I was tempted to write this post about someone I know perhaps this is some one we all know or someone like them, someone who has led a privileged life, full of opportunities I never had, full of protections I never dreamed of, full of safety nets that just didn’t exist in the neighborhood & family I grew up in. I was tempted to write about how irritating it is to see someone take for granted their position, or how further infuriating it is when they are oblivious to the truth of their privilege. How peeved I can get when the same person acts as if they’ve struggled. To compare themselves to those who have truly had to scramble and scrap for every tiny victory in life. True as those things may be for that person, those people, this post is instead about me. I may not have grown up in a stable home, with college tuition bought and paid for, with a gate around my neighborhood and no way for the harsher realities of life to scale the fence and force themselves on my innocence. I may not have had most things handed to me, I may not have had it easy or as easy as I presume this princess has. However I did grow up with privilege. Privilege I wasn’t even aware of, may not have ever even noticed if my own life choices didn’t knock down those walls and let the bright light of truth shine on my heart.
The most obvious and jarring example of my privilege came from something completely innocuous. A trip to my local grocery store. This was right when I was first getting clean. I had recently moved from staying with a friend, who had decided sobriety wasn’t for her and subsequently overdosed. Her death a strong reminder that even the most beautiful and privileged still have to face their choices and their maker eventually. I was renting a room in a neighborhood that was unfamiliar and far from the glittering streets of Hollywood, the population significantly not white. I wasn’t concerned. Again, another example of my own narrow view of the world. Why would anyone mess with me? I was just a white girl living in a black neighborhood. My rights could not even be questioned, they were not even questionable. (Gawd, I was grossly oblivious. Who’s the princess now?) There I was at the grocery, a big chain store, a chain I had frequented regularly. I did my shopping, I took my items to the front and stood in line. It was right after work, probably around 6pm. There were a lot of other shopper grabbing last-minute items for dinner, or a six-pack after a long day. Only a few cashiers working the open registers and the obligatory bag boys and store manager up front. The lines were long at each of the check stands so I picked one and got in line.
I can say quite frankly and truthfully not with a bit of conceit, that I am used to getting looked at. It’s been a part of me since I hit puberty. People tend to look me over, both male and female. I have grown accustomed to it, the lingering male stares and obvious female contempt. I try to ignore it and am usually successful, however this was different. These were not, “hey now how youuuu doing” looks these were “what are youuuu doing here” looks. These were questions behind suspicious eyes. These were boring into me, forcing me to straighten and take inventory of my surroundings. That’s when it hit me. I was the only person of non-color in sight, quite possibly in the entire store. My fair skin and flaxen hair an alarm ringing silently but still signalling those around me that there was something out-of-place within this scene.
I felt obviously different, I felt immediately alone, I felt alien and though I was not afraid, I was definitely aware. I was aware that no face looked like mine. Not that I didn’t belong but that I couldn’t relate. That there was some intangible difference. Now I will not say that because of this experience I know what it feels like to be a person of color, a racial minority. Because I will never know that, would never claim that. What I glimpsed for a brief moment is that feeling of minority and I could empathize with the momentous impact that feeling could inflict if I were to face it, oh everyday from birth on. What that feeling might be able to twist and scar on my soul and psyche if I were to rarely see a similar face in a store or magazine or TV show or doll or classroom. How that feeling could weigh me down, change my life, my rights, if it were inescapable. I knew that as soon as I walked outside I would be back in the regular world where my word could and possibly would be taken above others merely because of the same skin tone that was making me feel out-of-place in that store. It was a privilege and nothing I had done deserved it.
That moment sticks with me. It haunts me. Lately we hear so much about race, racism, white privilege, etc. It hurts me that so many are unwilling, often unable to see past their own narrow view. So deathly afraid to forfeit their undeserved, unearned privilege so that others may have a chance to rise up to their overdue equality. I may be a Princess, albeit a former drug addicted, lower middle class, non-college graduating princess but this Princess is peeved. Peeved that it took me nearly 30 years to see that I am privileged by the color of my skin, or lack thereof. Peeved that this is still an issue today.
I know that racism exists, I believe that we are all in some small way occasionally racist. Maybe not in the overt ways of the past, not the separate fountains and seats on the bus ways. These days its quieter, more personal ways. It’s evident in the rhetoric used to speak towards the rights of those that are marginalized. It’s part of our cultures. It’s part of our society. Maybe if we can start to see that it does exist, to admit that we all have felt superior to another based on nothing they have shown and only what we suppose, we can start to undo the barriers that divide us. Will it change overnight? Doubtful. Can it change? Absolutely. So today I call all the Princesses (& Princes!) to get peeved. To stop allowing any person to feel alone, alien or different. Talk to your kids, your family members, your friends about race, gender roles, sexuality, chauvinism, feminism, about privileges earned and unearned. Let others speak and listen. Share your stories with each other so that we can all relate. Stand up to those who claim these things do not exist, not with fighting and anger but with acceptance and love. Forgiveness is the strongest weapon we have to fight the past and I’ve never been afraid of a fight, so let’s get on with it.