Privilege is a funny word. It gets thrown around a lot these days but few people I’ve met seem to really understand what it means.
People seem to think privilege means ‘no problems ever!’ when in reality it means that you simply started out in a better place than some other people. It means certain oppressions and constrictions don’t apply to you.
So it’s possible to poor and still have something like white privilege. I’ve heard the word tossed around our blogopshere a few times, but it seems there’s a certain resistence to exploring it. Well, today I’m taking it there. Today I want to talk about the privilege I have despite being pretty broke.
I’ve come a long way from my low point in 2014. When I first got serious about personal finance, I had $18,000 left in student loan debt and was making roughly $900 a month. Today I’m debt free and have a tiny amount of money in investments. I’m starting my own freelance business in a few weeks. I’ve achieved certain dreams and re- shaped others.
And I’ve worked hard to get here. Really, really hard. But my privilege has been with me every step of the way.
My privilege looks like this: I am able bodied and healthy. I am educated, debt-free, and currently earning money. I am cis gendered. I am white-passing. I speak unaccented English. I come from a family that is certainly not rich, but is stable and successful enough to provide me with some safety net should I ever need it. I live with good people in a beautiful home for a reasonable price. I have a car. I have access to fresh food.
I started off in a much better place than most people on the entire planet. That’s a humbling thought. Owning a car means I can look for jobs within a wider range of the city than someone who is taking the bus or riding a bike. Being white means people don’t apply racist standards to me. Eating healthy food means I rely less on doctors and have more energy to put into my life. These are all benefits of my privilege, not of my hard work.
Yes, I’ve worked hard to achieve what I have. Yes, I will continue to work hard. Yes, I will go through tough times. Yes, I will struggle. Those things do not erase the fact that I was born with a symbolic silver spoon in my mouth.
It’s so easy to write off your privilege. Most privilege is invisble to those that have it. I’ve always had car access- it’s legitimately hard for me to imagine someone being dependent on public transportation. Yet that’s the reality for millions of people! You have to get outside of your privilege and your world view to truly understand how blessed you may be.
To some degree, I do think that complaining or wallowing is fine. My problems are not the worst in the world but they are still problems. That’s ok to acknowledge. It’s fine to feel down sometimes and it’s fine to feel jealous of others.
What’s not fine is staying in those feelings indefinitely. It’s not ok to make those the lenses through which I view my life. Only seeing how busy or tired I am is denying how happy and privileged I am. These things don’t exist in a vacuum: I am both happy and tired sometimes. I am busy and still privileged.
It’s good for me to remember this. It’s even more helpful to say it out loud (or write it on the internet.) We shouldn’t be afraid of talking about how different people face different challenges. Being a black woman is different from being a white woman. Being in a wheelchair is different from being able to use your legs.
When we ignore that people have different life experiences, we get further away from finding an answer, not closer. So today, I want to encourage everyone to think about their own privileges. And I want to further encourage people to not be afraid to discuss them in your personal lives.
Kara Perez is the original founder of From Frugal To Free. She is a money expert, speaker and founder of Bravely Go, a feminist financial education company. Her work has been featured on NPR, Business Insider, Forbes, and Elite Daily.
26 Replies to “The Privilege I Have Despite Being Broke”
You know I love this. 🙂 I am starting to wonder if people see privilege as black or white, as in you either have it or you don’t. So you see some uber wealthy person, think, “That person clearly has more than me!” and conclude that therefore you don’t have privilege, which is just silly. It’s really more like a continuum, and clearly there’s always someone with more of it and less of it than any of us. Just having gone to college at all is a huge privilege that often goes unacknowledged by those who have it!
Perspective is so huge when it comes to privilege. It’s amazing how hard it is to get out of our own experiences. I started writing this months ago and the recent twitter discussion got me excited to finish it. I think expanding the conversation will help!
Perspective seems to play such a huge part in everything!
Recognizing privilege can be hard though, especially if you’re not the type to sit back and be thankful for things. If you can’t be thankful for what you have, you definitely aren’t going to recognize any of the privilege that comes along with it. I’m privileged and thankful to not be laid off in the biggest industry downturn in a generation. There’s a lot of privilege I have that I probably don’t acknowledge even if I’m taking an introspective look. Like you said, it’s probably invisible and I’ve just taken it for granted.
Funny you mentioned speaking unaccented English. When I was a server in KY, I had numerous tables ask me where I was from (it was a college town, lots of transplants) and when I’d reply, “Oh, I grew up here.” They’d always get a puzzled look on their face and say, “Well you don’t sound like it…” Hahahaha It took a lot of work to get rid of my drawl, let me tell you. 🙂
Accents of any kind come with a whole lot of baggage! I get that a lot when I tell people i’m from the Boston area (I actually pronounce my r’s!) I think your point about introspection is good. It’s hard to look inside- but important!
So true Kara. It all comes down to finding gratitude with whatever situation you are in currently. Just being born in this country alone…that means that we have more opportunities than a good majority of the world. Sometimes it’s hard to keep that in focus when we are dealing with our own stuff.
It’s so difficult to separate problems from your privilege. Privilege doesn’t mean perfection, and it’s not the golden ticket to a happy life. I know I certainly complain about my position often! But you’re right- globally speaking, we are so far ahead of the curve, and it’s so important to take 5 and look at it that way.
