-Rachel Siegel, PJC Executive Director
May 13, 2020
I set out four days ago on a drive from Burlington, Vermont to Durango, Colorado, to pick up my 16-year-old daughter, Gertie. She had gone home with a friend during spring break and then with the onset of the pandemic, stayed for eight weeks.
Based on a combination of logistics, safety, and cost, we decided that driving to get her made more sense than flying. The folks she was staying with are immunocompromised which impacted our choices since they couldn’t bring her into an airport. Plus, they would have had a 12-hour round trip drive to get her to the airport. So I borrowed my stepdad’s van, put the futon from our couch in the back, used an old sheet and duct tape to make curtains, filled jugs of water, packed camping food and a cook-stove, downloaded some books and podcasts, and headed out on my own.
After three nights at truck stops and 2,200 miles of driving, I had two nights and a whole day to decompress before picking up Gertie and heading home. My mother-in-law booked me a room at a Marriott hotel. No one had been in the room in over a month, so I only barely disinfected the room.
I woke up in exquisite comfort. I was groggy and little woozy from the altitude and seriously wiped out from the driving, but I was in a luxurious, clean, safe, king-sized bed. I was filled with gratitude to have a day off and to be on this trip at all. When I practice gratitude, I often list for myself the ways that my social location impacts what I have. So, I started thinking of the privileges that I have that made this trip easier.
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. It is in no way exhaustive and I’d be interested in any blind spots I have that you can see.
- White: no fear that I’ll be murdered if I speed and am stopped by the police. No fear of others fearing me or judging or reacting to me in any way based on my race – especially when I’m wearing a mask. I’m confident that if I need help, my race won’t be a barrier to getting it.
- Access to wealth/owning class: if the car breaks down or the shit hits the fan in any way, I have a financial safety net to bail me out.
- Solid car: I am borrowing a family member’s van that is in great shape and I have almost no anxiety about it breaking down.
- Overall stable life: I have a partner at home to parent our other kid and tend to the animals, etc. The stability of our life is largely related to wealth indirectly if not directly.
- Material comforts: I have internet access to download podcasts and music. I have an iPhone. I have camping gear.
- Employment: I have the job flexibility to go on the trip with the full support of my board, paid time off, and no fear that if I get COVID I’ll lose my job since I have paid sick time. I also have income enough to pay for gas and other incidentals.
- Health insurance: I have coverage through my partner’s work which includes mental health treatment that I need to be functional.
- Hotel: I have a family member with enough Marriott points to set me up with a SWEET hotel room.
- US citizen: I have no fear of harassment by CBD or ICE and no fear of deportation.
- English speaking: I can communicate with everyone I need to.
- Non-disabled/not chronically ill: I have physical ease and access in every situation. I can hear people talking, I can use any restroom, I can get through narrow aisles, I can leave my house at all, and much more.
- Pretty: most people respond to me with friendliness and warmth and if they don’t, I know it’s not because of my appearance. (I have lived experience that this is real. The way people respond to me when my hair is long versus when it’s short is palpably different. I believe this is based on the standards of beauty that I fit more with long wavy hair. Even though my hair is medium short right now, I still fit a lot of elements of what a woman is supposed to look like according to patriarchal capitalism.)
- Age: I’m not written off as too old or too young. I’m not seen as someone to take advantage of based on age. I am not questioned in my sensibilities based on age.
There are other things I am grateful for as well (eg. emotionally supportive family and friends, a great family taking care of Gertie) but those aren’t necessarily related to my privileged identities.
Sometimes when I make this kind of list, it can diminish my sense of accomplishment and leave me feeling like everything I have done and can do is because of the systems of oppression that benefit me materially. It can bring on guilt and paralysis. I have practiced letting go of those reactions since they help no one.
I am not sharing this list to diminish what I have done. I worked hard to get safely across the country, and I work hard to be a good parent. Having privilege doesn’t mean things aren’t hard. It simply means that the things that are hard are not related to my privileged identities.
There is value in recognizing how deeply systems of oppression impact us all. Unexamined privilege is self-perpetuating so if we don’t work to see where we are receiving unearned societal/structural/personal benefits, we will not be able to work to change these systems and liberate us all.
My intention in making this list, and sharing it publicly, is to continue to take off my blinders and to hopefully help others see their places of unearned privilege. Over time, as I explore and learn about my social location, as I read and talk about it, I see more. And as my awareness expands, I become increasingly motivated to do everything in my power to work in community toward a just and peaceful world.
So, tell me, what am I not seeing (yet)? And is there anything I have helped you to see?