Privilege and thanksgiving

I thought of two related ideas today – privilege and thanksgiving.

When I thought of privilege, I thought of Paul Bernal’s excellent post – “A few words on privilege.” If you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend it. The last two paragraphs have stayed with me over these years.

Whoever you are, however intelligent and enlightened you are, you don’t know what life is like for other people. You don’t know how things are for them, how hard it is for them. I don’t know what it is like to be really poor, for example. I’ve been poor – but I’ve been poor and still known I have family that would support me in the end, that I have the kind of education and experience that can help me out, that I’m healthy and so forth. Men don’t know what it’s like to be women. Straight men don’t know what it’s like to be gay in the society we have today. Able-bodied people don’t know what it’s like to have a disability. White people don’t know what it is like to be black. Wealthy people don’t know what it’s like to be poor.

There’s an old saying: ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. There’s a degree to which it’s true, and it certainly seems that the current lot of powerful people are thoroughly irresponsible. I’d like to add another – though it’s deeply wishful thinking. With great privilege should come great humility. Those of us who are privileged – like me, and like Boris – should be able to find that humility. To know that we really don’t know what it’s like to live without our privilege. We can try to imagine – but we’ll never really succeed. And we should know that we’ll never really succeed – and be far, far more willing to listen properly to those who do know it. Most of all, though, we should know when not to talk as though we had all the answers. We should know when to shut up.

Thanksgiving is, by far, my favorite holiday. I enjoy taking stock of the year that’s gone by, the people who’ve made an impact and the process of expressing my gratitude to them for all they’ve done. At a time when I do most of my writing on a keyboard, I spend a good chunk of time in and around thanksgiving day writing out my thank you’s. It is amazing how odd it feels to actually write with pen and paper. These notes are a small labor of love.. I’m glad to be healthy and able to be able to take the time and express my gratitude.

This thanksgiving day, I feel especially aware of how privileged I am to have the life I have. It is unlikely I will ever understand the true extent to which I have been experienced privilege. I do try though. And, even if I will never succeed completely, I am always blown away by the amount of hidden privilege within systems I have grown up in. As Paul Bernal suggested, with great privilege should come great humility. I’m hopeful I will continue to stay hungry, stay foolish and make all this privilege count.

On that note, I wish you a very happy thanksgiving. Thank you for reading my daily notes. Your attention means a lot – more than I can express.