This is a really interesting post and I’m glad that you put it out there. I was worried when I read the title that I was going to read the same type of rant about how someone is not privileged when they work hard for what they have or that their family struggled and they resent being called privileged. But you’re absolutely right that being privileged is not the opposite of working hard, nor are the two mutually exclusive, and that is so important to remember particularly when it comes down to pieces of our identity.
In many ways it is much easier to talk about the ways in which you are oppressed than the ways in which you have privilege – that’s where we get the retorts from those white people who want us to know that they are not wealthy and resent being called privileged. I think you hit the nail on the head that privilege is mostly invisible to those who have it, in that you never have to think about the pieces of your identity that you don’t struggle with, and I appreciate that you brought it to the forefront in your post and challenged people to think about it.
Thanks Katy! I’m touched by your comment. I know exactly what kind of article you thought this was going to be, and I also dislike those. I’d love to hear from more people about their privilege, because it is a multi-faceted thing and affects so much more than just our budgets.
I literally JUST blogged this morning about the financial privileges I’ve had (http://nzmuse.com/2016/05/financial-privileges-havent/)!
For me a huge one was the environment I grew up in. But probably the one I’m most grateful for is escaping the student debt trap.
We share some of the same ones! I hate to admit it, but being white and college educated in the US have been huge boons to my adult life. I wish we lived in a more equal society- until then, we can at least admit the deck has been stacked.
This is a great topic to discuss. Thank you for bringing it up. I know I am extremely privileged, but often take it for granted. It is a good reminder to take some time to think about every so often.
Thanks for reading. I was a little nervous when I hit publish, but the response has been so positive! Thanks for your kind words.
This is a truly awesome thought-provoking post! Most of us do forget that we are privileged in some way or another. I believe that privilege could be anything from having a good education to excellent health or having a wonderful family. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in relation to wealth. I agree that so many of us take so many aspects of our lives for granted, so thank you for this wonderful reminder Kara! – Mrs. FE
Thanks for reading! Your examples of privilege are also spot on in my opinion. Privilege takes many forms, and it’s good to look around once in awhile and acknowledge them!
[…] talks about the privileges we enjoy even if we’re broke, and how everyone does not operate on a level playing […]
[…] talks about the privileges we enjoy even if we’re broke, and how everyone does not operate on a level playing […]
Love this post! You’re right in saying that it’s largely invisible if you have it. Many times our privilege is someone else’s doing or luck of the draw, and we take it for granted. I am certainly very privileged. Growing up in a middle-class, 2-parent home that was physically and emotionally pretty healthy? Check! Parents who made me do my homework and cared about my education? Check! An entire group of family and friends who supported me and spoke positivity into my life growing up? Check! No abuse/violence/addiction in my household? Check! Food to eat and and a bed to sleep in? Check! Anyone who has had that type of childhood is usually unaware of how fortunate they are, and I certainly didn’t until I was much older. I interact with young kids now at have so much working against them that it’s a miracle that anyone breaks away from it. It takes so much more effort to make good grades, for example, when you’re not sure where your next meal is coming from or if your mom is going to be passed out when you get home. I consider myself extremely privileged even though I was not savvy enough to recognize it when I was younger. Thank you for bringing this to the forefront. Great job!
Those are all great examples of invisible privilege. So few people ever take the time to acknowledge those types of things are privilege. I think having the conversation, whether it’s online here, or in real life, is so important. Thanks for reading!
Thanks for this great reminder! We really don’t think or talk enough about the ways in which we are privileged enough. But when you do, it’s so much easier to appreciate where other people come from, and humbling to think about how much harder they had to work to get where they are today. I also believe that being aware of one’s privilege leads to more compassion.
I agree about the compassion. You start to see people not as a mass, but as individuals each fighting their own battle.
It is always refreshing to see other PF bloggers acknowledging these things. It is so vital. The reason I am able to run my LLC is due to immense privilege. I was able to rent a really cheap office because I do not have a disability that precludes me from walking up the stairs in the building with no elevator. I would pay double for an ADA-compliant space. Double would break my business. This is just one of my many privileges.
It’s such an important topic! Glad you read it and liked it.
[…] than women), or their parents float them the start up cash they need. I’ve spoken about my own privilege, and that certainly plays into my ability to go after this freelance […]
[…] employees- these are the people that don’t have the time for frugality. My having it is just another iteration of my privilege, and I wanted to take a second to talk about […]
I don’t know you Kara, but I really like you and the fact that you’re so open minded about what’s going on. I’m a Black woman and have had discussions on White privilege with others, but the first thing that I always tell them is that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and that it’s something that’s there due to no fault of their own. I hope my daughters can grow to be as hardworking and as smart as you are. By the way, I heard your story on His and Her Money. Thanks for being you and others could lear much from you.
Thank you so much Michelle! I’m glad you found your way to my little blog. White privilege is a fact, but I agree- being ashamed of it doesn’t do anyone any good. Be aware of it, and use it to do good in the world. Thank you for your kind words- I’m sure with a mom like you your daughters will grow up to be wonderful women!