I wasn’t feeling well today, so I ended up leaving class a few hours early and heading home. Yesterday, John wasn’t feeling well, so he ended up leaving work a few hours early to come home. Except with me, I just went up to my teacher and told her I wasn’t feeling well and wanted to head home, but I was worried about losing credit. She said not to worry, that the film we were watching would be put on closed reserve at the library and told me to feel better soon. It was very simple, and she trusted that as an adult I was mature enough and rational enough to be able to assess my health/ educational situation and make the right call.
In John’s case, he went to work yesterday despite not feeling well. He thought he could make it, but as the day progressed, he felt worse. Nausea and a headache set in, badly exacerbated by coughing fits that wracked his body. After 5 hours, he approached his supervisors and let them know that he did not feel up to finishing his shift. He has sick time, but the supervisors did not send him home immediately, but rather waited 2 hours while they assessed the situation in the department and his ability to continue working (or not).
Obviously the situations are different: college class vs. working a shift. A college class is a voluntary thing that I am paying to participate in. A shift at work is required to earn the paycheck, and John had already showed up for the shift — he did not call in sick, so they were not able to work around his absence with prior notice.
Still, the differences in our experiences from the progression of feeling sick to coming home made me reflect on the privileges I experience as a student, and from there I started thinking other privileges I was lucky enough to have conferred upon me by birth and societal trends. So that’s where my gratitude journal today comes from.
- I am grateful for the privileges of education that were conferred upon me through birth and social class. I am grateful for the teachers and professors that have taught me to recognize both my privileges and those areas I do not have privilege in, and to be sensitive to when my privileges might overshadow the rights and needs of others.
- I am grateful that as a white, cisgender, educated straight female from a white-collar class, I have a voice that is more likely to be acknowledged and heard, and that I don’t have to fight as hard to validate my experiences.
- I am grateful that as a female with a history of mental illness, I have experienced how other people’s privilege can silence and discriminate against me. This gives me more empathy, understanding, and compassion for the silencing and discrimination that is perpetuated against others, which in turn gives me the strength and fortitude to use my own privileges and voice to speak up and/ or clear a space for those to speak who are often silenced.
- I am grateful that my husband understands the concept of privilege, and that he recognizes his own privileges as a white male in a hetero marriage. I am grateful that through his own experiences with discrimination due to his bisexuality and atheism, he is also able to empathize, understand, and be aware of his own privileges and how he can inadvertently silence others. This also gives him the awareness to speak up and/or clear a space when he sees other’s being silenced due ingrained privilege.
- I am grateful my son grasps the basics of these concepts, and is proving himself to be a compassionate and empathetic champion of the outcasts as he interacts with his peer group.
I’m a little worried about posting this, as it may come across self-congratulatory, like, “Look how advanced and awesome we are,” when that is not my intent. This journal is supposed to be about gratitudes, and lets face it: There are certain privileges I am lucky enough to have in my life that were conferred on me through through absolutely no action of my own, or through action that was only available to be because of the aforementioned privileges. I receive certain societal benefits from these privileges, whether or not I acknowledge the existence of these benefits and privileges.
Some of privileges I experience due to my nature/ DNA/ birth — whatever you choose to term it, they are privileges that I absolutely had no say in, that I was born possessing. They are that I am a white, straight, cis-gendered female with no physical disabilities who was raised in the middle class/ white collar segment of society. I was born this way and I gain certain specific benefits and inherent recognitions in society due to these privileges, but this does not mean I am better or more deserving than anyone else. I just happen to be lucky due to an accident of birth.
Some of the privileges I experience due to the previous list of privileges: Marriage and all the federal and state protections it confers with it. If I was lesbian, I could not have gotten married to someone I love and would want to raise a family with 10 years ago, or even last year. Even now (if I was lesbian), my marriage would not be recognized on a federal level. Many health and pension benefits would not be available to me through my partner’s employment if I was lesbian. Certain tax breaks would not be extended to my family. By dint of being a straight female, I enjoy the privilege of federally-recognized marriage and all the benefits therein.
Likewise, as a cis-gender female who identifies as female, I enjoy certain privileges extended to me that I would not be able to enjoy if I was trans* (either if I’d been born with male physiology but identified as female, or if I more strongly identified as male in the physiology I do possess). I can use the bathroom I am more comfortable in, wear the clothing I feel comfortable in, and present to society in the gender I most strongly identify with without experiencing backlash, discrimination, or violence.
As a person born into a middle-class family, I enjoy the privileges of education and class. I had food on the table every night growing up. I had new clothes for school every year. My parents could afford to buy me the things I both wanted and the things I needed. I was raised with the explicit expectation that I would and could attend college, and with the implicit promise that the college education of both myself and my siblings would would be paid for as long as we were reliant on our parents rather than a spouse. When I attended college as a single woman, this promise was upheld. Education was never a “what if” factor for me, it was taken for granted. There are many people who were not born into families and situations that could provide these privileges.
None of these privileges have to do with choice or action on my part. I was born into a society and time that happens to value certain inherent traits and confer benefits upon those who possess them. When I was born, I had no say in what traits society values, nor the time and place I was born in. That is the thing about privilege: None of these privileges actually have anything to do with me. Whether I was the worst, most horrible person on earth or the kindest, most deserving person on earth, I would still have access to these specific privileges by dint of factors completely outside of my control.
Now that I have a voice and I can help steer what traits and values society promotes and protects, I feel have the moral and ethical obligation to leverage what privileges I possess to make our society a more egalitarian place that treats everyone with the respect, kindness, and opportunities we hope for and expect for ourselves. Each human being, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or social class, deserves access to life, liberty, education, and the pursuit of happiness.