It is a privilege for me to write this column. Privilege gives me the opportunity to express views and political ideologies that may not always be popular among readers of this paper. I acknowledge the privilege by researching solutions to today’s problems, and discussing options with others, including those who perhaps do not share my views. The simple fact that I can write these words, and that you can read them, is a privilege provided to us by our educational systems, by our families who support learning, and by our communities that allow us to interact with each other in ways that enrich our minds.
Privilege is a human construct that simultaneously unites and divides us. It is defined as a “special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” Privilege can be related to socioeconomic status, geographical region, ethnic or racial background, and religious beliefs. There are varying degrees of privilege within each of these categories. Often we do not even recognize what a privileged life we lead, and we take our privileges for granted without even knowing it. It may even be considered a privilege to be able to take these things for granted. I recently had a conversation with a custodian at an airport. He expressed appreciation for simply having another day on this Earth. He swept up the garbage with a smile. He said every day is a great day, and talked about rain being a blessing as well as the sun, and that we owe it all to God. To him, life itself is a privilege. He said having this life is more important to him than having money.
Money does give us privilege. Those who have grown up wealthy expect privileges that most of us do not even think of. They take first-class flights or maybe own their own planes. They eat filet mignon steaks and caviar without a thought about the money to pay for them. They expect white-glove service at fancy hotels, dress shops, and 5-star restaurants as they travel the world in style. Conversely, those with very little money may be privileged to simply have a warm bed to sleep in, shoes that keep their feet dry, a house to call home, and a cup of coffee in the morning. Many who grow up with less and work their way to a more privileged life often demand that others do the same, saying “I worked my butt off to get to this point and everyone else should to.” Just having the opportunity to have a job to make money is a privilege. Money buys us health care, gas for our cars, food for our families, and clothes on our backs. Having a winter coat and heat for our homes in the winter is a privilege that most of us take for granted.
Where we live is a privilege. Here in West Virginia, we have the privilege of waking up daily to landscapes of trees, rivers, and mountains that beautify our lives. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to go fishing or hunting for food. We may also have the privilege of a piece of land to cultivate a garden to grow fresh vegetables. We can go skiing on lovely snow-covered slopes. We are so fortunate to have such beauty in our state. We have the privilege of visiting pristine state parks, with ancient trees and crystal blue waters to enjoy. We have the advantage of clean air to breath and green grass between our toes.
Racial and cultural identities offer privileges to many. It is a privilege to fly a confederate flag, despite the racial controversies that surround it. The privileges offered to white people are ingrained within our society. It is a privilege to walk down the street without any consideration of our skin color. Racial privilege usually goes unnoticed, until we are in a position of no longer having these advantages. We are also privileged enough in America to be free to practice the religion of our choice. Many take for granted the ability to make judgements on others based on racial, religious, and cultural privileges.
Why discuss this concept of what a privileged life we lead? Privilege is power. We are exposed daily to the growing darkness of power that takes away necessary privileges for those who are less fortunate. Reduced environmental regulations destroys the privileges of enjoying clean water and the beautiful outdoors. Taking away funding for programs for the less fortunate denies privileges to needy people. Putting this power into the hands of the most privileged takes privileges away from others. We must consider how privileged we are. We must appreciate our privilege. We must not allow the power of privilege to overtake the basic privilege of life on this Earth. Those who are more privileged than others should recognize their advantages and rather than use them to the detriment of others, wield that power for the betterment of all.