Sophomore Gabi Alvarado, who enjoys writing, will blog biweekly on the origins of her creativity and artistic vision.
Privilege. I have it. My classmates and teachers at Country Day have it. You, reader. You also have it.
Someone who is privileged is defined as having special rights, advantages or immunities. My classmates and I all are privileged, although all to different extents.
Some of my peers have parents with mansions, and I know that they have not had to (or will not have to) work for money to buy a luxury car. Their parents will give them one when the time comes.
Others have scholarships to Country Day. Their privilege is that they go to such a sheltered school, where there really is no violence. Their privilege is that they get to speak their mind in class, to a certain extent, without repercussions. At this school, freedom of thought and speech are encouraged and celebrated.
We also get to work in depth with our college counselors, and our teachers encourage us to excel academically and personally. If one of us hasn’t eaten breakfast, dean of students Ms. J will give us food and remind us to take better care of ourselves. If something in class is emotionally taxing, any of our teachers would let us leave the room for some fresh air.
Privilege isn’t inherently bad or good. While privilege may be unfair, it is not necessarily wrong. I think that what gives privilege a negative connotation is that ignorance typically comes with it.
And ignorance there is a lot of at Country Day.
What do I, or any of my peers, know about the struggle of immigrants as they cross through the perilous Sonoran Desert? What do we know about the struggle between pacifism and violence during the time of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X? What do we know about struggles of oppressed people against totalitarian governments in Third World countries? Maybe we know some facts, but none of us can say how it felt to do these things. So what qualifies to say anything definitively about these people, whom we know nothing about?
Many times we joke about others’ struggles in the classroom, or we disrespect our teachers or peers outside. Whenever I realize that we are neglecting the dignity of others, I try to say something and stop the conversation. But many times I have caught myself saying something, or I have realized only later that what I said was disgustingly unempathetic. I think this happens with many people, that they don’t think about what they say before they do. Part of living in such a privileged environment is trying to accept that if one of my peers says something offensive, they probably didn’t mean what they said, and that their comment really does not reflect their character.
There’s a certain boy in the high school whom I very much look up to, though I won’t ever admit it. He is an incredible student and does an insane number of extracurriculars, seemingly effortlessly. He can also be very kind and understanding, and at times I wish we were better friends.
But in my circle of friends, I am the only one who feels this way. He is very loud, and he often says extremely demoralizing things to us. I don’t fault my friends for holding a grudge, because forgiving someone who is bullying people close to you is really difficult. I admit that a lot of the time I get frustrated, and I sometimes fire something back at him, just to get him to be quiet.
Today, he said something that made fun of a teacher. It just so happened that he stereotyped the teacher in a way that encompassed me. I don’t think he realized it at the time, but I was genuinely hurt by his comment and I was angry at him. Then I thought about this poem I had written called “Humanity.” The first line of each couplet holds stereotypes, and the second shows the person beneath them. I thought of him, one of the most privileged people I know, in this poem, and I sympathized for him.
Privilege allows us to focus on the imposed outer shell of a person or situation and forget about the reality and complexity of the heart. Sometimes I get carried away with labels. Sometimes I am ignorant. I think the first step to overcoming that ignorance is to acknowledge it. The second is to embrace the idea that not everything is black and white, and that everyone is equal. One day, I hope I have enough compassion that I can see past all the facades we hide behind to the pure human behind them.
She’s a druggie, a smoker, and a dealer.
And a beloved sister.
He’s a cheater, a hater, and a bully.
And a beautiful brother.
She’s a slut, a whore, and a tramp.
And an invincible mother.
He’s a wimp, a gambler, and a catcaller.
And a steadfast father.
She’s a cripple, an outcast, and a freak.
And a daring cousin.
He’s a thief, a criminal, and a prisoner.
And a dearest uncle.
She’s a fighter, an alcoholic, and a waste.
And a fearless aunt.
He’s a killer, an abandoner, and a bum.
And our faithful soldier.
Can’t you remember them smiling at you with pride?
Can’t you remember the good times?
Don’t you know? That sister has her mother,
That brother has his father.
Don’t you know? That mother has her lover,
And so does the father.
Don’t you know? That cousin has her siblings,
That aunt has her child, and so does the uncle.
Who does that soldier have that hurts for him?
Who does he run to when we kick him to the curb?
When will we give him a place in our hearts?
When will we finally accept that he’s earned it?
—By Gabi Alvarado