This semester, my two English 104 classes will be discussing Privilege during the first part of the semester. Here is their assignment:
Privilege (a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people). In this world that we live in, privilege allows certain individuals advantages that other groups just don’t get to experience. The difficult thing about explaining privilege is that so often those with it don’t even recognize they possess it. But almost everyone experiences some type of privilege based on ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality and/or class. Your goal for this essay is to explore a form of privilege that is of interest to you and discuss how it affects the ones who have it and the ones who don’t. You are also tasked to talk about ways we can address your chosen privilege topic in a larger scale. Feel free to explore how the type of privilege you chose to research affects you specifically. Do you benefit from that privilege or has it hindered you in any way?
As a black women in her late 40s, I often don’t think of myself in terms of how privilege works in my own life. It is so easy to think about the privilege I don’t have, than to focus on the privilege I do have. But I got a firsthand look at it on Wednesday, January 7, 2015, one of the coldest days we’ve experienced this winter. The wind-chill was in the Negative Twenties and reports of sick babies in the shelters was enough to make me brave the cold in search of cold medicines to take to these precious lambs whose only crime was to be born into poverty and a world that often forgets them.
So, I racked my brains to figure out how I could get the most bang for my buck with limited teacher’s budget, and I remembered the Dollar Tree sold cold medicine so I bundled up and headed to the store. I went to the medicine aisle in the store with purpose. And I scored BIG. I was able to get 25 bottles of Tylenol and Tussin for babies and small children. I almost danced a jig. I even went on and bought some pacifiers (2 per pack), baby bottles and baby wipes! When I got to the counter, the sales person smiled at me and I smiled at her. She said, “That’s a lot of cold medicine.” I laughed and said, “Yes. Didn’t I do good. I’m taking these to the Holy Family Shelter to help those sick babies get better.” She practically teared up and as she rang me up she said, “God bless you, honey.” I said the words back to her, and then bebopped out to my car.
As I was driving towards the shelter, it hit me. Wait a minute. YOU just bought 25 bottles of medicine and no one even doubted your story. How is that? And then I got it. It is amazing I didn't stop my car in the middle of the interstate. I just experienced middle aged privilege and I was totally oblivious to it while I was in the moment. WOW, I thought. A part of me wanted to rush and share with my students what I just experienced, and the other part was like, DANG. You just got treated like an old lady. I thought about it. I was dressed nice. I spoke clearly and confidently. And my salt and pepper hair gave me that added boost of credibility. Not to mention the person waiting on me was also middle aged. We spoke each other "language." She looked at me and saw a comrade not someone who was going to go home and abuse her new stash of cold meds.
Had a twenty-something person bounced into the store with the same intentions, I doubt the outcome would have been the same. At the very least, the manager would have probably been called up to ascertain the intentions of the young buyer. At the very worst, police or store security could have been brought into the picture. Who knows?
When I went back and told my students, they all groaned at the same time when I got to the part about going to the counter with all of my baby meds. One young white male said, “I would have gotten busted big time.” Another said, “I would not have even attempted to buy that much medicine at one time.”
In that moment, I think privilege began to make sense to some of my students. Some of them realized what I'd been telling them which is privilege is often so unconscious to the person experiencing it, that unless that person is really striving to recognize how privilege works in his/her life, that person can miss it. Had I not been teaching this section on privilege I probably wouldn’t have even recognized that I had experienced it. I would have delivered my baby meds and just celebrated the fact that I got an incredible deal that was going to take care of a lot of sick babies.