Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Privilege - Part 2

Ok, so I was going to respond to each of your comments on my previous post but you are all such insightful people that you inspired me to drag this out into a second post. Bear with me* here while I flex my philosophical muscles.

First of all, I want to agree with Lorna that where you live in Los Angeles just helps to make all of this social stratification that much clearer. The West side in particular. We wander around to our little Farmer's Markets and cute little cafes and then gardeners and house cleaners and nannies ride the bus over to help peoples' lives live more smoothly. Before living where we live now, we were in a small guest house of a large mansion (basically the pool house) and it was shocking to live in that neighborhood (Willow from Buffy was our neighbor!) and see how the neighborhood would change when the home owners went to work. Suddenly the neighborhood was invaded by pickup trucks and Latino gardeners, pool boys and nannies would descend to make sure that people could serenely not worry about these more concrete parts of their life. So yeah, where I live, it's hard to not see the divisions. In Montana, we were all poor. Except the few "rich kids" who moved there from California. But they were the minority, not the expected.

So, as Hilljo so astutely pointed out, this really is about privilege. And, being aware of your privilege. And believe me, I am. I know that we are where we are today as a result of a mixture of working hard, being lucky, and being who we are. I mean, yes, we both grow up as some country kids in Montana, but both of us grew up with one parent each who graduated college, being told we could do things with our life, and not having to experience prejudice for how we look. So yeah, just by being born we had privilege. And now? Now we're swimming in it. And our kids? Well, they'll probably attend some bilingual private education school and travel abroad. We are going to have to knock them off their privileged little high chairs. But Hilljo's point about re-labeling my guilt about this position as "awareness" is freaking brilliant. My husband and I are always having arguments about my guilt. He thinks I should accept that we worked our asses off and that we earned it. When I talk about my guilt having what I have, I think it makes him feel bad, as if I don't appreciate all that we've created together. But relabeling it as awareness helps me to realize that that is all I am doing - trying not to forget. Not to forget where we came from. Not to forget where people still are. Not to forget the differences that exist. And all this is all the more important when you realize we have to teach theses lessons to our children.

The timing of this post is ironic, because in Amanda's comment she talked about the different ways in which people travel. Which, in the US (maybe not so much abroad?) even to travel is a privilege. But she described young people staying in beautiful places.....beautiful places that are unnecessary to really experience the place they are visiting. First of all, I wholly agree. When we travel, we usually stay in hostels, or a small local hotel. We don't expect comfortable beds, a swimming pool, amenities......and I like it this way. I'd rather spend our money on the trip than the place we lay our heads at night. But this upcoming trip to Mexico, we're doing it differently. For the first time. We're staying in a luxury boutique hotel that has ALL of the amenities and more. I rationalized it away by saying, "Oh, it's a Valentine's Day trip" and "But we're only going for three nights, so we can splurge" and "We got free airline tickets so we can spend the difference on our rooms!" But really, I think it scared me a little. Are we changing? Are we no longer those kids who backpack around to hostels??

I guess it all comes down to balance. As Gypsy Mama said, it's about awareness. If you are aware and conscious, you don't need to become a buddhist monk and change your entire lifestyle. But, Hilljo made more one more point that I want to comment on. I do do something with my life that makes me feel more conscious, aware, and less-guilty about my position in life. I work with underprivileged kids who've been abused and traumatized. Most of my clients are immigrant families who do not speak English, and are still trying to find a place in this crazy city. I do a lot of advocacy, outreach, and support. I give my time and my energy in my job. And yes, it is a job, and I do get paid, but I definitely take a pay cut working for the county that I wouldn't have to take if I worked for a different clientele. So, yeah, I guess that is my way of finding balance.

In sum, thanks for bearing with me* on a second post about this subject in some selfish effort to better understand the recent changes in my life and how they affect who I am. Damn. All this because of a stupid swimsuit? It better be cute.

