Pride and privilege
Erin Thomassen | Monday, April 18, 2016
When I was growing up, I was taught to count my blessings, not deny my privileges. In fact, I was a little braggart who bragged about my privileges. You stayed up until 8:30? I stayed up until 9. You have Fruit by the Inch? I’ve got Fruit by the Foot.
In elementary school, I did not argue with my friends or foes about whose ancestors were more oppressed or whose parents struggled the most to send us to school. Instead, we boasted about our distinguished heritage (I was obviously the lost Russian princess) and the number of American Girl Doll outfits we got for Christmas.
When junior year of high school rolled around, I changed my tune. It was no longer desirable for me to be blessed. It was suddenly better to be disadvantaged so that college admissions teams would pity and admit me to their school.
As a white middle-class girl from Massachusetts, I tried and failed to come up with a sob story. My life was not perfect, but the pros definitely outweighed the cons. My parents may have gotten a divorce, but they both loved my sister and me more than I thought possible. I am sure other women face and have faced intense prejudice, but I had teachers who seemed to favor the girls; I, unlike my male counterparts, rarely got in trouble when I arrived late for class.
I began looking for anything significant in my life to complain about. As you can imagine, this gave me a rather negative view on life. It turned out my friends had jumped on the complain train as well. Instead of bragging about a later bedtime, we would one-up each other about who had to study later and wake up earlier. Who had more chores to do? Who had less free time?
We no longer boasted our blessings, but our curses. Instead of gloating about getting our homework done early, we moaned about how many assignments we had left. We no longer competed over who had a better life, but who had a worse one.
I then realized I was acting ridiculously. I did not have anything to complain about. I had never seriously wondered where my next meal would come from. There was a time when both of my parents were unemployed, and we lived frugally until my mom got a job again. If anything, I count it as a blessing that I had to be somewhat economically minded as a child without having to truly suffer.
It would be a completely different case, though, if my family had not gotten back on its feet. I probably would not have attended private high school. I might have worked a job after school instead of dancing and running cross-country. While I still would have been privileged compared to a large percentage of the world, I would not have been as privileged as I am today.
Though privilege may be relative and subjective, I can concretely say that I have been more privileged than a large portion of the world. Many Americans like to project the image of a self-made man or woman. If you were born into wealth, of course you are successful. If you work your way to the top, well then, you have done something truly admirable.
I am more than willing to admit that I am not a self-made woman. I may not remember my time in the womb, but my mother certainly does. I owe so much of what I have been able to achieve to supportive teachers, parents and friends. I can’t even finish homework assignments without going to office hours for help.
Though I may not have had enormous victories in my life such as winning a gold medal or defeating the Nazis, I experience little victories every day. For all these victories, big and small, I am more than willing to admit that I have not accomplished them on my own.
This is not a sad admission, but a happy one. It means that I can celebrate whatever I am able to do in gratitude with those who helped me do it. I can have compassion for those who were not given as much support as I was. I cannot justify greed or hoarding my wealth by claiming that I earned it. With God’s grace, I will walk away happy rather than sad when Jesus tells me to sell all I have and give to the poor.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.