Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Pondering Privilege

Courtesy jwz's idea of gluing Livejournal's lj-latest RSS feed into the phosphor "mode" of xscreensaver (which runs on my "TV" continually when I'm not using it), I spotted a rather interesting meme being tossed around on LJ - a set of questions to help us be more aware of how our social class may have privileged some of us. I had conversations that made me more aware of how privileged I was back before I left the nest (the satellite town of Cleveland we lived in was very wealthy, but there were a few not-very-well-off people there, some families there having kids I befriended - I dimly remember a Marzola family and a few others). So, the meme follows, but apparently the people who started this one (at UIndiana) claim copyright and want a mention. So, Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka, I acknowledge that you claim copyright, reject the concept of copyright both in general and in this specific instance, and both like your meme and consider you schmucks for still wanting to control the flow of information.

Moving onto the meme itself, "What privilege do I have":

  • Father went to college - Yes.
  • Father finished college - Yes - twice. I believe his undergraduate was in accounting, and then he went through law school.
  • Mother went to college - Yes.
  • Mother finished college - I am pretty sure she got a Bachelors in Art.
  • Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor. - Yes - my father is a lawyer, one of his brothers is also, another an anesthesiologist, and there are others..
  • Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers - I'm not sure. Social class is a lot more fluid and complex than it once was, making judgements on this difficult - Paul Fussell's mention of an emerging class outside the system seems to have just been a beginning.
  • Had more than 50 books in your childhood home - Yes.
  • Had more than 500 books in your childhood home - Yes.
  • Were read children's books by a parent - Yes.
  • Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18 - Yes - karate, baseball, soccer, swimming, gymnastics, piano, violin, string bass, dulcimer, etc etc
  • Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18 - Yup
  • The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively - Hard to say. I've tried to stop giving a feel of being from where I am, but I'm not sure how I'm actually percieved
  • Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18 - Yes.
  • Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs - Yes
  • Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs - Yes
  • Went to a private high school - No - my parents strongly wanted me to but I refused.
  • Went to summer camp - Yes, several times
  • Had a private tutor before you turned 18 - Yes, for a number of subjects.
  • Family vacations involved staying at hotels - Yes, and rented cottages and other things. This is a weird question though.
  • Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18 - Not all of it. Some family knitted, and we sometimes bought used clothes at TJ Maxx
  • Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them - No (although 2 of my sisters got new cars)
  • There was original art in your house when you were a child - Yes, some of it painted by my mum, some not
  • Had a phone in your room before you turned 18 - No, although having moved down to the basement there was a phone within 20 feet of my bed
  • You and your family lived in a single family house - Yes. I don't know if there were any families in Brecksville that didn't.
  • Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home - Yes.
  • You had your own room as a child - Yes. I don't think this was ever not the case.
  • Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course - Yes.
  • Had your own TV in your room in High School - No. One was nearby enough in the basement that there would've been no need, and I often watched TV and played videogames with my sisters anyhow.
  • Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College - No, or at least if I did, I wasn't aware of it. My parents took half the money I made when I worked to "pay for University".
  • Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16 - Yes. Numerous trips alone and with my sister Lindsay to visit relatives in Texas, also family vacations to various places in the USA and abroad
  • Went on a cruise with your family - By the time my family started doing this, I was old enough to decide I wasn't interested and didn't go. My family never was big for cruises though.
  • Went on more than one cruise with your family - No.
  • Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up - Yes. Fairly often.
  • You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family - Yes. My dad took care of all the finances.
I guess I should add that we had a nanny from England that lived with us for a time, maids that came a few times a week, and one of my dad's French colleague's son ended up staying with us for two summers while we were growing up. I didn't really understand the "big picture" of how privileged my family was until I had been at University for a few months, although my father always tried to make it clear (and scare me into working harder and get into one of the "right careers" by driving me around the residential areas in Cleveland, which terrified me). Initially, I think I reacted to the great disparities that were becoming clear by deciding that the wealthy deserved it (not because they were better but because they "won it fairly"), although eventually I came to reject that after chewing on some life experiences and other things - volunteering in a shelter, remembering institutions of privilege in the South, studying history, continuing to have friends who were not like people from Brecksville, etc.

Should those who grew up with wealth and privilege feel guilt? I don't think so, in the sense that none of us choose where we're from. I believe we can and should hope that access to the particulars that enriched us personally (by enrich, I mean exclusively in the non-fiancial way) can be instead made widely available to all parts of the population, even if these benefits are diluted by being so widely spread. We can consider it a shame that top-notch education, seeing the world, good health care, and participation in culture are not universal in our society, and try to find ways to bring that to everyone (in ways that don't sweep the problem under the rug, like relying on labour from countries with poor worker or environmental protection). Guilt is unnecessary, but a desire for change is, I hold. It may be that some disparity in material welfare is a potential inspiration for people to work harder, and that most (or at least many) types of labour in our present economic system benefit society. Even given that, there still should be room for the thought that these disparities have too much impact on children (and possibly adults), and to hope for changes that would dampen those differences, especially those differences that derive from personal wealth that has little or nothing to do with productive labour. ... but I seem to have again found a soapbox.


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