Checking My “Privilege”

Everyone loves a good Internet quiz. I stumbled on one on Mashable I had to do this week.

It was about determining your “privilege” quotient. There were 100 check off boxes. You got one point for every box you checked off. The higher your score, the more “privileged” you are. 

I got a 52, which the quiz creators seem to think is somewhat high. Despite the fact that I’m not a man, was bullied as a child, and have been discriminated against for my gender and religion. After all, I am white, have never lived below the poverty line, have traveled abroad and remain the same gender I was when I was born.

The whole fight against “privilege” strikes me somewhat odd. Or maybe I should say backwards. I certainly understand that human beings have a way to go when it comes to equality, and I applaud strides to get us there. But why exactly does that mean we attack the achievement of those who have gained comfort?

Many of the questions on the quiz seemed not to be judging me so much as they were accusing my parents of beng successful people. I don’t mean one percent successful. There are many people between those in poverty and those swimming in money. I mean employed, educated, comfortable, hard-working middle class people. 

My parents sent my brother and I to Catholic grade school and high school. They sent us both to college – they made too much to get any real financial aid but not enough that paying tuition wasn’t a real sacrifice. Our family visited my father’s family in Germany, and he helped me buy a car when I was in grad school. He and my mother now enjoy spoiling my daughters, their only grandchildren. 

My father, who came to the U.S. after World War II, learned English, became a citizen, got a college education, and became a successful engineer, considers these things major achievements. Caring for his family, and preparing a new generation to contribute to the world, was a goal he set and achieved. He is a hero to me.

But apparently in today’s conventional wisdom, providing “privilege” to my brother, me and my children, is wrong. When my father came to this great country, it was all about using freedom to create opportunity. Some were more successful than others, but everyone had a chance to better themselves. Even German immigrants after the horror of Nazi Germany. Today, the best opportunity Americans seem to find is in discovering who is to blame for their misery and using the system to take whatever someone else has earned away from them.

I did not grow up rich. Nor am I now. My husband and I pinch pennies to provide our children with all we can. My parents were not “connected” people. They kept there noses to the grindstone, and have hard work and commitment to thank for what they have and what they have given to us.

Having lived a comfortable life does not make me insensitive to the needs of others. I know many people with varied human needs. I do my best to provide support, aid and friendship that lifts those who are down. I do that because it’s the right thing to do. The very international travel and education that’s supposed to make me “privileged” has actually brought me greater understanding of others, just like it was supposed to.

Not being black, Hispanic, poor, gay, trans or whatever does not mean a person has not been discriminated against. (The quiz, interestingly, did not have questions related to age, disability, etc) I’ve faced discrimination for being Catholic, diabetic, female, depressed, married and having children. My husband has faced hardship for being a farmer, hunter, union member, energy company worker, and white man with facial hair. EVERYONE faces discrimination at some time in their lives. 

Yes there is true, heartbreaking discrimination in the world. But it won’t be eased by driving a wedge between those who have found success in life and those who have not. Instead, we should be looking to those who have achieved to learn how to do it ourselves. We should be raising one another up with the gifts God has given each of us.

“Privilege” is something that is earned through hard work. It’s something that illustrates just what we can achieve. Not something that makes us less human, or less compassionate. It’s not yet another reason to throw stones at others.

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