Most of you don’t know this, but I grew up in a seriously disadvantaged situation. From my 7th grade onward, my family lived in a housing project. Yes, we lived in “the projects”. For most of that time, we were the only white family in the entire neighborhood, and we had to endure our own unique hardships because of it.
I lost count of the number of bricks thrown through our windows inscribed with the words “Whitey go home.”
But I admit this much: systemically, we had an advantage on our neighbors. We didn’t have the burden of being people of color. I’ve heard of the phrase “twice as much effort, for half as much gain”, and I’ve seen it firsthand. Everyone in the hood struggled, but we were the few who got out.
When I’m told by someone to check my privilege, this is where I come from.
I had a multitude of opportunities thrown at me to help me rise from my station and see the bigger world around me.
I was in a federal program called Upward Bound that aimed to lift kids out of disadvantaged situations and push them into college. I have this program to thank for showing me that I could make my way at OBU, despite all my hardships.
I had well-meaning people at my church go out of their way to pick me up, take me home, fund my trips to youth camps, in order to help me be a better person. Some had selfish interests, some were genuine. Most wanted to help this scrawny white kid out. And I appreciate every one of them for what they did.
Even after lifting me up out of the morass of being in a hostile scene, I still had to contend with the social competition of the white kids. I mostly lost, but I still showed up when I could.
They say adversity makes champions, but that only holds true for those whom all other advantage has been handed. The game is rigged, even for people like me for whom the game was written to win. Once you’re in a situation where you don’t have to struggle for food, shelter, and clothing, you get into a new struggle for the best diets, the classiest homes, and the most fashionable threads to give you an attractive advantage over your peers. The successful ones rise to the top like cream in vat of milk, like the most explosive gas in a fractional distillation column.
If you’re at the bottom of the needs pyramid and concerned about how to make your government assistance stretch until the end of the month, you’re not going to win.
So, yes, my privilege has been checked thoroughly. Thanks for asking.