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Privileged? - cellophane — LiveJournal
the story of an invisible girl
I've been reading a few essays and responses recently on the concepts of "Being Poor", and on "Being Privileged". They both made me think quite a bit, and my thoughts have been bouncing in several different directions.

Being poor, I fully admit that do not understand. Oh I've read about it, and thought about it, but I haven't been there. And without being there, it simply cannot comprehend what it is like.

But being privileged? That is a strange word. Am I privileged because I have health care? Am I privileged because I can afford Starbucks? Am I privileged because I don't carry a balance on my Visa card? Am I lucky? Or just hard-working? Or smart?

I think it's all of the above, and I think that's the real confusion between the ideas voiced in the "privileged" essay. I looked up the word "privilege" in the dictionary, and it is a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor. A benefit, an advantage, a favor.... I think being privileged is something you don't have a say in, it's just something gifted to you. Well I do have certain advantages and benefits, but they aren't lattes.

I was born with a fully functional body and mind, and I've been pretty healthy.
I grew up in a place and time where women have essentially the same opportunities and rights as men.
I grew up in a safe and comfortable home, and I always had sufficient food and clothing.
I had parents who bought me a bicycle, and made me ride it to school or walk most days instead of driving me.
I had parents who weren't poor, but didn't spoil me -- example: they paid for music lessons but never designer clothes or fancy toys.
I had parents who believed in education and invested in a college fund instead of buying me a car.

Those are all things I couldn't affect -- but what I did with those privileges was up to me. My parents paid for college, but I wouldn't have gotten into such a good school without applying myself. I wouldn't have gotten through it in four years, nor come out with a shiny computer science degree, without hard work.

I was lucky to be born smart, but I could have thrown it all away into parties and alcohol and fun. I didn't. Upon graduating from college, I moved back in with my parents briefly. I was lucky that they were willing to help me out, but I immediately started looking for work. I didn't want to just resume my earlier career as their kid, after all!

When I couldn't find a computer job right away, I started temping. It didn't occur to me to not work, and it didn't occur to me to not put all of my abilities into each job I had. Eventually I got a job in the computer field. Then I got a better one. And so on.

Today, I don't know which friday is payday. Is this privileged? Maybe. But it's also because I am always thrifty, and I know I always spend less than I make, so I don't need to live paycheck to paycheck.

I have been privileged in that the one time I suffered a truly catastrophic event that could have destroyed everything, I had family who stepped in and helped out. I could have come through that on my own financially, but it was a relief to have loved ones who helped me out when things were darkest. But since that one-time assistance? I've been able to continue on my own just fine.

Today, I don't have a balance on my Visa bill. Is this privilege, or is it because I won't buy something I can't afford? (Two exceptions: car and house. And now my car is paid off.)

I don't buy a lot of "stuff". I agonize over every purchase I make. It's never a question of: do I have the money? It's a question of: do I really think this is worth it? If I bought everything I had the money for, I'd quickly run out of money. I know that.

This is why, for example, I've only bought 2 brand-new computers in the past 12 years since college -- even though I'm a geek by profession! And while I can afford treats like fancy coffee, or meals at nice restauants, I don't buy them every day. I keep them as very occasional treats.

The additional money, that I could spend on treats and toys, gets saved. Eventually that saved money accumulates, and I can do amazing things with it. Like my bicycling trip in Europe last May.

Now I probably sound like I'm getting pathetically self-rightous and preachy, and if so I apologize. Because that's not the purpose of this post. What I'm trying to explain is why I don't feel guilty. A lot of the comments in that blog entry seemed resentful and/or guilty. There is no shame in building yourself a comfortable life.

I work hard, and I'm frugal. Heh, some might even say cheap. I came from a hard-working and frugal family. While I did get several privileges to start me off on the right foot, it was my effort that continued that good start; it was me who got where I am today. I'm proud of that fact, not ashamed.

Where am I going with this, anyway? I've lost track.... Oh yeah. Am I privileged? Sure I am: I grew up in middle-class America. But lots of people did. Beyond that, I think I can take credit for a lot of the good things in my life. It's not just privilege -- I worked and saved for these things. I guess that's what I'm trying to figure out, as I type out all this stuff.

