There should be no disagreement, no debate: white men live with enormous amounts of unearned privilege. The simple randomness of birth gives us opportunities not available to people of color or to women. We are, in a word, lucky. Some of us feel guilt or embarrassment or humiliation or shame at our undeserved privilege. Wait…it is, without question, unearned; but is it also undeserved? Given enough time for silent meditation, I hope most men would finally reach the conclusion that our privilege is both unearned and undeserved. We should not have opportunities placed in our laps if those same opportunities are not equally available to everyone else. Whether we “should” have advantages or not, we do.
So, the question arises: should we refuse to accept those unearned privileges so that others might be given opportunities to which they might otherwise denied? The immediate reaction may be, “Yes!” But thinking about it leads to an intellectual dilemma. If my rejection of privilege would then damage the opportunities available to my newborn daughter or my year-old son, would my decision to refuse privilege be moral? Might my refusal to accept the advantage of privilege constitute BOTH a moral act and an immoral act? And if my action would be both moral and immoral, what moral alternatives might be available? Yet, if I had to choose between my obligations to society and my obligations to my children, who would I be expected to sacrifice at the altar of morality? Put another way, should my children be penalized because society has decided to confer upon me privilege that I refuse to accept it? A corollary question: should the children of others be penalized for society’s decision to lavish upon me unearned entitlements? Ach! Life is undeniably hard. But for many of us, there’s a soft underbelly of comfort from time to time. Would that the soft comfort would extend to everyone.
Finally, another visit to the grocery store parking lot in just a while this morning; there, the items I purchased online will be delivered to me. Placed in my car for me. I will not even have to exit the vehicle to collect the bounty of my shopping spree.
Talk about privilege! I was lucky enough to be born into a white family whose parents taught their children how to get along in a middle class world, even though I think we were, economically, on the fringes of the middle class. Those parents willingly sacrificed their own comforts so the kids would have opportunities to prosper. And here I am, living in a gated community; groceries being delivered to my car. Had I made a few more wrong moves—or had my parents and older siblings not modeled respectable behaviors and attitudes—I might be living under a bridge today. Or not living at all; the victim of sickness or violence or despair.
See how easy it is to slip into a perspective from which the dark side of even innocent good fortune is visible? But the ease of seeing the “bad” in the “good” exists in reciprocal circumstances. When faced with obstacles and challenges or worse, the flexible mind can quickly adapt by going into “learning” mode. That is, a person can adjust his or her perspective by looking for the lessons in negative circumstances. Sometimes, of course, one has to tell oneself some lies or at least mislead oneself in order to find those lessons. But it’s possible. I’ve done it.
Today’s local weather forecast calls for possible thunderstorms, high levels of pollen in the atmosphere, and uncomfortably warm temperatures coupled with high humidity. I’ll just have to accept the weather; it is what it is, as some might say.
Thanks, Meg. I will keep my eyes open for the book. Though I have not been reading as much as I should, maybe your comment will spur me to change my bad and slothful habits! Thanks again.
John, Your post today made me think of a book I just read about effective altruism. “The most good you can do,” by Peter Singer. It is about people who purposely use their privilege to earn more money so that it can be given to people most needy, usually those most destitute in other countries. You might find the book interesting to read sometimes John whenever have a chance to sit down and read.