My big kids were off of school on Monday, but my little guy still had preschool. So I decided this time with just my older two was the perfect chance to talk to them about things I felt were important to discuss with them. So while I had them trapped spending quality time with me in the car on the way to going shopping, I decided to bring up a discussion about the topic of privilege.
Most of us know that "privilege" is a social concept that refers to having advantages in the society in which one lives. There are many kinds of privilege. Perhaps the most dominant and obvious is white privilege. White people in the United States possess a great deal of privilege in areas we may not even consciously be aware of. White people are often privileged i that we don't feel out of place wherever we go. Likely, there will be others who look like us and who are white. White folks aren't often concerned about being distrusted as a shop lifter or someone who may cause harm if we are out walking the streets at night. It's a fact that laws such as stop-and-frisk target people of color. There are so many more examples I could list. In the interest of time, I will simply point you to a quick checklist of white privilege examples, the Wikipedia page on white privilege and a great article on Everyday Feminism that explains how to talk to someone about white privilege. At the end of this last article are links to other informative posts on various kinds of privilege including male privilege, heterosexual privilege, economic privilege, Christian privilege, and even thin privilege. If you don't think you're privileged in any way, I suggest giving these articles a look.
My Kids' Reactions
Back to my conversation with the kids. I asked them if they thought they were privileged. Their response? Blank stares. They had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. So I gave them a quick definition of privilege as having an unearned advantage in some way and listed some general examples. They gave it a bit of thought and concluded that they really didn't think they were privileged. Imagine my son's surprise when I pointed out that he is probably the most privileged person in the car, above both me and his sister. Now I had them really confused.
When I told him he was prvileged because he is a white male in America, he seemed to begin to get it. I didn't go into sexual orientation. As far as I know my son is heterosexual, but he's only 14, and I didn't want to place any unnecessary assumptions or pressure on him. So we listed a few ways in which guys may have advantages over girls. He was aware that he didn't have to worry as much about going to parties and being sexually assaulted or taken advantage of when he's older. Both kids were shocked to learn that women make less than men in 2013. They weren't surprised when it came to the conversation of race. They know that minorities, particularly blacks, are sometimes treated unfairly and stereotyped in this country. We've had these kinds of discussions before. But I really thought it was time to talk to them about just how many advantages they have, despite our current financial situation. I mean, could two young adolescents really think that living in a trailer park and receiving food stamps puts us in a place of privilege?
We talked about education and how they came from an educated family that places a value on learning and is able to provide them with the support and resources to do well in school. I pointed out that if they are ever having trouble in a subject, they can come to me for help. I also reminded my son that even though we don't have a lot of money, we were able to send him on two rather major field trips to Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. This led us to discuss the advantage they have in attending a school that offers such experiences. Both of my kids play instruments, and my son will be in the marching band next year. I told them that some schools have had to cut music programs and couldn't even dream of having field trips to far away places. I explained that schools are partially funded throuugh local property taxes and asked what they thought the difference would be between their school and a school in a poor neighborhood. We may live in a trailer park, but that park is smack dab in the middle of a rather affluent area. The dynamics of this I will save for another day; though it's rather ironic to me that I grew up in exactly the same kind of situation, living in a trailer park and going to school with doctors' and lawyers' kids. But I digress. I explained that less advantaged schools probably wouldn't offer the kinds of extracurricular activities they have available to them. Some schools have nearly empty libraries and outdated textbooks. I then asked them what they wanted to do when they grow up. Both had aspirations that required higher education. Kids in poverty stricken areas or inner city neighborhoods may not even consider that college is a possibility for them. It was a real eye opener for them to realize that they could dream of becoming nearly whatever they want to be. Some kids don't have the confidence in themselves or the support they need to ever have such dreams.
Why It's Important
Our talk didn't end there. We also discussed how women are often objectified. We talked about slut shaming and rape culture. Gay marriage was brought up; both kids think people should be able to marry whomever they choose and are appalled at the idea that anyone would think any different. They get how a gay couple might not feel comfortable showing affection everywhere they go and that they do not possess full civil rights in this country. We even delved into the mindset of what it means to be poor and how the cycle often continues.
The reason I thought it was so important to talk about these things was not so my kids would feel guilty for their privilege or even grateful that they are privileged. They don't need to feel guilty for a societal system they didn't create, but simply showing gratitude for what you haven't earned is not sufficient, either. It's imperative that our kids are aware of privilege so that they can be sensitive to others, so that they can work to stop perpetuating assumptions that are harmful to others, evven if only in their small world. Who knows, though. Maybe one day they can change attitudes on a larger scale. But first they must be made aware.