Now here's another aspect of privilege, luck, gift, whatever you want to call it. Can I afford a huge flat-screen tv? Yeah. (Will I buy one? No, that's why I can afford it.) But... do I have somebody I love, who loves me back, to hold me while we sleep? To grow old with? No. Different people have different sorts of blessings. There is no amount of relief donation that will help overcome that kind of poverty, only luck -- but that is a privilege people sometimes don't remember.


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ruralrob From: ruralrob Date: September 26th, 2005 02:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Fascinating post - and would you believe we have an awful lot in common? Except I'm not very good at saving, our background and values and work ethic and identification with a position of priviledge are quite similar.

And although I feel priviledged, I too have no guilt about it whatsoever. Guilt isn't appropraite, in my mind, when youve worked hard for something. Pride is.

I'm interested too by how people get to where they are in life. You are right to mention luck as being part of it. But making the right choices in life is also a big part and some people are clearly better at this than others.
stephe From: stephe Date: September 26th, 2005 04:09 am (UTC) (Link)
There is also the privilege of being white in a culture that tends to attach lots of bad attributes to non-whiteness, but that's too big an issue to get into in just a comment.
pi3832 From: pi3832 Date: September 26th, 2005 12:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're probably right that it's too big to get into here, but I agree. Being white in middle-class America does give you a certain priviledge.

Reading Rennie's post I kept thinking about people who I've known who got pulled over for "Driving While Black."
anderale From: anderale Date: September 26th, 2005 05:14 am (UTC) (Link)
This is a really interesting post! I grew up poor. I have experienced many of the items on the list. However, now, according to the other list I am very priveledged and lucky (and I feel that I am). I can't check off as many things on that list as I could on the other one, but still, I have a lot going for me now. I not only have health insurance, I have really excellent health insurance for example.

I don't feel bad about being poor and I don't feel guilty about being priveledged either. Growing up poor made me creative and that's one of the assets I have that got me where I am now.

For the most part I think that life is as good as you percieve it to be, but there are many things that help you have a positive attitude that you don't have control over, like someone to love you. I used to tell people that they will find the right person someday, but I know that is not any comfort at all. It isn't just that is a privelege that people don't remember, there just isn't anything someone else can do or say to make another person feel better about it or to fix the situation. :(
elizilla From: elizilla Date: September 26th, 2005 06:10 am (UTC) (Link)
I come from a similar background, except my parents were a little poorer, I think. They didn't buy me a car or have a college fund set up. But there was also no doubt I must go to college and that they would help however they could. Which led to much family drama and angsting over everything. And then I opted out. In my second year of college I simply walked away. At 20 I decided that there were certain things I wanted from my life, and certain things I wasn't willing to put up with.

For the next several years I lived the life of the working poor, with no insurance, etc. But the fact remains I did have a fairly stable middle class family to fall back on, if something catastrophic had happened to me. Nothing catastrophic happened to me, so I was never forced to decide whether to step back across that line I had drawn. I lived paycheck to paycheck and ate ramen noodles or nothing at all on the day before payday, out of pure stubbornness.

Some people aren't living that way because they are stubborn. Some people live that way because they don't have any choice. And when something happens to them, they have no family to fall back to, or at least, no family with the resources to help them. Some people survive this way for years, or for their whole lives, but in any group, statistically, there will be some who suffer the calamities, and for them it is utterly crippling.

elizilla From: elizilla Date: September 26th, 2005 06:24 am (UTC) (Link)
One thing I did experience is that things cost more when you are poor. You drive old cars, and they need expensive repairs and guzzle gas and strand you at inopportune times. You live in marginal neighborhoods so your car insurance costs more, and you have to make payments so you get dinged for a few bucks extra every month on that.

You have to take your clothes to the laundromat. I did the math and determined it was costing me more in quarters every month, than it cost to buy a washer and dryer at Sears on the $12/month forever plan, so I did that. Then I got fleeced by a salescritter who convinced me my credit application wouldn't be approved unless I bought a more expensive model. I know better now but I didn't know this then.

