Sara (sunsaralyn) wrote,

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Motherbrain: Check your privilege

I am on Tumblr, though not as commonly recently as I had been for a while.  Today on another site, I was reminded of something they say often on Tumblr. I will preface my post with two things: firstly, I understand their point.  I get what they're trying to say.  They're trying to say that often, in many parts of our country, things are radically different for someone who is different in specific ways. And that's true.  Not universally, but in places, it's true.  Secondly, this may offend some people, but it is not intended to offend. It's my rant about what "privilege" really means. 

Fifteen years ago (and yes, I had to stop and blink at that when I counted it up), when I was twenty-one, I went to West Africa for four weeks.  It was extremely difficult for me as a single woman, because that part of the continent is primarily Muslim, and I didn't have a family member who would take on the role a brother or father would in their culture.  We slept on floors, used toilets which were basically holes in the ground, drank bottled or purified water, and ate food very different from what we were used to.  We had no telephones, no music players, or anything like that.  However, we were the lucky ones. We were ferried from place to place, we always had something over our heads when we slept, we could pay for food, we could pay for a guide, we could pay for trinkets to take home to our families. If I as a woman wore pants (which I did not), the worst that would happen to me would be people stepping away from me, mentally labeling me as a woman of loose morals.  I was the privileged one. 

R linked me to an article a while back about a photographer in China who was doing a very interesting series of photographs.  He was taking pictures of families outside their houses, surrounded by pretty much everything they owned.  I stared at those pictures.  If we did that, there would be boxes of clothes that didn't fit, books we haven't read in years, appliances that no longer worked, etc.  It would take us forever to get the stuff out into the yard, and there probably would not be room for it.  However, most of these families stood there proudly, surrounded by their bed, their table, their precious things, perhaps one computer, and the few things they had.  It  probably took them less than half a day to get everything outside with appropriate help for lifting, and you could easily see their houses behind them, and the grass beneath them.  One family's yard was covered in yellow. R pointed out to me that it was ears of corn.  The family wanted to show off that they had enough corn to live through the winter, so they were extremely rich.  I was shattered.  I complain about what I eat. I whine when I don't get exactly the kind of dishsoap or laundry detergent I want.  Or when my favorite sugary drink isn't in stock.

I often forget what it meant to be so poor we lived on the 'payments' clients would give my father, which usually consisted of a half a side of beef, a few chickens, free rights to pick their berry bushes this season, or whatever they could offer.  I often forget what it meant to have to can or dry food or make huge batches of pasta or breads at a time, because that's when the food was available.  Or what it meant to limit any kind of entertainment to what we could invent, because our little television got basic channels, but nothing appropriate for children was on. And even as poor as my family was, we lived in a place where no one fussed at Dad for having such extremely strange beliefs politically or religiously. I went to school for sixteen years. I learned to read.  I learned to think. I learned to frame my arguments in a good way.  I learned history from a biased viewpoint, but I was allowed to find any other viewpoint I possibly could find and read it.  In fact, in many cases, I was encouraged to do so.  My father owned the guns he needed to hunt for meat (yes, it still  happens, and yes, we needed to do so to eat, many winters). 

I could go into a lot more, but I won't.  There are several reasons that I am a very privileged person.  However, none of these reasons is specifically because of my race, my gender, or my religion.  I am a Christian, a white woman.  In my state, non-Hispanics are now numerically a smaller percentage of the population than Hispanics.  That's fine.  However, when it costs my husband a promotion, or us the opportunity to get something like a small business loan or help in the time of need (all of which have happened to us personally), then it beocmes an issue.

I am a Christian. I am privileged in that a lot of the tenets of my religion are built into this society. However, as Christians, my children are not allowed to wear symbols of their faith or take any kind of religious paraphenalia into the school with them.  Many workplaces frown on and actively pressure people to steer clear of symbols and books of our faith.  This is not always the case with others.  I won't complain more about this, but if you notice, there can often be an interesting comparison when looked at objectively. 

I am a woman.  The main privilege I've got now as a woman, both socially and personally as I see it, is the fact that I am also a mother.  I am elligible for all sorts of bonuses and things because I've had babies and am rearing them. I have mixed feelings on that, but again, not the point.  I like to say that my children are some of the smartest, most polite, and best looking kids around.  I know I am extremely biased. If I'm not biased in their favor, though, who will be? It's just my role in their lives. I'm extremely proud of them, and they make me smile. Being a mother is a huge privilege.

Again, I say, I understand what these people are saying. However, their experience is far from universal, and in some cases, the pendulum starts to swing the other way, which helps no one.  I have to use the allusion that comes to mind:  take the log out of your own eye before trying to get the tiny speck of dust out of somone else's eye. Every person needs to check her own privilege and spend her time doing what she can to help those who are less privileged in any way.  That's the only way it will work. 

Tags: children, faith, motherbrain, motherhood, politics, race, religion, tumblr
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