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.