Thanks to all of you who commented so thoughtfully. It helps :)

*When I wrote this, I wasn't sure if it was "bear with me" or "bare with me" and so I googled it. What I got was "The common expression is "Bear with me." "Bare with me" would be asking someone to undress with you. Ha.


  1. I'm so glad the comment helped a bit! Re-labeling is the key to understanding our emotions.

    Like I said, you may already help others (as you have extrapolated here) so rest assured you are making a difference and reaping the benefits of that monetarily/karmically. :o)

    Heehee... bare.

  2. So glad you commented on my blog so I could find yours in return. The concept of privilege and awareness is something I preach to my college students all the time. It's a huge breakthrough to get past guilt to awareness. I think that change of perspective allows you to be more productive anyway.

    Looking forward to reason more. Have an amazing time in Mexico!

  3. You are so lucky to be able to be making a difference with your job. That is very important for me. Which is why I decided to study a sanitary profession and why even if I do something "else" I would still like that something else to be some kind of work in Public Health / lobbying for NGOs or in Education / Writing.... positions where you can create conscience. It was very hard for me to work for a company whose only objective was profit... I really felt like my job was not "worth it", I felt irrelevant, selfish even (because yes we need the money but I have always strongly felt this need to *do* something). I thought to myself that even if I "climbed the ladder" even if I was made manager, given a really high position, be "Succesful" in those terms, a job like that would not fulfill me, ever.
    About your stay in Mexico, it's ok.... I mean when you go to the beach, to chill, mostly you need a big swimming pool, the sea, and nice food. Boutique hotels are pretty and that's ok, to enjoy. Maybe you can walk in town, go to the market... do some "local" stuff.
    (BTW with my previous comment I did not mean to be all judgy, and mostly I was comparing with travelling to big cities like Paris or Barcelona where you are there to see the city, so I don't see the point in staying at a super luxurious fancy hotel). It is true, like you say that traveling is a lot easier depending on where you are, for instance from Europe. At least when I compare to when I was living in Mexico (and I assume that the US is similar). In our countries the distances are so big that it gets difficult to go to another country just by driving (at the same time the micro cultures of each state are very different too). And also, in Europe low cost airlines, trains, buses, and the fact that everything is so close lets you see a lot of places / countries quite easy and fast. It is one of the things I love the most of Europe, I feel just *free* to go. In Mexico even saving for an airpline ticket to go anywhere is a lot harder because the salaries are lower, and even if food is "cheaper" other stuff is still expensive. So yes, getting to travel can be a privilege depending on where you are.
    And like you say it's about balance. We may not have chosen our "luck" or "education" or "parents" or "upbringing" or ultimately the place/house we were born, and we might have had it a lot easier (like by having access to scholarships)... but these things have made me want to do something. And I guess we kind of "owe" it to society (at least that's how I personally feel, not pretending this should be true for everyone). We might not be able to change the World, but we can do little things where we are , with those around us and I thing those things matter.
    Enjoy every second of your trip and have lots of fun!

  4. Amanda, I'm going to try to hit all of your points so I can respond...

    First of all, while I feel lucky to have a job that seems to "mean something," I also think sometimes a job can be just a job. As in, a means to an end. There are other ways you can contribute and give. But, that being said, I get it. My sister works for my husband's computer company doing Quality Assurance. I would gauge my eyes out. Where's the meaning in that??

    Ok, and about the hotel comment...I TOTALLY didn't think you were being judgy :) Hope you didn't think it sounded that way. I'm more commenting on a reflection of myself (I need to talk about myself less) and how it is a change for me to spend money on accommodations. Someday I would love to live in Europe so it was all just so much more accessible.

    I think you're totally right about giving back or "owing" in some way. But I think it's a balance. Because that is how I get too caught up in guilt. I mean, we need to give and we need to live our own lives. Hard not to tip one way or the other I guess.


Don't just sit there, say something!