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Privilege and Identity

Porkchop's picture

I recognize and appreciate my privileges.  Sometimes I do not understand them, but I have learned to humbly and guiltily accept this reality.  At the airport, I am left untouched and unbothered.  People who look like me do not fear being killed mercilessly by police officers.  I am white, so I escape racial discrimination.  I can only imagine the constant fear, isolation, and hatred felt by those living a life dictated by the color of their skin.  People cannot hide their appearance, the color of their skin, their ethnicity.

But I can hide.

It is strange to feel privileged because of my ability to hide from the world.  My so called faults are internal; I can choose to reveal them.  Through this I’ve learned that privilege brings guilt.  I am lucky enough that I can choose to wear my heart on my sleeve, therefore choosing when I will be spat on, pointed out by families, fired from my job, verbally harassed by extremists, physically attacked by bullies.  But not everyone who suffers from discrimination can easily sheath their identity.

From 10th grade until the summer after graduation, I worked at a small Jewish market in a very wealthy, upscale, ostentatious community.  For two years I worked alongside people from a variety of backgrounds and identities, namely African-American, gay, non-binary, and transgender. I worked with people who had never been to college and people who were in college.  Although we differed from each other in age, social class, race, sexual identity, and gender identity, these people became my closest friends and we shared some of the best memories together.  We would often get together outside of work, which made it easier to get along at work.  They knew about my personal life and knew that I identify as gay, and they confided in me about their lives as well.  We all accepted each other with open arms and bonded through our differences.  Initially, I thought that we got along because we were a band of misfits; I realized that our group was really a microcosm of the truest form of life, and that we were a crack in an upper-class, wealthy, pretentious bubble.

June Jordan addresses these differences in her narrative Report from the Bahamas.  Her experience helped her to notice the social differences between herself and the black women at the resort.  When I worked at the Coopermarket, I watched people treat my black and non-binary coworkers differently.  I witnessed a type of discrimination that I am privileged enough to avoid.  Like June Jordan’s experience, I found “my consciousness of race and clans and gender identity” by working with people who were so different than me, yet connected by our experiences as racial, sexual, and religious minorities (Jordan 41).

My sexuality is not a part of my physical identity, and people are often discriminated against for their appearance.  It is difficult to verbalize my feelings as a sexual minority; I constantly hear about the hateful reactions to homosexuality, but I am not constantly harassed with hateful reactions.  Although privilege is confusing, I learned from my experience.  By working with people and watching the way customers treated them because of their appearance, I learned to shut down my assumptions, whether I am noticing the way someone does their hair or the way they speak, or even the lack of anything noticeable to me.  Instead of assuming that someone has an easy life because of their physical appearance (race, gender), I learned that anyone can be a victim of some kind of discrimination.

The best way to connect with people who are different is to recognize that we all have vices and something to be discriminated for.  I bonded with people because we all face troubles from our identity, be it sexual, racial, religious, or gender.