[Note: I realize that some of you will not agree with my perspective here, but this is my story, so…}
Hello, My name is Alden, and I am a privilege addict.
I’ve known that I was privileged (although I never thought of it in those terms until recently) since I was a child, and I have relished every minute of it. I know that many of you will doubt or dispute this, as I have never been part of the “1%” and have usually hid my elitist arrogance, but it’s true.
I believe that humans are inherently tribal in nature; our brains, as my daughter recently explained to me, naturally categorize and order things in order to attempt to understand them. We do the same thing to ourselves, categorizing and ranking ourselves within the greater culture. As children, we are dependent upon others and finding our way in the world outside of our immediate family (or sometimes even within the family) can result in insecurity. The sooner we organize ourselves–finding our tribes, so to speak–the sooner we will achieve some sense of security and belonging.
As a typically insecure child, I found security in my birthright categories:
- I was an American, living in the best and most powerful nation in the world. In a world where war was the norm, there was confort in knowing that we could blow up any nation that challenged us. And yes, there is still some comfort in knowing that in spite of the threat of terrorism, we could destroy any country we wanted to. I have no real comprehension of living in a country where being invaded is a very real possibility. I am privileged to be an American.
- I was a Christian, living in a Christian town in a Christian country. It was a small town, with perhaps one Jewish resident. Better yet, I was a Lutheran, belonging to the largest and most impressive church in town, which also happened to be the most theologically correct church (and yes, I still believe that, but my belief now is based on study, not culture). We were superior. There was no persecution of any kind for a Lutheran in Minnesota.
- I was a male. “Man” was the default. Adam was a man, Jesus was a man, etc. “Man” was the generic label for humanity. This was kind of a mixed blessing, as males had more expectations put on them than women. We had to learn to be providers, we may have to go to war, etc. However, these decisions were in our power, as men were the leaders.
- I was white. In my home town, we were all white. And, being all white, we could be benevolently and safely non-racist. Everywhere I went, it was clear that white was the norm. Jesus was white, Santa Claus was white, the President was white, and nearly everyone on television what white. It was obvious that whites were the majority, and the norm, and that it was in our power to be gracious and accepting of non-whites. It was in our power.
So there I was. And here I am, a straight white male Christian middle-class employed American, with a great wife and children, living in an idyllic setting in a peaceful, small town in Oregon. I am privileged, and I enjoy it very much. From the comfort of my climate-controlled home, I can view the hate and hurt of the rest of the world, and pretend to have empathy.
But, I know I can’t. I will never understand what it is to grow up being one of the not-privileged. Not really. Twice in my life I have been in situations where I’ve faced armed policemen, but I’ve never experienced it as a black, an Hispanic, or a Native American. I’ve never interviewed for a job as a woman. I’ve never been refused service or the right to marry because I’m gay, or been reported as a terrorist because I speak Arabic.
I know I am privileged; I am the norm. I don’t feel guilty because of it; as Lady Gaga sang, I was born that way. I admit that I am glad that I am privileged, because I know that my life is a little bit (or a lot) easier because of it. I am addicted to being privileged. I like it. I can’t change the fact that I’m a straight white American male, but I can admit that it makes me automatically privileged, and acknowledge that it’s wrong. To make the Declaration of Independence a reality–where all men are truly equal–I have to be willing to sacrifice my privileged status; that’s the way equality works.