Have you read Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance? I definitely recommend it. It is a particularly good book to read just before Thanksgiving. It gave me only about a thousand reasons to be grateful!
Hillbilly Elegy is also relevant to recent discussions about privilege. I know I grew up privileged. My parents stayed together. They never threw plates at each other. I didn’t have to worry about drugs or drunks or violence. No one pointed guns at me. The people in my life mostly didn’t die before their time. I never went to bed hungry. And we never got thrown out of our house.
After visiting Bosnia Herzegovina and Croatia in September, I should mention the privilege that stems from being born in a country without wars at home and with democratic elections followed by peaceful transfers of power.
Thinking about Puerto Rico and other hurricane victims, I might add that I have always lived in a house with electricity, safe drinking water that comes out of the tap 9,999 out of 10,000 times I turn it on, and no major natural disasters.
I am also white. People take me at face value. I am not doubted, questioned, pulled over, or scorned unnecessarily. I get the benefit of the doubt pretty much every time I could.
Yes, I have been incredibly fortunate my entire life. It would take a yeoman’s effort to list all the ways in which I’ve been privileged. Virtually none a result of my own efforts.
Most of my friends and acquaintances could draw up equally long lists. And most do. Even some with serious hardships in their lives: battles with cancer, the death of a child or a parent who was far too young, and poverty. Nonetheless, they recognize the privilege they have enjoyed. And they are grateful.
I’ve been baffled by another contingent of acquaintances recently. It seems they are so concerned about getting credit for surviving and/or flourishing that they refuse to recognize that they have been privileged. Maybe that’s not their reason, but I am at a loss to understand how anyone cannot recognize their own good fortune, much of which is dependent on the family, town, and country they are born into, not on their own accomplishments. No matter who you are, there are others who have had fewer advantages and at no fault of their own.
This contingent is especially quick to bristle at the thought of white privilege. They are white, of course. And they aren’t willing to see that many people of color are doubted, questioned, pulled over, and scorned simply because of the color of their skin–before they open their mouths or do anything to invite such treatment.
I am incredibly grateful for the advantages I have enjoyed. I hope you too have more reasons to give thanks than you can count. And I hope you will join with me in fostering the self-awareness and mutual understanding that leads to respect and justice for all.
Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving!