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May 9, 2014 at 12:43 pm

I thought this was an illustrative response to the recent hubbub over the “Princeton Privileged Kid” rant.  I appreciated how she points out that privilege isn’t just getting benefits because of being white or male.  It’s also that, by virtue of the group you belong to, you don’t have to suffer crap that other people might.

“These benefits may be overt (getting paid more as a man) or they may be covert (being able to walk down a street alone at night without fear of violence).”


May 13, 2014 at 11:02 pm

I also liked this response.  This is the kind of thing I get so incredibly aggravated about, as do many other people, obviously, that I am overjoyed when someone can write a reasonable response that makes the point everyone wants to be made.

My favorite part of her letter was when she said that privilege may not come in the form of a positive, but in a LACK of negatives.  My mom works for the orphan Foundation of America and regularly hears the most horrible stories from her “kids”.  Those Negatives Violet Baudelaire talks about could stop anyone in their developmental tracks and condemn them to a life that is all struggle, beginning to end.  Throw in a some gender and race and other variants of the human condition and the chances of achieving anything above and beyond a daily hand to mouth life are slim.  Those kids work as hard or harder than anyone I know, and their histories are full of adversity, historic and personal.  So, when the Princeton guy opens his mouth to complain about anything, I want to shut it for him.

Not being able to see privilege is part of privilege.


May 29, 2014 at 9:26 am

Thanks AC for bringing up this topic.  In my social work training, I had to do a lot of work exploring my own privilege and it can be a really emotional topic, so much so that I think people often shy away from openly discussing it.

I agree with Violet Baudelaire’s basic definition of what privilege is.  She says “Privilege is when you get conscious or unconscious benefits from a demographic trait about yourself that you cannot control.”  It is easy to confuse the privilege we were born with with the hard work we do in our lives that leads to accomplishments like completing school, getting good jobs, and living in safe neighborhoods.  Someone who has worked extremely hard in their life is bound to feel defensive if they are assuming that their hard work is being disregarded just because they were a certain gender, color, sexual orientation or any other number of traits.  But it would be a lie to say that (for instance) being white, male, and of a certain income bracket does not afford one many conscious and unconscious benefits.

But beyond definitions, I think the most crucial aspect about privilege that she makes is that it is not personal!  If we get caught up in our labels of being privileged or underprivileged (and most of us are both, depending on the variety of demographic groups we belong to), we are so wrapped up in guilt, anger, and entitlement that we miss the whole point.  I have seen many conversations descend into a competition over who is more disempowered.  This is not a helpful conversation.  Defending or proving oneself distracts from the real work of changing the cultural and political systems that maintain benefits for certain groups and not others.

We are all psychologically healthier when our communities are healthier – all of our communities.  Remembering that privilege is created by institutions, legislation, and daily actions in our communities is the only way to begin to even things out.  One of our favorite parks is closed right now because they are rebuilding a perfectly beautiful playground to make it accessible for kids of all abilities.  They are raising funds from the general community to make these changes because whether everyone in the community has kids, or has kids with a disability, the community believes that all children should have a safe and accessible place to play.  It is MY privilege to live in that kind of community.


June 11, 2014 at 9:04 pm


This is such an important and difficult conversation to have. Thank you, AC, for your bravery in raising the topic and to all who have shared their perspectives. Talking about privilege is SO. DARN. HARD. I’ve actually avoided responding to this thread despite it being on my mind for a few weeks now.
As we all know, engaging with others around difference can be incredibly difficult. In fact, my family and I were with close friends this past weekend when the topic of privilege, in particular, privilege as it relates to class, came up. The conversation devolved so quickly, I was rather stunned. (And, I’m surprised I was surprised since this isn’t the first time discussing this topic with close people in my life hasn’t gone well!) Here I was thinking—these are educated people who come from similar circumstances as our own, and our thoughts on people, money and power are so completely different—dare I say opposed? And that’s what seems to happen. The topic comes up and it gets polarized. You’re either good or bad. Right or wrong. A have or a have not. Privilege is so very complex, so what happens that pulls us into the trap of black and white thinking? It seems like unconscious psychological “splitting” occurs when entering into such dangerous territory, thus, preventing us from seeing the whole complex picture. For example, the rich (e.g you) are all bad and the poor (e.g. me) are all good. Or is it the other way around? Depends on who you are talking to I guess. And, neither you nor I are either rich or poor, so what is happening in this conversation?
This is not the first time discussing class privilege with close friends or family has gotten hairy. As you said, Laney (and Violet), it is not personal. And yet it is personal. Talking about money, power, and the benefits that are inherent in being privileged is layered, multifaceted, and so complex. So, going back to Violet Baudelaire’s passionate letter—I’m reading and thinking, wow, she is very articulate and makes strong points (I was even swept up in her zest and silently rooting as the article went on), but is there a way to do it without yelling, and, to possibly even engage the “Princeton Kid” in a dialogue? How do we have an authentic and genuine conversation where we aren’t run by our psychological defenses? How can we make it safe enough to enter into scary territory? My initial thoughts are around figuring out what gets activated in people, thus, making the walls go up. Fast. It seems important to be able to know how the “other” (for lack of a better term) is feeling and where they are coming from, so connection becomes possible without attacking.
I still can’t figure out what happened a few nights ago nor in previous unsuccessful attempts at dialogue. What was obvious was that the discussion tapped into everyone’s vulnerabilities. Talking about privilege and oppression as it relates so immediately to each one of us is incredibly exposing and vulnerable. In particular, how people relate to their money and the benefits that come with their class status can be incredibly exposing. (Not to mention, class status and identity is fluid and ever-changing, making understanding one’s own identity, and, thus, having a point from which to embark- is a whole other challenge!) It seems like guilt, shame, envy, competition and other uncomfortable and deep emotions surface, when discussing differences, particularly ones that are so very value-laden. So, the accused and the accuser, driven by their own defenses, lock horns without either the awareness or the tools to work things out. The end result is feeling yuck. It also seems that when there is a stark mismatch in how we identify and how the world perceives us, we get somewhat lost or confused, angry, and defensive, resentful or prideful. Like the “Princeton Kid”. How bad is it to feel that someone is making you feel ashamed about something you are proud of? And, how bad is it to feel that someone is proud or entitled about something that negatively impacts others? And so on.
In my view, class is one of the most, if not the most, challenging difference to “touch”. No wonder it is taboo in our culture. How very frustrating since one’s class identity affects how a person moves through the world and how the world treats us every single day. Of course there are institutional reasons that create and maintain economic disparities, but since influencing or advocate for “change” can seem near impossible, it makes sense to me to depart from the place of the individual. And since, discussions about privilege feel personal and get personal, it seems so very important to find better ways to connect around difference, privilege and oppression. I wish I could offer up real ways to find points of entry, but I need to first continue to develop my understanding of what happens when we attempt to connect across difference.