I am thin so I have thin privilege.
My dad was successful at making money so I have class privilege.
My skin is white so I have white privilege.
I stayed at home with my children so I have privilege. (I don’t remember the specific definer attached to that one.)
I don’t have autism so I have neurotypical privilege.
And because I am so-called neurotypical, I have the world is easier for me privilege.
When I’m in the middle of an interval workout, my heart is pounding and I’m pushing myself to run at my max or when I’m walking past my favorite flavor of ice cream in the frozen foods section at the grocery store (and my is heart pounding) and I tell myself “not today,” it sure doesn’t feel like privilege. It feels like work, and discipline, and it’s insulting when people write off as privilege the very behaviors I am proud of.
My father died when I was 22, just months after I graduated from college and all that I have accomplished, all my husband and I have today is the result of what we have worked to achieve. None of the affluence we were raised in was extended to us past graduation. Yes, we had the opportunity to grow up in nice houses, go to good schools and graduate from state colleges. We also were expected to put forth a full measure of work, to practice thrift and be good citizens and we have done just that. Hard work and honest achievement, and coming from a family that did the same, is not something anyone should ever have to apologize for.
My skin is white, believe me I know, having suffered many blistering sunburns and the removal of multiple growths of malignant skin cancer. Yes, I cannot fully appreciate what it is like to be anything but white and probably being pale has brought advantages I am not aware of. But, being white also doesn’t mean I have been handed that which I have. It seems as if it is not politically correct for me to say that, but say it I will, because it is the truth and saying the truth shouldn’t be incorrect. I hurt when I hear what I have earned is a result of privilege.
When my husband and I started our family we did so with a plan for me to be home. We made sacrifices. We were poor and I am talking WAY below the federal poverty guidelines. We went from the nice homes of our parents to HUD housing. To get my husband through graduate school we had student loans. But we always had a plan, we stuck to it and we stuck together. We knew from the beginning what we valued and what our priorities were and we let those guide us. Staying home came at a cost, but it was a price we were willing to pay and to be told I was lucky to stay home just somehow doesn’t even begin to cover what it really took to make it happen.
And I do not have autism. Nope. I don’t. But I am tired of being called normal, or neurotypical, with the implication that because I don’t have one particular something, such as autism, that the world is easier for me. I resent that. No one should diminish someone else because of something they have or don’t have. Everyone has struggles, that is part of the human condition.
Like many children, I was called names, ironically one of those names, Casper, was based on the color of my skin. Due to a loss of hearing when I was a toddler I had speech problems and for several of my elementary school years a boy named Carlos would come to my class one day each week during the middle of instruction and announce in front of everyone, in what seemed to me to be the loudest voice EVER,
“It’s time for Charlotte to go to Speech.”
And up I had to get, alone and walk past my classmates feeling completely ashamed. I still remember, 40 years later, how that speech class was always right before lunch and if speech got out early I would go to the bathroom and hide in a stall and wait until I heard my class walking down the hall to lunch. I hid in the bathroom because I didn’t want to return to class, open the door and have all the kids look up at me as I reentered the room, back from the speech class that only I in that class had to go to. I hated the eyes. I hated being singled out. I hated myself for being deformed.
Then in 8th grade, my general music teacher split the class into girls and boys, but had me, the only one asked to sit and sing with the boys because he said I had a low voice. I was horrified and all those speech class feelings swept back over me and each time that class met and I sat with the boys, as we sang I silently drowned in my own sea of deformity. Already self-conscious of my voice, after that, for the rest of my school years and well into my adulthood, I struggled to speak out because I believed my thoughts and my opinions, like the sound of my voice, were deformed.
I share these stories not for pity because I neither want nor need pity, but to make a point and that is…
We all have our shit.
Shit is pretty much one of life’s guarantees. And we don’t get to choose our shit, but we do get to choose what we do with it once we have it. Life’s lessons such as speech class and general music can teach empathy, if we let them. They stamp our human card and they can highlight what I have come to believe about people and that is…
We are more alike than we are different.
But so often I see people mired in their speech and music class stories. They hold onto them like precious possessions. And sometimes, they even tell others, with the presumption that those who they are addressing are storyless, and that not only do they not have stories but they are privileged because they don’t have stories, and that bothers the hell out of me.
That is what makes me feel like I don’t belong. Right there.
My desire to see our experiences bind us together rather than tear us apart, that is what makes me feel isolated from so many people.
Because so often I just see the tearing apart. Over and over and over again I see division. I see the forming of groups defined by perceived haves and have-nots.
Yet still, the idealist in me, barely breathing but still alive, wishes we could get past this need to separate. The idealist in me wishes we could evolve beyond our basic biological need for in-group favoritism.
But then the realist in me, ever the strong and steady presence, chuckles at the idealist’s foolish thoughts and I feel like I must be crazy. I am left feeling alone and that I simply must not belong in this world.
But then, and it’s never too long before the universe smiles down on me, I am reminded I’m not alone and I do belong. As I was writing this post I took a break to talk to my son Ted. We discussed our mutual idealist/realist turmoil.
“It’s like what Lennon said in the song,” Ted said. “He was being ideal. But then, look what happened to him.”
The two of us agreed, standing together in our kitchen, that in all likelihood, in our life times, human hard-wiring will not change. Human nature and our biological need to separate will continue. But occasionally, just as John Lennon did, we also agreed it’s nice to visit the idea that just maybe, we might, make the leap to full inclusion for all people and then,