“Honestly, as someone who falls into most of the neutral terms Thais listed such as ‘preppy, loves Chobani Greek yogurt, upper-class, frequents the Plex, wears Lululemon, J. Crew and Tory Burch’, I’ll say that this is the way I choose to live my life—and rightfully so.”
– “Thoughts on (Coincidentally) Fitting the Stereotype” by Tahira Benjamin
“So stop making me feel like I’ve done something wrong. Stop making me feel like I am less deserving. I didn’t ask to be born into this kind of circumstance and I’m tired of being judged for it… Your situation doesn’t change my situation. I am responsible and fortunate for the resources I have. I’ll respect your background if you respect mine.”
– “Being Privileged is Not a Choice, So Stop Hating Me For It” by Kate Menendez
In the past few weeks, there have been several articles lashing out against the hardships people face for being judged as preppy, entitled, and expensively dressed. It is wrong, these protesters cry, to make others feel guilty for the privilege they have been born into and continue to enjoy. They demand mutual respect regardless of socioeconomic background and are sick of being lambasted for something they insist is out of their control.
Being privileged, in whatever area it may be, is certainly not always a choice. A white male does not choose to be born Caucasian with an XY chromosome; however, it inevitably affords him more opportunities because of the systems in place in our society. As a beneficiary of inequitable systems of race, class, and education, being appreciative for these advantages is not enough. While others’ observations about my privilege have sometimes caused me to be defensive or taken aback, I have never felt victimized. Because I am not a victim, and they are right. We have a problem in our country and in our world; as Italian leftist priest Lorenzo Milani once noted, “Americans are so enamored with freedom that they are willing to tolerate huge amounts of inequality for its sake.”
I am not insisting that everyone must sell all their belongings and save the world, nor am I arguing for a communist America. However, the current gap between the rich and poor in America is historically unprecedented, and change is imperative. Since 2000, the number of Americans on food stamps has increased from 17 million to 47 million people. The United States has the fourth highest income equality among developed countries. Rates of unemployment for low-income families have topped 21%. Not only does this mean many people are struggling daily to survive on limited means, but it also will also greatly affect America’s ability to be globally competitive for the sustainable future.
With this in mind, a look at current reforms in public policy in poor communities makes it clear that bringing people out of poverty, although difficult, is very feasible. Every single American citizen has an effect on how, when, where, and if these actions will be taken to change the alienation of the wealthy and the impoverished, whether it is through voting, advocating for change, donating, volunteering, or self-educating.
At the end of the day, the most important thing to realize is that contrary to Kate Menendez’s insistence that “Your situation doesn’t change my situation,” and Tahira Benjamin’s assertion that her lifestyle is her prerogative, we all have a significant effect on our fellow Americans through our choices, an effect that is magnified if we are privileged. It is irresponsible, ignorant, and naïve to determinedly disregard the advantages we benefit from, as well as the power and obligations they give us. The sooner we can acknowledge that vast inequity, the sooner we can do something to fix it.