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September 2009

privilege meme: owning it or bragging about it?


Generally I like memes because, like most people, I like to talk about myself and show the world how unique and cool I am. Uh, yeah. With this one, which has been making the rounds under the name "privilege meme," it had to say whether it's a way of making people think about their place in the world, or just brag about it. I suppose, like most things, it's more about what you get out of it than what it is in itself. For the record, let me place myself in the matrix: female, cisgender, straight, white, well-educated (graduate school), lower middle class but intellectual upbringing, currently poor. I say cisgender, but I'm not conventionally feminine. I've always been what used to be called a tomboy; I don't wear dresses much, except when it's hot. I like powertools.

I have to say that some of the statements are so simplistic that they're not really revealing of much but the compilers' own prejudices. The first five, for instance, presume that book larning is the only kind of valuable intelligence. When the wires in my house are sparkin', or my car (the one I don't own; or the one my dad fixed) needs fixin, not so much'. Both of my folks were also widely and deeply literate and could hold their own with most historians I know. My mother had a great grasp of biblical history and a keen, experiential grasp of feminist theory. My dad knew the history of the Civil War inside and out.

Some of these statements are clearly about class, but show a lack of understanding of the difference between urban and rural working and middle class, and how the size of a family effects their spending power and class. Since I was the only child (and my mother was a masterful penny pincher), we had a 3 bedroom/2 bath ranch  we bought at foreclosure prices. I had my own bedroom as a matter of course until my grandmother moved in with us for a couple of years. The lessons I had were not like Suzuki violin lessons; they were tap and ballet with a boozy ballet mistress and ceramics with a local mom. Believe me, ABT this wasn't. The family vacations in which I stayed in hotels were religious conventions in big cities. That original art? My mother painted it.

My education was paid for entirely by my parents and by scholarships and grants. They probably could have paid for all of it, but that's because education didn't used to cost as much as second home or a new BMW every year.

1. Father went to college
2. Father finished college
3. Mother went to college
4. Mother finished college
5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor
6. Were the same or higher social class than your high school teachers (this is laughable when the starting salary for HS teachers was $22,000.)
7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home
8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
9. Were read children's books by a parent
10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18 (dance, ceramics)
12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively (not the working class half of my upbringing, or the tomboyish female, but the nice white girl is).
13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18 (please; hardly anyone had a credit card before I turned 18)
14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs
15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
16. Went to a private high school
17. Went to summer camp (once, with my cousin; once for yearbook camp. I lived in the woods).
18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18
19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels
20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18.
21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
22. There was original art in your house when you were a child (because we made it)
23. Had a phone in your room before you turned 18 (one of two phones in the house; now every kid in every family has a cell phone; how is this comparable?)
24. You and your family lived in a single family house (there were only single family houses in my geographic area; some of them were dumps with no indoor plumbing)
25. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home
26. You had your own room as a child (I was the only child)
27. Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course (didn't even exist when I went to school)
28. Had your own TV in your room in High School
29. Owned (an investment) in High School or College (does a coin collection count?)
30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
32. Went on more than one cruise with your family (When I was growing up, a cruise involved the QE2; that's a very small demographic.)
33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up (once or twice a year, when we got to a city big enough to have them)
34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family
35. I am for the most part healthy and have no significant disability.
36. I have been born into a gender which I am comfortable with.
37. My sexuality is viewed positively in the media and by the majority of my society.
38. My sexuality is not visible to others just by looking at me. (Many of the people I meet think I'm a dyke, when I'm not).
39. My peer group is represented positively in the media and embraced positively by the majority of society. (I'm not sure who my peer group is. I have a rich variety of friends and we all pride ourselves on not being like the other kids. So which peers are we talking about? My lesbian feminist peers? My female non-feminist peers? My male age peers? My queer age and class peers? My younger peers? My older peers? My black peers? My white peers? My Hispanic peers? My educated peers? My class peers? And which class? The one I grew up in, or the one I fell into? Is my peer group who I consider my peers, or who others consider my peers?)
40. My ethnic group is represented positively in the media and rarely stigmatized or stereotyped.
41. The language spoken by teachers in school was the same language as that I spoke with my family at home. (My dad spoke German, too, but not to me.)
42. My parents and teachers took it for granted that I would attend university. (well, my parents did, but not my counselors. And my dad got on board that kinda late.)
43. Any money I earned at part-time jobs before I turned 18 was mine to keep or put towards my education. (There were part-time jobs?)
44. I know what my family's genetic history is. (Sorta. What's that mean? And what does it signify?)
45. When people see me with my parents, they assume we're related.
46. I graduated from college or university with no debt. (by dumb luck and intelligence)
47. During college or university, I could use income from part-time jobs to supplement my spending money (rather than for tuition, books, or living expenses). (Again, because college didn't used to cost an arm and a leg.)

These are all factors to think about, but none of them are definitive of privilege singly or as a whole. Privilege, like humanity itself, whether talking about sexuality, gender identity, class, or anything else that doesn't involve actual genetics, is a spectrum.

Year Eight: Going on

9-11Moi     the way of it

the old grow older
their bodies betray them
the young meet
senseless, untimely ends
grief descends
in her crow’s plumage
to pick
living bones

and nothing stops

not even our own hearts
filled with ashes

© Lee Kottner, 2009

RIP, innocent victims.

Every now and then I catch myself at an intersection looking up and still expecting to see the Towers. I did this the other day when I was looking down Fifth Ave. from 19th Street, where they used to be clearly visible. No matter what goes up there to replace them, the sight is going to be jarring for a long time, as jarring as seeing nothing there. But eventually, it won't seem so wrong. Eventually, it'll be normal. Eventually, those of us who were living here that day will be gone and the event will be just another part of our city's history.

I wish we could erase the last eight years as easily as that memory. If 9/11 didn't change our city as much as we feared it would, eight years of the regime that was then in power certainly changed our country, and not in a good way. What terrorists couldn't do (wreck us financially), our own unchecked, unregulated, unpunished greed did. When the world stood by us in our tragedy, the Bushies turned it against us with an unprovoked war and aggression. if our own fear in the aftermath didn't turn the city into a high-security, civil rights hell, the propaganda of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney scared the rest of the country into surrendering their right to privacy, protections against unlawful search and seizures, and free speech. Worst of all, when few New Yorkers I knew then wanted us to rush in and kill anyone else in retaliation, the Bush regime led us into being not just retaliatory, eye for an eye killers, but worse, torturers. Mean policies from small, power-hungry men.

Like Pearl Harbor, the attack on the Twin Towers could have been a moment to bring not just U.S. citizens but the world together in common cause. Instead, it was used to divide us, to push forward the personal paranoia, single-minded greed, and power hunger of a minority of arrogant bastards who thought (and still think) they were above the law.

It wasn't an attack from outside that really hurt us, though it killed nearly 3,000 innocent people. it was the machinations of the enemy within that has made us so much less than we were and given voice to our own brand of extremism. And that's how the terrorists win.

save the public option

RadicalMoiWrite letters. Email the President. Spread this video around. The insurance companies will never offer you affordable insurance. If you're one of the lucky people who have employer-financed insurance and don't know how much private, self-purchased insurance costs these days, it's running between $400 and $600 a month for one person, like me. It's why I don't have any. If you have a family, it can run more than a thousand dollars a month with big deductibles. You think the insurance companies are going to pass up the chance to make that kind of money? No wonder they don't want competition from the federal government. Save the public option. Anything else is vastly inferior and will still leave millions uninsured and unable to afford either insurance or healthcare. Anything else is not a solution.