Seeing Yourself as Human When You Have Privilege

I just read this article by Jezebel Delilah X about growing up in an affluent, black family. She talks about how her teachers treated her differently in school, and encouraged her classmates to be more like her.

That sort of dynamic fuels a resentment that goes far deeper than jealousy; it fosters the fear of not belonging, not having enough, not being worthy of respect, not deserving of goodness. It’s a feeling of displacement, of loneliness, of failure. No one wants to feel that way, and as history has taught us time and time again, people will fight for their equality and dignity. Each time my classmates attacked me, that’s what they were doing: fighting against the injustice I represented to them. I received privileges and affirmations, not fully of my own merit, but because I represented a juxtaposition to the stereotype that was projected onto so many of my classmates. Though there were no white people around, there was still privilege present—class privilege—and I was the one who benefited from it.

She provides important insights as someone who straddles unorthodox societal lines (oppressed by race, but not by class, except when race acts as a stand in for class) however her article is missing one thing.

How did she feel? How did she feel? How did she feel?

She goes at lengths to humanize her classmates by exploring their feelings (“That sort of dynamic fuels a resentment” – “it fosters the fear of not belonging, not having enough, not being worthy ” -“It’s a feeling of displacement, of loneliness, of failure”) but I have no idea how she feels. She only references her own feelings once, and then only tangentially.

The quality for which I was culturally ostracized—talking “white”—provides me with access to money at the expense of other Black people.

It hurt me, and my classmates, so much as a child.

She spares only three words for herself alone “It hurt me.” That’s all we see of her emotional reality as a child – hurt. She was hurt. How was she hurt? What was this pain? OH MY GOD, IT IS SO IMPORTANT – what is this pain?

It’s a delicate point, because “underprivileged” groups of various sorts are also typically under-represented in media, so I understand the impulse to shed light on their experience if you are given a platform. However, any sort of deep appreciation of the subjective experience of another human will have to begin with a deep appreciation for your own.

It is telling how Jezebel X’s father comforted her after rejection by her peers:

I was about six years old, sitting on my father’s lap, crying about being bullied by my classmates—yet again. My father did his best to lovingly comfort me: he pulled out his bank statement and showed me the tens of thousands of dollars he had in savings.

“Baby,” he said. “Those kids are mean to you because they are jealous. You think their parents got this in the bank? No. Plus, you’re smart. Keep getting those grades and one day you’re going to be the one writing their paychecks, determining how much money they take home to their families, and deciding whether they should have a job or not.”

All his words of comfort centered around their family’s higher objective value than value of their peers because of their money and measurable intelligence (grades.) Jezabel X has recognized how much this objectification cost her peers, but has not discussed how much it cost *herself*. She is important because her experience is important, not because of her money and her intelligence. That she was bullied as a child is sad, not because she is “better” than those children, but because her subjective experiences *matters.*

We don’t really have space for people to talk about the pain their privilege has brought them, and this is a problem. That we don’t have a space is sort of understandable – people with privilege tend to use it to co-opt safe spaces (e.g. a meeting of issues for People of Color will become a discussion about white guilt) so they get kicked out – but still problematic. The heart of discrimination is objectification of the other, and objectification of others usually stems from objectification of the self. A large part of the objectification of women in society is because attractive women will enhance the status of a man who “has” her, but for a man to care about this status is to objectify himself. A man who derives his self worth from his wife’s bodacious breasts and large bank account has failed to see that the true jewel he carries is his own consciousness. Instead, he has fallen in love with things that carry no life.

How can he appreciate anyone else’s consciousness, someone else’s humanity, without first seeing his own?