Tell The Truth About Your Wealth: Privilege
There has been a lot of talk about privilege in varying circles I run in. Like I’ve mentioned before, my parents are both Deaf, and I encounter regular mentions of Hearing Privilege in my closest circles. There are conversations on social platforms and in the mainstream media on White Privilege or Cis Privilege.
And in the Personal Finance sphere I see talk of Class Privilege. As allies, there are a lot of people who are examining their own implicit biases. To these people I say hurrah! And to anyone who has ever called attention to injustice I say: Thank you.
When The System Does (or Doesn’t) Work For You
I am a white, cis, straight, abled, college educated, married (to a white guy) woman who makes an above average income. My blog posts come from this framework. Perhaps for that reason alone readers may stop by my site and not relate to me. My ego is mildly bummed by that, but damn my ego. It never makes rational decisions. Thankfully, my head and my heart understand.
I did not grow up with a lot of money, but my parents are both educated. This alone stymied any real poverty for my family during lean years. While my parents are Deaf, and do not personally identify as disabled, society at-large views them as such. This is how they have been treated in infinite encounters with the general public. Side note: in American Sign Language, an out-dated sign for “hearing” was the same sign for “public”. As a hearing child I went to “hearing” school (or public school). **footnote: the sign is used less frequently these days, and another sign has been adopted to mean public**
Since my parents are educators, I cannot express how much this shaped me as a person. My love for learning is one of the biggest privileges that isn’t societally imposed and I am grateful for it. If you are an educator, thank you.
There are a million ways the world is not designed with Deaf people in mind, but it is not my story to tell. And I have to be very careful to not appropriate the events I have witnessed as my own lived experiences. No matter how much I may understand about the world being inaccessible to Deaf people via education, financial literacy, employment, incidental learning, access to resources and information, ad infinitum, I am not Deaf and I do not know what it is really like. What’s also noteworthy is that it’s not all doom and gloom: most Deaf people love being Deaf, love their language and culture, and have no desire to hear—nope, not even for music (odd how often that question comes up).
I mention this example, the marginalization of Deaf people, because it is the most blatant one I am familiar with. Of course, as a woman, I have experienced discrimination, but because of the way our culture is socialized to accept the idea of female inferiority, it is strangely harder to pin-point. The situations I find myself in as a woman are so normalized, and happen so frequently, sometimes I don’t even register them.
However, in summary, my life is mostly a privileged one and I know this.
My Own Privilege
I have been thinking of writing a post on privilege since I began this blog (just 3 short months ago) because it almost feels like a necessary disclaimer for all I write. However, I have seen so many posts in the Personal Finance world about it, and I wasn’t sure what else I could really contribute. (If you are curious about Personal Finance and Privilege, google those 3 words and you will see a ton of stuff.)
Nevertheless, I still feel the desire to speak for myself. After all, just because someone else says injustice is bad, does that mean it’s not worth me saying it too? Also, how full of shit do I have to be, to not mention the elephant in the room, when talking about money?
A google search of Class Privilege helped me set a baseline for myself (quizzes can be found here and here). I knew I wasn’t poor, but at points in my childhood it felt like it. I grew up wearing mostly hand-me-downs, rarely having the coolest new toy, sometimes re-used school supplies from year-to-year, didn’t fly on a plane until adulthood, ate Ramen Noodles and hotdogs by the truck-full, and regularly walked places because at one point we did not have a reliable car. But I knew I wasn’t truly poor.
My parents divorce was an ugly one, but my single mother re-built our lives in a few short years. She paid off all the debt my dad left her with, worked through the summers (as a teacher) for extra pay, and finally pulled from her retirement to put a down-payment on a new house (which I wouldn’t recommend, but I also don’t know what it’s like to have 3 kids in a 2-bedroom apartment. She built her retirement back up, and is now living comfortably as a retiree). Because she was educated, had a safety net via family members, had a reliable job, had self-esteem, was an attractive white woman, etc she was able to do this. Do I think she busted her ass and faced some pretty tough odds? Absolutely. There is no way hard work isn’t part of that equation. But it isn’t the whole equation.
By the time I was ready for college, I had all of these advantages rallied behind me. In addition to being white, straight, young, etc, I must (again) stress the gift of being raised by an educator. Even when she was tired, burnt out, irritated (at one point we were all teenagers at the same time), she never stopped teaching us. I have already written about how I excelled at school and my test scores were above average. I went to college on a full scholarship because of this gift. Did it take hard work? Sure! Was it me against the world? In no way.
What Does This Have to Do With Money?
Acknowledging privilege can be a struggle for people who have it, because of the helplessness that follows. If there are advantages and disadvantages for certain people, how do we make it just and fair? I cannot speak for everyone, so I will speak for myself: I struggle with the helplessness. And even this new helplessness reflects my privilege. Very rarely do I feel this helpless. Imagine if this was my lived experience?
A resource I have found when navigating some uncomfortable introspection, and a desire to translate it into action, is this website called: Guide to Allyship. They list the Do’s and Don’ts of Allyship, and is meant to be what it advertises—a guide for people who want to be effective allies.
So Tell The Truth About Your Wealth
And I’ll tell the truth about mine. Life has given some of us really raw deals, and this isn’t to diminish real struggles or trauma that seem unrelated to institutionalized discrimination. I’ve experienced trauma that has gotten in the way of my happiness, mental health, and success. Others may have experienced far worse things.
What I think is helpful, however, when drawing attention to privilege, is to begin with ourselves. When we tell the truth about our wealth and our privilege, we expose the system for what it is. It’s unjust and unfair, and the myth anyone can escape poverty if they just “try hard enough” or “work hard enough” keeps the system strong and intact. Being born into privilege isn’t a merit system. I didn’t do anything to have my privilege so I do not have to collapse and apologize at anyone’s feet. It is when I pretend it is not a part of my story that I am complicit.