Growing up, I lived under assumptions that were essentially invisible. For instance, it never ever occurred to me that I might not have clean, pressed clothes each day for school. Or not have enough to eat. Or the heat might get turned off. Or the power. Or we might be evicted.
Privilege comes in several forms. Among them: economic privilege, class privilege, male privilege and white privilege. There’s even sexual orientation privilege. A lot of privilege is earned. A lot of it is the luck of the draw: being born to a certain family, or being a certain gender, height, shape or color. Or having eyes or arms or legs that work.
Here’s the rub: no matter how it’s acquired, with privilege comes an important responsibility: recognizing we have it. Otherwise, moving with it in the world carries the hazard of negatively affecting others. If we’re not careful, it can be used as a weapon – which is exactly how I once used mine. What I did was hurtful and wrong; and it was as obvious as the air we breathe, yet it still happened.
I was in grade school. My classmate "Marsha" was a quiet, shy type. Sometimes she’d come to school looking a hot mess, her hair uncombed and wearing long, dingy-looking dresses and well-worn sneakers. Because she was so different, kids picked on her. Whenever it happened, I remember always thinking they were wrong for doing it.
One day, some of the kids were in rare form; spitting outrageous and disparaging remarks about Marsha. Somehow I got caught up in the banter. And I joined in.
I immediately regretted my actions. What I didn’t understand then was that I had got caught up in my privilege (to not be born poor), and used it to my benefit (in this case, amusement) at the expense of a fellow human being.
A lot of folks ask, ‘what’s the big deal?’ Generally, they are the ones who hold the privilege – like me and the kids who bullied poor Marsha.