I Have Privilege and You Do, Too

Every American has the privileges of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We all get the chance to try something.

Privilege is a word that is thrown around lightly these days, and surprisingly, is readily embraced by the very people that it intends to shame. We’re told we should be ashamed and sorry for having opportunities that supposedly are based on race, gender, or even zip code.

It wasn’t that long ago that privilege was considered a gift. Gifts are to be treasured. When we receive something special, we don’t hide it and pretend it does not exist, do we? We enjoy it, show gratitude, and even tell our friends.

Privilege is a word that makes people cringe. It sparks both shame and disgust on all sides.

But not anymore. Privilege is a word that makes people cringe. It sparks both shame and disgust on all sides.

The white American male is the current enemy du jour. So naturally, this would mean that all white American males are rich (with money given freely to them), live in massive homes (purchased with free money), drive luxury cars (again, free money), and probably received a 4-year scholarship to college (through no merit of their own). Does every white male you know fit this description?

You probably know white males who have been turned down for jobs, couldn’t afford college, didn’t graduate high school, can’t get a new car, and have terrible credit. You may even know white males who did have everything handed to them, and still ended up as miserable failures.

But wait: you probably also know black females who drive luxury cars, live in fabulous homes, earned a master’s degree, and have hefty bank accounts.

We can’t possibly know how either the white male or black female arrived at where they are. A few, indeed, benefit from the privilege of financial help. But all these people fit into one of four categories:

  1. They worked hard and succeeded
  2. They worked hard and failed
  3. They received help from someone and succeeded
  4. They received help from someone and failed

Gender and race do not make a person a success or a failure. It’s what they do with the circumstances they find themselves in that determine their future.

Black, white, brown, red, male, female. Some are blue collar workers, with two jobs and a used car, while others are wealthy CEOs with multiple homes and luxury cars. Some are friendly, some are hateful. Some are Christians, and some are agnostics. Some are racist and some are color-blind. Some eat meat and others are vegans. Some are naturally gifted, while others work hard to learn. Some are wonderful fathers and others are deadbeat dads. A few are Bill Gates, a few are Oprah Winfrey, while many will live an average existence, living paycheck to paycheck. Some will send their kids to college, and many will not. A few of their children will become wealthy CEOs with multiple homes and luxury cars, and many will not.

None of them can thank or blame their gender or race for their lifestyle. Some of the wealthy white males and wealthy black females will give their children a “hand up” and pass on their wealth and power. This is a good thing! And some of those children will soar, while others will squander it all away.

Some of those average black females and average white males will sacrifice and save to provide their children with every opportunity to succeed. This is a good thing! And some of those children will soar, while others will waste their gifts.

A simple look around you will prove that it’s not privilege that results in success or failure, it’s what you do. It’s how hard you work. Every so often, yes, it’s good luck. But even those who have good luck don’t always make the most of it. How many lottery winners, pop stars, or investment bankers lose millions and wind up in poverty in just a few years?

What many call privilege is really success that originated somewhere.

Many who are called privileged have received some kind of hand-up from their parents or grandparents. But somewhere back down that line, the parent or grandparent or great-grandparent had to achieve something to arrive at their success. They had to work hard, get a lucky break, or acquire the knowledge needed to succeed. What many call privilege is really success that originated somewhere.

Every human has the privilege of life. Every human has the privilege to feel the warmth of the sun on his or her skin.

Every American has the privileges of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We all get the chance to try something. Whether we want to grow apples, build computers, play basketball, or be the President, we all have that chance. Some will succeed, and some won’t. Some will try again, and others will give up quickly. A few won’t even try; they will sulk and whine and feel sorry for themselves. But hey! That’s their choice.

Who you are is chance. Who you become is up to you.

Let’s stop labeling people as privileged because of what they look like. Let’s stop hating success. Let’s stop taking on the false guilt that somehow makes us feel politically acceptable.

Let’s stop wearing the badge of guilt like some kind of martyr, and instead, be thankful for whatever gifts we have received.