Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Check Your Privilege"

So, apparently this is a thing. On Facebook, Nicki posted a story about a young man who responded to that challenge, reciting his grandparents' story about escaping Nazi Germany. She then goes on to state:
Sick and tired of "check your privilege" bullshit. I invite each and every one of you to tell your story of "privilege," whether here, or on your blog or another site. 
So here goes.

Grandparents, on both sides, left Italy between World Wars. My dad's folks left earlier, as children; my mother's folks left later as adults. My grandparents on my mother's side immigrated only a few years before we entered WWII, just before my uncle Carmine was born.

Grandparents on Dad's side were farmers, with my grandfather becoming a machinist and my grandmother a seamstress. In the post-WWII era she worked in a factory until Dad was born.

On mom's side, her father was a police officer in the city. Her mom didn't work, and the family of five lived in a three-bedroom apartment. 

Bear in mind that none of the grandparents grew up learning English. Dad's folks had it easier, coming to the US as kids and being more able to pick up the new language. Mom's folks had to learn on the fly, and both of her parents talked with a thick accent their entire lives.

Dad graduated high school and took classes in Boston until he decided that it would be a better life to become a MA state cop. Mom worked as a secretary at a local manufacturing plant until I was born. They built a modest three-bedroom ranch on land my father's parents gave them, and mom stayed home once I was born. 

I went to a state college because, well, it's what I could afford. I put myself through college, with some help from my grandparents, my parents, and scholarships and student loans. I worked every weekend at the local grocery store for money to get through the week, and two or more jobs over the summer to cover expenses as needed for the following year. I graduated - the first person in my entire family to receive a Bachelor's Degree - and went onto graduate school.

Not a lot of privilege there, that I can see. One time, in my early 20s, I got into a discussion with a friend (who was black) about getting pulled over for no reason. I started recounting the number of times I'd been pulled over for no good reason (taillight out; failure to signal; window tint too dark; etc.) and realized it was close to two dozen. I had nothing handed to me, expected nothing, and worked for what I wanted.

To insinuate that I got where I am now simply because of my "privilege" is downright insulting. I - and the rest of my family - have worked damned hard to get where I am. My folks worked damn hard to get where they are, and to be able to help their kids wherever they could. My sister, FWIW, is an attorney in Boston - she put herself through law school, also without any of that special privilege except perhaps being damned smart.

I guess it's easier to bleat out "privilege" than to admit that sometimes people get where they are through hard work. It's easier to pretend that there's some vast conspiracy perpetrated by a sinister cabal of similarly-pigmented folks rather than face up to the fact that sometimes you have to make your own luck.

Or, that you make your own privilege through plain ol' hard work...

That is all.


Anonymous said...

OK, I'll bite.

My family first arrived in the US in 1753. I have 2 confirmed grandfathers who served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and 2 other probable. My family has served their country in every major conflict of this nation. My father served as a turret mechanic with the 1st Armored from 1960-1963.

My grandfather on my dad's side changed the spelling of our last name because he did 3 years for violations of the Olmstead act. (Rum running during prohibition) he later became a junk man.

My father, after leaving the service, worked for a bus company and later the railroad. He worked 12 hour days and really piled on the OT to provide myself and my brother a place to live and later a college education. My mother also worked as a legislative aide to an Illinois General Assemblyman.

When I came of age (like 10) I was expected to mow the lawn and the like. I worked damned hard for everything I have. Once, when downsized in 1999, I even became a package handler for UPS.

I had been stopped several times by police. Primarily because my left foot needs a diet. Once because the alternator died on my 1985 Dodge Diplomat (ex-police) and I was driving with no headlights on the near West side of Joliet at 9 PM. (I would have pulled me over, too.) Since the door handle had snapped off and the windows didn't roll down, I had to do a few things that made the police nervous. (As evidenced by the police officer having his hand on his gun and his partner also having his hand on his gun both unsnapped and ready for action.) Since I always kept my hands in sight and explained the situation as well as (per their request) demonstrating the problem, I left there with an escort home and no ticket.

Joseph in IL

Anonymous said...

We need to see that the OPPORTUNITY to work and KEEP what you earn is a privilege.

Good post.

threecollie said...

Irish great-grandfather came here as an orphan and worked in a coat factory when he was a little boy. One grandfather rode the rods all over America trying to find work to feed his family during the Great Depression. The other one worked in a leather mill until he retired to work four part time jobs, instead of flipping skins in and out of vats of deadly chemicals. He was jailed when my mom was a girl, for being on a picket line at the mill. My grandma was very shy, so my mom had to go get him out of jail when she was just a kid. My brothers and I all started working outside the home at around 11 or 12, them on farms and me in a kennel and babysitting. Still working as a farmer after five more decades from that time. Looked at that check your privilege site. Looks more like some people need to check their excuses

ProudHillbilly said...

Branches came in from England in the 1630s, Germany and Switzerland in the 1700s, Ireland 1840s. All ended up farmers in WV. My parents moved to the D.C. area because there were no jobs. Dad, who retired in 1990 and died in 1998, never made more than $16,000 a year. There's not much born-with-silver-spoon-in-mouth privilege in dirt poor.