You can't get renter's insurance if you live with housemates, unless everyone in the household gets their own separate policy, and you'll never talk them all into it. So if there's a fire or a flood, you lose everything.
jeffreyab From: jeffreyab Date: September 26th, 2005 04:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Althought the more expensive model might last longer, run cheaper and give a better return on investment. Poor people usually do not get to make that choice though.

hannunvaakuna From: hannunvaakuna Date: September 26th, 2005 02:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
lots of interesting things to ponder... i'm definitely all over the map on the privilege vs. luck/smarts thing, and trying not to let my old jealousies cloud everything. i used to be really jealous that we didn't have a piano or that we couldn't afford the instruments OR the lessons. i remember being resentful of just about everyone in our social circle in high school & early college because i *had* to work in order to have spending money. but then i think about the fact that the job i ended up with as a high school student turned into the career i'm in now, so it's not all necessarily a bad thing...

ultimately, it's probably best to be thankful for what you have, and be aware that the decisions you make can and will affect your future. lessons i know i learned the hard way, especially when it comes to things like credit cards long paid off (: you were lucky to have an incredibly strong foundation from which to build upon. you made sound choices, and in the not-so-great times, you had that foundation to uphold you and to rebuild from.

there were a few people in my life that used to, in their own weird ways, make me feel *bad* for having a good job and great benefits. i decided that those issues are *their* issues, and while i have enough issues of my own to write a full subscription, i don't need to take on someone else's crap, too. yeah, it's hard not to compare your life to someone else's, but it's easier focus upon the good things and be thankful and know that you have the ability to change things if you need to, be it through luck or hard work or a great combination of both.
jeffreyab From: jeffreyab Date: September 26th, 2005 04:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think someone can be poor or rich in different ways. There is money and goods but there are also things like family and friends and significant others.

Also there is a need to make the distinction between rich and privileged.

Richness is achieved and privilege one is born worth.

Poverty can be both.
thatguychuck From: thatguychuck Date: September 26th, 2005 10:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I do believe I am very privileged, and I think I am very lucky to be so. Though I didn't know it at the time, I grew up very well in a middle class family that cared for me quite a bit. I never went hungry, and we were never in any significant debt.

That's much how I live my life now. I'm like you in that I don't really care which day is payday, because my life isn't going to change dramatically within two weeks. I'm currently living a bit above my means and I don't like it, but I also know that it's something that's able to be taken care of within a relatively short period of time.

My current situation is not normal for me, as I normally live well beneath my means. I won't say I'm cheap, but I will agree that I'm a pretty frugal person. I *like* living beneath my means. Can I afford a large-screen TV, even if my current financial state? Yup. But it's because I don't buy toys that I can afford them. You and I live very similar lives in many ways.

Am I on easy street financially? No. But am I rich? Yes. I have many friends, I have a family that cares about me and that I care about, and I can look at myself in the mirror. I'd say that's pretty rich, and I enjoy it. And I know there's always more out there. I hope to find it someday.

joline From: joline Date: September 27th, 2005 01:39 am (UTC) (Link)
you are an incredible writer. you've impressed me twice today! you present your thoughts very clearly and carefully.

this was my favorite part: Can I afford a huge flat-screen tv? Yeah. (Will I buy one? No, that's why I can afford it.)

i haven't posted about this, but andy and i recently agreed that we will never get married, and it really boils down to THIS-- how we deal with money and the tension we already experience because of our differences.

andy's parents taught him to spend money as quickly as it comes in. in many ways, he lives like a rich man: he always eats what he wants and buys what he wants and drives the car that he wants. but then, he has to live like a starving man when something unexpected--like car trouble--comes around. but me, i live a moderate life all the time, and i know that when i need a vacation, or new tires, all the money that i realistically need is waiting for me in my bank account. and i think that makes me a "richer" person.

it's sad, but unless two people are rich enough to support themselves independently, i don't think that people with opposite views on money can work together.
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