January 3rd, 2008

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

This "privilege" meme thing....

It's been floating around in my f-list for days now and one of the best summaries of it is right here.

I looked at it, and decided that those on my list who know me already know all the answers to those questions that they're interested in - and someone who doesn't know me personally - well, I find it hard to believe that this person would be interested in whether or not I had a phone in my bedroom (but if you really really are, no, I didn't - and that brings me to another thing.

It's AMERICAN privilege.

All of the stuff in there screams the good old US of A and its lifestyle. Granted, the list might have been put together by American authors who were using their own yardstick because they had no other. But people, let's put this in perspective here. There's a world out there. Privilege is so damned relative.

No, I didn't have a phone in my room - where I come from lots of families lived in tiny apartments, if a kid had his or her own room that was already a step up on the ladder, and the phone was three steps away in any direction anyway if the call was for you. (Privacy? Huh? We're talking about mothers who already knew all about every one of your friends - and probably supervised your courting.) Yes, I had lots of books in my house. Yes, I travelled a lot when I was young. Yes, the family took vacations when I was a littl'un, but that was what people DID where we came from, everyone went for a "summer holiday" at the seaside. I might have been a princess but I was not a moneyed princess, I was loved and cherished and educated and read to and nourished and encouraged and given lessons to and taken globetrotting but that was just the way things were. It wasn't particular privilege that put me on my first airplane at age 10, it was Dad getting a job on a different continent. No I didn't have a trust - but my parents footed the bill for my education - that's what parents did where I'm from. Yes, we had art in the house. At some point some of it was even original - but none of it was Van Gogh or Monet or Picasso, if it was original it was done by some obscure local artist and we hung it because we liked it not because it showed visitors just how much spare cash we had to fling around.

I was raised in a cradle of culture and, yes, call it that for a moment, privilege - I grew up listening to classical music, reading Pearl Buck and poetry, knowing what the Louvre was and what it housed. But for my generation, born in the place I was born and in the relative social stratum that I was born into, all this was unremarkable, not a sign of "privilege". It was normal. I'm sure that peasant families living out in the villages and off their land had less refined homes than we did - but in the city, where I did my growing up, people lived in neat apartments and had neat homes and had lace doilies on every table and had geraniums in window boxes and went for summer holidays by the sea. We lived the same life that everyone else did - and my grand-parental generation was hardly rich as Croesus, my mother's family survived lived on a teacher's salary and a bit of land to poke things into and watch them grow.

Yes, I was more privileged than one of a member of a thirteen-sibling Bangladeshi clan living on scraps and offal on top of an open sewer in a slum, or a pot-bellied child of famine somewhere in Africa. But we worked hard and we were responsible for our own lives and destinies. I was not a child of trust funds and Ivy League and yachts and designer jeans and second homes. I was privileged to be loved and believed in; that sort of privilege is not confined to the "upper classes". And someone who hasn't had piano lessons at a baby grand by the age of twelve is not unprivilieged if they can crawl into loving arms when they need to have a cry about some petty life megrim that had derailed them.

There's all this talk of classless societies - but we ourselves are dividing ourselves into classes here in this very forum - into people with families where college educations were a given for three generations, into people who have credit cards by age 18 or phones or TVs in their rooms, into people who have "original art" on their walls... and people who do not. It creates a sense of superiority that is measured by these things. In a nutshell, I was always sheltered, I was fed, I was warm, I was loved, I was encouraged to dream big and reach for those dreams. THAT, folks, is privilege, and if that's what it is then I have it, in spades.

Phones and cars and TVs and credit cards are trappings. AMERICAN trappings, at that. A European kid who did not have a credit card would hardly whine about loss of privilege.

If you're truly privileged, you know it. Proving it to the outside world by gilding your life with "look at me" stuff... is arbitrary.

So. That's as far as I'm going with the meme. I'll leave it there.