Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Unpacking Privilege: Reality

This is Part 2 in a series examining privilege, and how it plays out in my life. For Part 1, go here.

I walk into work, fresh from a weekend of nursing my resentments. My tiny wounds --grudges borne carrying the weight of class consciousness around on my shoulders for years, though no one has asked me to do so-- blossom like blooms in May, fed by images of a life I imagine easier than my own. I'll be laid off at the end of this month; I'm going to be a stay-at-home-mom, but money will be tight, and I will have to juggle. I want to be a stay-at-home-mom with money that is not tight; I don't want to have to juggle. What I want is so very close to what I have, but rather than recognizing my good fortune, I feel slighted so close to the goal. Why can't I have just a little bit more?

My office phone rings. A student tells me her name, but it takes three times before I can make it out. She's practically whispering, and her voice just doesn't sound right.  

I'm sorry I didn't come to school last week. I'm going to come this week. We had a terrible week, our family, last week... her voice breaks off.

I've learned not to ask too many questions over the years. They'll tell me if they want to.

Some people think if you accept any kind of government aid, representatives of that government have the right to ask you any questions they want. To insult and harass you, to accuse you of lying. To insert themselves into your personal business, into your bedroom, into your very soul. To determine your worth as a human being before the eyes of God and the Government before they help you eat or feed your children, receive medical care, earn an education.

I'm not one of those people, so I shut my mouth, listen, wait.

My brother was shot in a drive-by, she chokes, the bullet went in his back and came out his face. I want to finish school, I do, it's just ... last week, I just ... couldn't. He's alive. I'm the only one he'll let near him. They released him, but I have to bathe him and everything. I want to finish though. I'll come this week. I'm sorry I didn't call. I didn't make any calls that day. I didn't answer my phone all day. But I'll come back this week.

This student is the only one who's been here longer than me. I've bought her Christmas presents, held her babies, taught them the letters in their name and listened to her fears about raising them in the same streets that claimed her brother years ago.

Once in parenting class we were discussing spanking, and she yelled out: If spanking worked, my brother wouldn't be running the streets the way he is! 'Cause I know he got his ass beat enough times, if it was gonna work, it would have by now! Shit, it MUST not work!

That evidence was far more persuasive than the research I presented, for many of our parents. They argued my research, loudly, point-by-point, but when she spoke the room got quiet. I saw heads nodding as they considered her first-hand evidence, anecdotal but no doubt echoed by experiences of their own.

I reassured her that it was fine to miss a week; that we'll be here this week, and then help her figure out where she needs to go next to finish her education. She's lucky, in that all her kids will be in school starting this fall. She can attend classes during that time; she won't need childcare. She has options. Lots of the others don't.

So if she's lucky, what am I?

I hang up the phone and pass the rest of the day in a pensive fog. My heart is heavy.

But I'm through feeling sorry for myself.


  1. Oh, you know this gets me right in the gut...right? Every day folks like you and I get this perspecitve at work. Every day. And yet, ARE human and immersed in a society that teaches us to want more and give less. To look out only for ourselves. It's okay to have a pity party for yourself every once in awhile. But are doing amazing work and making a difference. I am sorry that your position is being eliminated.
    All the best,

  2. very real. i have very little to say but this is very, very real. thank you.