I have a lot on my mind.
Some of the worries are big. Some of them are very small. I’m trying to sell my house. I’m worried about the economy, and the Congress’ near-constant efforts to destroy it. I’m worried about teaching my dog not to eat our shoes. I’m worried about the outline for my next novel. I’m getting old enough that I’m starting to worry about my health, about taking care of myself.
But there are a lot of things I don’t have to worry about.
Even though the economy is crap right now, I have a very good job and earn a very good salary. And if this job went away? I have skills that are very employable. For people like me, people who went to college and work in a professional field, the Great Recession and the crushing unemployment rate aren’t really a thing.
Even though I can’t pull all-nighters and live on pizza and Mt. Dew anymore, I have good health insurance and a good doctor, and those two things have kept me in good health. I don’t worry about getting sick and not being able to afford getting well. I don’t worry about getting sick and being told that getting well is actually against the law.
There’s been some crime in my area recently. Drug busts, a murder not far away. But I don’t worry about someone breaking into my house and killing me. I don’t worry about the police breaking into my house and killing me. I don’t worry about being followed down a dark street and killed because of my choice in clothing.
I have a lot of worries, but there are a lot of things I will never, ever have to worry about, simply because of who and what I am.
I’m a straight, white, college educated male, and I can tell you from experience that it is fucking awesome. There are more job prospects, and those jobs are better paying. For the most part, no one is trying to legislate my health choices. No one is trying to pass laws that make it harder for me to vote. I’m not going to be shot dead because I go for my cell phone.
But there are entire classes of people for whom this is not true.
If you didn’t get to go to college, it’s far more likely that you’re out of work right now. And if you did go to college, and you had the bad luck of being born ten years or so later than me? Well, good luck with your debt and your non-paying internship.
If you’re a woman, there is a religious crusade to legislate what happens in and to your reproductive organs. Old, angry, white men, apparently, have to step in and make women’s medical choices for them, and need to correct the medical advice given by doctors. And if you dare try to exercise your constitutional rights? Well, they may have to let you, but they’re going to rape you, first … and the law will back them up, because they wrote it.
And if you’re a young black man? Well, in Florida at least, it’s now legal for an armed man to pursue you and, if you resist, for him to kill you. But if you’re a black woman who tries to use that same law? You get twenty years in jail.
Gay marriage has gotten a lot of good press lately, and the US Supreme Court has recently made some incredible strides toward marriage equality, but the fact remains that in thirty-seven of our fifty states, you cannot marry the person you love if they’re the wrong gender. You can’t be carried by their health insurance. You don’t benefit from inheritance laws. It’s possible that you won’t be allowed to be by their side when they die.
I have a lot of worries, but being a straight, white, college educated man is still fucking awesome.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” That is the founding sentiment of this nation, that is the goal we’re striving for, but we are still learning, discovering, exactly what that means.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote those words, “all men” were white, male, land owners. Over time, we looked inside of ourselves and realized that it isn’t fair to deny a man his rights because he rents an apartment. We realized that maybe having a penis isn’t a prerequisite for participation in government. We woke up to the fact that melanin isn’t a good metric by which to judge a person’s worth.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote those words, it was acceptable for one human being to own another. We believed that all men were created equal, but we didn’t know what that meant, not exactly.
We still don’t. There are still systematic, fundamental forces that make being anything other than a straight, white, college-educated male harder. Sometimes, a lot harder.
That’s what privilege is. It isn’t about being part of a secret club where we all light cigars with hundred dollar bills and plot to screw over black people. It isn’t about knowing a secret handshake that gets you a job even though a single mother was better qualified. It isn’t about you, or me, at all. It’s about all of the things we don’t have to deal with. All of the things that keep other people up at night.
So maybe, just maybe, we should have a little empathy for the people who don’t have the same privileges we do. And maybe, just maybe, we should think about how we can make them a little more equal.