Note to my white self…
You are privileged.
I know you realize this, but you need to be reminded. One of the problems with privilege is that it so easily becomes normative. You begin to assume your reality is everyone’s reality. You make the Marie Antoinette mistake and assume everyone eats cake. You saw this absurdity in the failed Republican replacement to Obamacare. Part of the reason it failed is because white privileged men thought providing people – who barely make it from paycheck to paycheck – with a Health Savings Account was a solution. “Let them save money” is only slightly more absurd than “let them eat cake.”
Another reason the Republican plan failed is because a small group of conservative white male Republicans actually think they deserve their privilege, that they are more intelligent, more hard working and more worthy. They don’t think healthcare is a human right, but a reward. They ask taxpayers to provide them and their families with some of the best healthcare in the world because they deserve it and others don’t. This is another of the problems with privilege, it is so easy to justify. To the winners go the spoils.
I know it is tempting, but don’t focus on them. They are only the most obvious example of your own privilege. Indeed, focusing on them allows you to ignore your own privilege. It distracts you. Another of the problems with privilege is that you can easily identify someone more privileged than yourself. In so doing, you can pretend to be less privileged, even oppressed. You know white American males – the most privileged class in the history of the world – who think this way. So instead of focusing on the ugliness of white politicians and their privilege, examine yourself.
For example, last week you took your family on a vacation to the Redwoods of Northern California. You spent four days exploring the national and state parks created and paid for by your fellow citizens to preserve these places of beauty for all people. Except they don’t. How many people of color did you see during your hikes in the woods? Zero. Admit it. The National Park system was largely designed by and for white privileged people. Like those politicians’ healthcare, it is a privilege you are perfectly willing to allow people of color to pay for with their taxes.
I don’t remind you of this to lessen the value of your vacation. I think every person – regardless of color – should see the Redwoods. I remind you of this because I don’t want you to make the mistakes you so easily see in white male politicians. People vacationing in the Redwoods is not normative. It is a privilege.
You can justify it by telling yourself that everyone has access to the national parks, but those politicians argued everyone has access to healthcare. The problem isn’t access, but affordability. Many people of color don’t have the resources to take your vacation. Indeed, many of them work jobs without paid vacation. So you can celebrate and support the preservation of natural beauty, but don’t forget that the enjoyment of these places of grandeur is largely reserved for the privileged. You should have suspected this when you visited the most famous grove of redwoods in California and saw that it was named the Rockefeller Grove.
So what do you do about this? Guilt isn’t helpful. Awareness is a beginning. Changing your thinking is important. If you think healthcare is the right of every person, can you really limit your experience in those Redwoods to a privileged few? Why do we give retired people of means free access to our national park system, but charge young families entrance fees? Why do we not have inexpensive transportation systems from our urban centers to nearby natural beauty? If we believe experiencing these places of beauty inspires and ennobles, why don’t we give easy access to those who need inspiration the most?
Think about this. If your vacation to the Redwoods was an act of privilege, where else are you benefitting in ways you don’t see? What else do you assume is normative? What else do you justify? This is the problem with privilege. It is problematic until you acknowledge that most of what you desire, value and need is what every other human desires, values and needs. If you want affordable healthcare, paid vacation, quality housing, and excellent schools, you should also want this for others. What you treasure should be available to all. Even a walk in the Redwoods.