Saturday, December 21, 2013

On privilege

Being privileged is many things. Being privileged is also not many things. Both at the same time.

First things first: being privileged does not make you a bad person. It is just a statement of fact - you have something others don't. Whatever that might be.

It might be money.

It might be time.

It might be access.

It might be social recognition.

It might be available life choices.

It might be expectations.

It might be all of these things at once, intertangled in a complex web of interlocking mutually reinforcing causes and effects, transcribed into our cultural DNA and determining our fates like those old norns of yore -

It probably is. Only without the norns.

The way to read this non-exhaustive list is to see it as things that might be relevant to look at, either by themselves or in combination. The best advice is to start out with the one thing, and go from there.

So, one thing. Money. On the face of it, it is rather straightforward. The ultrarich are more privileged than the ultrapoor. The moderately rich more than the moderately poor. And so and so forth. Nothing strange going on here. And, to be sure, nothing interesting. Yet. Let's add complexity.

Now, two things. Money and time.

It is tempting to quote the old adage that time is money. And it is, in oh so many ways.  Most markedly if you happen to be employed by someone, and have to remain employed by this someone to keep yourself in money. Which, in most cases, mean you have to be at work all those hours, every day five days a week.

That's a lot of hours, all taken together.

It works in reverse, too. The one thing money is best at buying is time. In a direct sense, you buy other people's time when you buy things - whether it being indirect in the product of someone's labor, or the very immediate sense of making that labor happen. In whatever way, shape or form it might manifest itself.

Or, sideways: with enough money, you have time to do whatever it is you want to do. And, moreover, you don't ever have to spend time worrying about money - a big pastime among those who don't have it.

It is, of course, possible to flip this. I'm sadly enough privy to the details, but I hear that tax returns and financial instruments can get quite complicated and time-consuming really fast. Meaning that not all money is equally efficient time savers, and that sometimes you're better off timewise having no money at all.

And, in another reversal: debt.

Let's make things even more complicated. Three things. -

Or, well. I imagine you're getting the picture at this point. Privilege is not always a clear cut thing, obvious for the world to see. It is, sometimes (hello, fellow westerners), but in the hustle and bustle among the people you actually meet, it ain't. Some people are rich, but so bogged down by what they have to do to stay rich that it's not worth it in any rational sense. Some are poor, but also free from debt and social obligations that stand in the way of what they want to do. Some are part of marginalized minorities, discriminated against in every sense, yet have social bonds with and solidarity for each other that makes all of "my" problems into "our" problems. Some have to work their literal and metaphorical arses off to get what others get for free; sometimes, this comes back to haunt the latter in more ways than they'd ever know.

It's not easy. It's not fair, either, despite the above paragraph about how things sometimes balance themselves. Adaptation to injustices is not a justification for them, and it is a mistake to think so. Despite it being a comfortable option for those with the privilege to be able do so.

The biggest privilege, and thus the most hard to fathom for those who have it, is to not have to bother with shit. Which male white people are very privy to, and even more so in that they don't even have to think about it. This freedom from having to deal is a huge load of free(d) time, energy, effort, money and all other forms of resource one might care to mention. Whatever it is one might want to do, it gets easier with access to these resources. Add to this that they might be used to accrue more resources, and we get ourselves into a situation where some people are very comfortable in the boat, while others inevitably will rock it while trying to get in.

With the resources not spent on staying afloat.

Privilege. It's a thing. It's many things.

It's not all things, though. There's still room for freedom, change, and sharing.

I encourage you the privilege to use it.

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