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Saturday, January 23, 2010

This I Believe: It's Been a Privilege

I have been in a respectfully heated debate with a co-worker who stands at the opposing end of my political perspective.  He’s a hard core republican who actively participates in the civil process, writing letters to our public servants from mayors to governers for answers to questions.  I really admire his proactive approach. I tend to sit more left. Well, really left. I don't remember that last time I voted republican, if ever. 

Many times we have come to just disagree on most every political and probably philosophical topic.  But this week's conversation really lit my fire and I've been processing it over the past couple days.   

I've been trying to summarize our argument and where each of us stand on the topic, but really can't do it justice in the space that is allowed here.  But our conversation inspired me here to try and better convey why and how the notion of privilege 1.) not only exists, but 2.) our need to recognize that we, living in this time and place, is an absolute privilege.  

Thus, my argument is this (to which he will categorically disagree):

Some people are born with more advantages than others.  Some are born at a greater disadvantage than others.  The reality exists that there is an indisputable stratosphere of privilege levels. 

We cannot confuse the idea of privilege with the widely held (and I would argue naive) belief that all men are given equal opportunities to achieve success (however "success" is defined in the capitalistic America). This is not to be confused with all men are created equal - which I'm still on the fence about.  Take these examples of privilege: It is a privilege to be born in America, white, straight, a man.  It is a privilege to have access to clean water, fresh food, vehicles, a disposable income, clothes on our backs, roofs over our heads.  It is a privilege to have your health, gainful employment, access to uncensored free education and the right to vote.  Because the reality is, not everyone has even just one of these things.  

Case(s) in point: This week I went to National Geographic LIVE’s presentation of Mick Davis' lifelong adventure of documentary filmmaking in Africa.  He showed a variety of clips from a girl (15 years old?) who lives on her own in the slums of Johannesburg, South Africa, and walks 3 miles every day to school in a donated school uniform and one pair of shoes.  She eats one meal a day when she gets home.  Her father is absent and her mother is in a hospital bed dying of AIDS.  

He showed a clip of Congolese prisoners who has started a choir in the maximum security prison.  Many of the inmates were gang members, robbers, murders, rapist, and former soldiers from the civil war.  One kid in particular had survived beatings, stabbings, gunshots and a glass bottle to the face that scarred much of his face.  He wasn't even 18.  The fact that he was even alive seemed to be a small miracle.  His story was not unusual.

He showed clips of men, Congolese park rangers who have devoted their lives to defending the Congolese national forest from poachers, war lord, and looters.  They do all of it for little to no pay.  

These documentaries further emphasized this notion of privilege.  Half way around the world, people live lives at a level of destitution and poverty that we in America cannot even imagine.  People around the world live under such political oppression they take their lives into their own hands when they vote.   There are women in this world who live in the confines of patriarchal dominance exercised through abuse and intimidation tactics. There are children who forgo an education only to work in fields, on farms, and in factories to provide what little financial assistance they can. 

Right here in our own backyard we are witness to domestic violence, abandoned children, poverty, a growing obese and unhealthy population.  We are witness to subversive racism, homophobia, political apathy, and over consumption of material goods.  

I guess it’s hard to see when one has privilege until you go with out.  Until you are homeless you cannot truly grasp the comforts of home.  Until you are truly without food or water, can you really appreciate the meals that you eat.  Until you are sick, disabled or hurt can you really understand what a privilege it is to have your health.   

I will argue until my last day that there absolutely exists a system of privilege that permeates our global society.  I offer no solutions to level the field, nor do I necessarily believe that leveling the field is the best option for survival of the human race.  But I do wholeheartedly believe that we must acknowledge the system before we begin to make grounds towards creating societies that do not oppress, but uplift.  The more we do not recognize the hierarchy of privilege and continue to believe that we all have the same right, advantages, access to resources and opportunities the  longer we will continue to ignore reality that continues to oppress people.  The longer we refuse to acknowledge it, the longer we live blinded to the solutions that will fix a very broken world.

Phew, glad I got that off my chest...deep sigh..  


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