide.
Please don't read this as me condoning status spending, because I don't want to do that at all. I am mainly recognizing that saying no to status spending is much easier when you have nothing to hide than when society makes you feel that you should be hiding.
I am a young, white, healthy, relatively slim woman, and I say that it's okay to DIY haircuts and to wear minimal makeup (both of which I've said on the blog), but it is a tad ridiculous for me to expect someone who is in a completely different demographic to agree that DIY haircuts are a reasonable way to cut expenses.
Saying No isn't just about spending
The ability to say No has far broader reaching consequences than just making it difficult to cut down on spending. Post college, I had the opportunity to say no to a few so-so job offers, because I was able to move in with my parents (I did work a night shift job), and it gave me nearly 8 weeks to job hunt and ultimately find a great job while living an expenses free life.
What if cash were so tight, or my family was so undesirable that I literally had to take whatever job I could find to pay the rent? What if saying no to an extra shift waiting tables were the difference between my ability to pay for one extra-curricular activity for my son and zero activities? It is barely an option to say no, even if I'm exhausted and feeling under the weather and need to go to the dentist.
There is a high degree to which privilege shields privileged people from having to make difficult decisions on a day to day basis (you can google decision fatigue to see some fascinating studies). However, privilege holds an even higher power, which is that it usually makes a privileged person's "no" efficacious.
An ineffective no can have serious consequences that have long reaching effects. I have a friend who told her sister that the sister could not live with her, but the sister (and the sister's son) moved in anyhow. The result was an extremely chaotic home life which included several police visits and a near loss of Section 8 funding.
I still have a hard time comprehending how my friend could not effectively tell her sister no, but the way she discusses the issue, it sort of seemed expected. As if nobody respects her, "No" ever.
An even more socially destructive pattern is that unprivileged people (defined as non-white and especially homeless) are far more likely to be victims of sexual abuse and sexual trauma. In general, these crimes are described as any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the express consent of both parties. To me, sexual assault is the ultimate example of an ignored "No", and the persistent issues that accompany sexual victimization are largely connected to generational poverty and a wide variety of mental, emotional and physical difficulties as well. Of course, anyone can be a victim of sexual abuse, but it disturbs me that the least advantaged members of our society are much more likely to suffer from sexual trauma which tends to have detrimental effects on self-efficacy,
Privilege means No Matters
Whether I am, "saying no to say yes to something better," or I am simply expressing my wishes, I expect my no to be respected. This is a privileged viewpoint. While I still believe that most people in most situations can do something to make their tomorrow better, I don't think that the path to a better tomorrow is as easy for everyone as it has been for me. I've said No a lot to get to where I am today, but I've always been able to.
Do you think the No Factor matters?
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.