Sunday, April 15, 2018
Privilege and How My Mom Called Me Out on Mine.
Privilege has been a hot topic in the media. The terms "white privilege" and "male privilege" have been tossed around a lot. I didn't really buy into the whole privilege argument. I thought it was silly to state that someone was privileged because of their race or sex, especially when so many people struggle regardless of race, sex or socioeconomic status. The more traction that the theory gained, the more types of privilege were bandied about in the media and in the personal finance community on twitter ("American privilege", etc)
And then, just a few weeks ago, my Mom called me out on my privilege. Mom told me that I was privileged. I was shocked. How could I be privileged? We were not a wealthy family when I was child. I'm not wealthy now. All of the money that I have saved and the assets that I have accumulated are based on my own hard work. I went into debt for law school and paid back all of my student loans. I had debt because my parents could not afford to pay for law school for me. I studied and fretted and cried about passing the bar exam and becoming a lawyer. But I did it. I did it because I worked hard enough to succeed. Nothing in life was made easy for me.
The reason for her statement was simple. My Mom said I was privileged was because I told her a story about how my boss was rudely criticizing a youngish/new-ish attorney male attorney for coming to a deposition in a wrinkled, worn dress shirt, no tie and no jacket. Her comment to me was maybe that was the only shirt he had. I said, "well he choose to be an attorney so he does need to dress appropriately. I had to spend a lot of money on suits after I graduated law school and I didn't have any money." My mom laughed and said "You had us to support and help you. You are so privileged and don't even know it. When I turned 19 my Father made me leave the house and I couldn't go back. He gave me money for bus fare and bought me a suitcase. That was it. I took a bus to New York to live with my older sister, her husband and kids. No job, no money, nothing. I had to make things work because I couldn't live with them rent free forever. My Father did not have a spare dollar to give me and neither did my sister. I didn't have a credit card and didn't know how to get one. If I needed a shirt I was out of luck." I was quiet for a moment.
Her comment made me think. To her I was privileged. To me I was not. Privilege is relative. The fact that I was easily able to get into law school as a African American female was shocking to my mother born in the 1940s. Her ability to help me if I needed it was a privilege that she did not enjoy any stage in her life. Someone whose parents could afford to pay for law school for them would be privileged in my eyes. It was hard graduating from law school with over $60,000 in debt, making only $46,000 a year. To not have that burden would have been so freeing.
I realize now that privilege is relative and it does not mean that your life was easy or that you didn't work hard. It does mean that maybe you had it slightly easier than someone else. There's nothing wrong with being privileged. I am grateful for my parents' help.
*By the way I don't think the lack of a tie or jacket for a deposition is improper or inappropriate in most cases.