I am privileged.
I am male. I am white. I have a college degree. I am American. I was raised in a middle-class, suburban neighborhood. I am over 6 feet tall. I have green eyes. I am in excellent health for my age, albeit rather out of shape. I have never been truly poor. I come from a family where several members have lived into their 90s with all their mental faculties intact, and both my parents are in their 80s and going strong.
I am, pardon my French, privileged as fuck.
But a lot of people like me really don’t understand what privileged really means, and what it entails. This does not mean that I have not experienced hardships, nor does it lessen them. I may not have been poor, but I have been very, very broke. Like food pantry broke. I may have a college degree, but I am both significantly underemployed and still-endebted. I may be white, but I have been in situations where I felt afraid simply because of the color of my skin. I may have good health, but I still feel the aches of middle age. I may have good genes, but I could still die at 47, as my oldest brother Mike did.
Privileged does not mean my life is perfect.
But what it does mean is that I have a leg up on just about everyone in the world. I never had to worry about getting shot while waiting for a school bus. I’ve never clutched a weapon inside my purse while walking through a dark parking lot. I never grew up wondering about my next meal. I never had to worry about the quality of my education, nor about getting into my college of choice despite my very-average grades. I have never been pulled over because of the color of my skin. My only experience with chaos or war or armed militias is through the filter of a TV screen or Internet connection. I’ve never been cat-called. I have never had to worry about dysentery, or malaria, or dengue fever, or any of the myriad diseases that plague poorer parts of the world. I have never felt threatened because of my religion. I have never had to worry during a job interview that my skin color didn’t match that of my prospective employer. I’ve never had to ask a girlfriend to watch my drink while I use the bathroom. I have never had to walk miles just to get water. I have always had a toilet that flushes.
I have never truly feared for my life.
This is privilege. There are hardships, problems, fears, and frustrations that simply do not appear in my life, not because of any effort on my part, but simply because of luck, geography, and genetics. Now, as a privileged individual, I have a choice. I can be blind to my good fortune, and thus dismissive of those who do not possess it, or I can be aware of my luck and grateful for it, and instead understand the hardships of others that I have, through no effort of my own, avoided. From this place of understanding, I then can use my privilege, use my good fortune to try to level the playing field. I can give what I can, whether that be money, time, support, words, or actions, to try to make our world more fair, more even, more inclusive. I can basically use my privilege to destroy it.
This is my mission, and should be the mission of every other educated white middle-class male American with half a brain and an ounce of decency. Anything less, to put it bluntly, is selfishness, greed, and hubris. Anything less truly is privilege.