September 7, 2016

I May Be Broke But I Fully Understand How I Still Benefit From Privilege

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Wilfred Iven
Wilfred Iven

Privilege is a funny word. It gets thrown around a lot these days but few people I’ve met seem to really understand what it means.

People seem to think privilege means ‘no problems ever!’ when in reality it means that you simply started out in a better place than some other people. It means certain oppressions and constrictions don’t apply to you.

So it’s possible to poor and still have something like white privilege. I’ve heard the word tossed around our blogopshere a few times, but it seems there’s a certain resistance to exploring it. Well, today I’m taking it there. Today I want to talk about the privilege I have despite being pretty broke.

I’ve come a long way from my low point in 2014. When I first got serious about personal finance, I had $18,000 left in student loan debt and was making roughly $900 a month. Today I’m debt free and have a tiny amount of money in investments. I’m starting my own freelance business in a few weeks. I’ve achieved certain dreams and re- shaped others.

And I’ve worked hard to get here. Really, really hard. But my privilege has been with me every step of the way.

My privilege looks like this: I am able bodied and healthy. I am educated, debt-free, and currently earning money. I am cis gendered. I am white-passing. I speak unaccented English. I come from a family that is certainly not rich, but is stable and successful enough to provide me with some safety net should I ever need it. I live with good people in a beautiful home for a reasonable price. I have a car. I have access to fresh food.

I started off in a much better place than most people on the entire planet. That’s a humbling thought. Owning a car means I can look for jobs within a wider range of the city than someone who is taking the bus or riding a bike. Being white means people don’t apply racist standards to me. Eating healthy food means I rely less on doctors and have more energy to put into my life. These are all benefits of my privilege, not of my hard work.

Yes, I’ve worked hard to achieve what I have. Yes, I will continue to work hard. Yes, I will go through tough times. Yes, I will struggle. Those things do not erase the fact that I was born with a symbolic silver spoon in my mouth.

It’s so easy to write off your privilege. Most privilege is invisible to those that have it. I’ve always had car access- it’s legitimately hard for me to imagine someone being dependent on public transportation. Yet that’s the reality for millions of people! You have to get outside of your privilege and your world view to truly understand how blessed you may be.

To some degree, I do think that complaining or wallowing is fine. My problems are not the worst in the world but they are still problems. That’s ok to acknowledge. It’s fine to feel down sometimes and it’s fine to feel jealous of others.

What’s not fine is staying in those feelings indefinitely. It’s not ok to make those the lenses through which I view my life. Only seeing how busy or tired I am is denying how happy and privileged I am. These things don’t exist in a vacuum:

I am both happy and tired sometimes. I am busy and still privileged.

It’s good for me to remember this. It’s even more helpful to say it out loud (or write it on the internet.) We shouldn’t be afraid of talking about how different people face different challenges. Being a black woman is different from being a white woman. Being in a wheelchair is different from being able to use your legs.

When we ignore that people have different life experiences, we get further away from finding an answer, not closer. So today, I want to encourage everyone to think about their own privileges. And I want to further encourage people to not be afraid to discuss them in your personal lives. TC mark

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