Recognizing privilege doesn’t have to mean feeling guilty or embarrassed for the life you have. It took me a long a time to realize this concept – I’m still trying to wrap my hands around it.
I grew up in Bethesda, Maryland– otherwise known as the “Bethesda bubble.” Bethesda is called the bubble due to the abundance of fancy cars, soccer moms, country clubs, and expensive boutiques which give off an “exclusive” vibe. This was my normal for 15 years of my life. Did I like living in Bethesda? Yes, I made great friends and received an excellent education. Yet, I still wanted to break out of the bubble and experience a different city environment– which is partially why I moved to Austin, TX for college. Boy, was it a culture shock!
My first step in finding myself in college, was volunteering at the ARCH, a homeless resource community center in Austin. Being exposed to homelessness triggered my desire to volunteer in the community. Volunteering at the Arch and being exposed to diversity helped me better understand where people are coming from and the problems they have to deal with on a daily basis just to survive. I’ll have to admit it was hard to go there and see people in line waiting to enter… and the thought of them getting turned away because of maximum capacity absolutely broke my heart. I went home crying… wishing for a solution and feeling guilty that I have a permanent place to call home. As days went on, I slowly started to break down my own personal distortions (still breaking them down). I also had to refocus and appreciate the small contributions I made to the ARCH rather than beating myself up for not solving poverty.
I’m currently in my last semester of college and working for a non-profit. I’ve been closely working with children and have been getting to know the ins and outs of the Austin Independent School District. Resources are limited to say the least. Working with these wonderful human beings made me think about how my education and background has shaped me. I was fortunate enough to go to a good high school that helped me prepare for college and go through the college application process. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the students I work with. It’s hard to fathom that the education gap is so large.
Whether we recognize or not, our privilege has a bearing on how we advance and work our way up in society. We can’t change how or the environment in which we were raised. What we can change is how we approach privilege. We need to recognize our own privilege and how that has affected our lives. At the same time, we need to recognize how a life without privilege has implications for the course of ones life.
It’s imperative that we burst our bubbles; open our eyes, listen, and begin having difficult conversations.