Thursday, November 22, 2012

On Gratitude and Privilege

Privilege is a touchy subject.  It can be difficult for people to talk about privilege - even progressives often get defensive about it.  At this time of year when so many of us reflect on our good fortunes and all the blessings in our lives, it seems intuitive to connect this to our privilege. We enumerate the things we are thankful for: those things that seem basic, like food and shelter; and less concrete things like health and love.  Yet, when pressed, many would deny that they are privileged. 

The common argument is that if one works hard for the money, food, health care, etc. that they have, they have earned these things and thus are not privileged.  I'm not saying that people don’t deserve these things - but there are many people that work very hard, and still never have access to these benefits. 

I don’t believe these need to be such competing values.  As we talk about pulling ourselves up from our bootstraps, why is it necessary to forget about that journey once we’ve achieved successes?  Why can’t we think about our talents and good fortunes that made such journeys possible as privilege in itself?  Do so many of us really overlook the abstract ways in which we are privileged, and the oppression that prevents others from having the same access to resources? 

Privilege isn't something one has done wrong or that one should be ashamed of.  It's luck. Blessings that you're fortunate enough to have. So if today you are tapping into the gratitude you feel for all the blessings in your life, that's a way of recognizing your privilege. It’s not necessary to apologize for it. Acknowledge it, be grateful for it - and hopefully also acknowledge the fact that not everyone enjoys the same privilege. Maybe we can even do something to counteract the institutionalized oppression holding others back. 


  1. Word.

    There was a boil order a couple towns over, with people on the news lamenting about having to deal with the hassle of boiling all of their water for Thanksgiving. While I agree that is difficult, you have to remember that a huge portion of the world lives with unsafe water every single day, and they may not even have the means to boil it.

    People like credit for their successes and I think also don't want to feel guilty. If you admit you are simply LUCKY, it makes it a lot harder to stomach the fact that others are not as lucky. Kind of like the other subject, with the theater shooting and the child at the zoo - We want to think that it couldn't be us if the dice had rolled differently.

    You're on a roll with insightful posts. :)