It’s a beautiful Michigan summer morning, and as I sit behind our home with a view of the woods — thick with bunnies and squirrels and deer and such — I can almost ignore the fact that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, that thousands continue to protest racial violence and inequity across the nation.
I made myself a cup of tea and walked right outside, mindless of the fact that over 2 million in our nation are incarcerated — over 500,000 of whom who have not yet been convicted but are merely awaiting trial (Prison Policy Initiative) — and can’t escape their cells, let alone take a leisurely stroll out the door to enjoy some fresh air.
Back here, next to my lush garden from which I pick lettuce and kale each evening for my dinner salad, I can forget that 1 in 5 households with children aged 12 and under are experiencing food insecurity right now (Brookings).
Sitting in my air conditioned home by the river in the middle of a summer heat wave, I can forget that latest estimates (prior to Covid-19) suggest over 8,000 people were homeless in Michigan alone (United States Interagency Council on Homelessness) with well over half a million nation-wide.
This is what privilege looks like: me, sitting in my backyard on a Sunday morning, having the time to type words on my MacBook Air, listening to the birds, admiring my garden, virtually immune to harm.
Privilege looks like a refrigerator and freezer full of more food than my husband and I can eat in a week, a stockpile of pantry items, and enough toilet paper for the next two months.
Privilege looks like both of us having jobs that we enjoy doing, never having missed a day due to the pandemic, never having missed a paycheck.
Privilege looks like closets and drawers full of clothing and the ability to donate the items we are tired of, that no longer fit, that have a stain we can’t remove, that we never liked in the first place.
Privilege looks like discussions over whether or not we want to run out and pick up a gas grill one day this week, if it’s time we purchased a new car, if we want to get dinner from a restaurant or make it here at home.
Privilege looks like both of us having all the medications we need, the insurance to cover the majority of our medical costs, and high quality practitioners who we are able to see often the same day we call.
Privilege looks like watching Hamilton on Disney + on Friday night, scrolling through home improvement shows on TLC on Saturday afternoon, and bingeing on Netflix on Sunday night.
Privilege looks like a quick stop at Whole Foods on the way home from church, a dash into the library to grab the books I reserved online, and a Zoom call with the family.
Why do I have all of this privilege? Why am I so fortunate? I haven’t made all the right choices. I haven’t utilized all of my resources. I haven’t done my best and worked my hardest.
Sure, I went to school. I got good grades. I’ve pursued jobs in my field. I’ve been a mostly honest, law-abiding citizen. However, I have broken speeding laws, I’ve lied to my friends, I’ve parked in no parking zones, I’ve used work time for personal business, I’ve yelled at my kids and spanked them too hard. I’ve shot off my mouth more times than I care to admit — sometimes at authority, my bosses, my coworkers. And yet, I have a pretty comfortable life.
My missteps have not cost me my privilege. The system works for me. I have the presumption of innocence. I have the benefit of the doubt.
I’m a middle-aged white woman in America, and people assume things about me — that I can be trusted, that I’m reasonable, that I’m responsible.
Not everyone gets that. That’s why it’s a privilege.
And because I have privilege, I have a responsibility to speak up for those who do not.
And not just speak up, but act up — write blogs, upset family and friends with my questions and comments, step into awkward work situations, give money to those who need it, and protest. If I can do more, if my privilege affords me the opportunity to be an agent of change, a worker for justice, I’ve got to do that, too.
Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. And further, it doesn’t cost me my privilege. It costs some time, some comfort, and likely some money, but it doesn’t take away my ability to enjoy my backyard, to move freely in society, to live and breathe without fear that my life will be unexpectedly cut short due to racial violence.
Rather, speaking up — and acting up — for the sake of equity, for the sake of someone else having an opportunity to sit in the cool breeze of a summer morning, sipping tea and watching bunnies frolic in the grass, for the sake of another human being feeding her children and expecting that they will all live into adulthood, that — that just might make me more fully human.
How can I do otherwise?
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.Proverbs 31:8