-by Krista Taylor
What is privilege?
There exist in America two very separate worlds that rarely intertwine – the worlds of the haves and the have-nots. The difference between the two is privilege.
Privilege is the presence of a safety net. The distance between incidents of bad luck and ensuing devastation. Those with privilege can withstand problems, often without long-term consequences, because they can pay for the necessary health care; have the resources and education to find another job; have access to generational support to keep the bills paid when finances are tight; and can seek out services to help sustain through addiction, mental illness, or disability.
In America, anyone can ultimately become successful, but for some the pathway to achieving this success is smoother than it is for others.
I was a child of privilege. My pathway to success was made smoother by a number of factors outside of my control.
To start with, I am white. The fact that this makes things easier is something that we are often uncomfortable discussing, but this privilege of birth is one whose power I suspect I could only truly understand were it to be taken away. Suffice it to say that we live in a society where skin color continues to matter. Privilege, however, extends far beyond the gene pool.
My mother had good pre-natal healthcare, and therefore I was born without deficiencies or complications. I lived in a household full of books where I was regularly read to, and where I witnessed people reading often. I didn’t worry about having enough food, and my parents did not have to make difficult choices about the cost of food in relation to its nutritional value. I lived in a safe neighborhood where I had the freedom to independently explore the world for hours on end. My parents worked regular schedules, so I was consistently supervised outside of school hours.
Education was always treated in my household as something of critical importance. I was enrolled in high-performing schools, and therefore, I was surrounded by peers who had the same perspective about academic achievement that I did. Additionally, my family has college-graduates going back for multiple generations. Therefore, not only was there a powerful expectation that a college degree was a given for me, my parents had a clear understanding of how to make this happen.
Each of these things made my life a little easier, my success a little more guaranteed.
None of these benefits are things that I made happen. They are all things that occurred irrespective of my effort – that is privilege.
I was never truly hungry or malnourished.
I never worried about where I was going to sleep at night.
I was never unable to go outside because of safety concerns.
I never had changing, or absent, caregivers.
I never questioned the value of education.
I am privileged.
I know this because every day I work with students who do not have this same experience. Their road is a little harder; their success not as certain.
I believe that with my privilege comes the responsibility to work to even the playing field for others.
Those of us with privilege must seek opportunities to make the journey easier, to grease the wheels, to change the outcome. Acting on these opportunities will bring us one step closer to equality, one step closer to a nation where no one is born with the cards stacked against them, one step closer to the ideals upon which America was founded.
Eight months ago, as a result of being named the Hawkins Educator of the Year, I had a check for $10,000 placed in my hands. It is because of this philosophy of “paying back privilege” that I did not hesitate in handing the money over to the Gamble Montessori Foundation to support students in paying for some of the costs of our program.
It is profound to have the opportunity to potentially “change the outcome” for a child. If I can successfully do that for even just one, it will have been enough.
It is my opportunity to pay back privilege. I can’t imagine what greater gift I could give.