I was really going to try to make an effort not to write negatively (or “hate on” as this originally read) my parents for the rest of the semester. I have already hit my father pretty hard in my journal, and, honestly, my parents are getting me through one of the toughest transitions of my life. My parents are the best parents a person could ask for, so hope this does not come off as me hating them.
Quite honestly, this entry is not about my parents. Rather, it is about a conversation I had with my parents. To set the scene, I’ve been talking with my father a lot lately about pursuing a career in accounting. Although I have no experience in accounting I have access to a year long accelerated master’s degree program and could find a job after that. Although a job sounds nice, my goal in life (up until the real world started staring me in the face) has never been to get a job. My goal, instead, has been to make a difference (yes I am now realizing I could easily do both). As the two conflicting life goals pulled at each other, I asked my dad (jokingly, but perhaps seriously at the same time) if I could impose my “staunch liberal agenda,” on my my career. To my question, my father, a stubborn conservative, asked in a not-so-nice manner, “and what agenda is this?” Having been through a thousand of these conversations with my father at this point, I snapped back (quite stupidly), “the opposite of yours.”
Although I did not say it outright, my father knew what I meant. I was implying that his agenda is “the opposite” of anyone who cares about social justice’s agenda. My father glared at me for an eternally long moment before stating, “you’ll grow out of it.”
This statement has haunted me for about a week. Thus, I take this opportunity to dissect it, its meaning, and its implications.
First, I could tell my father meant it. He truly believed I would grow out of it. Perhaps, in his Jim Crow descendant manifestation of aversive racism he truly thought that since there is so much less overt racism (so much less racism, to him) left in the world, I would simply realize that my agenda was not practical or useful and I would move on to more important issues. My mother has referred to my social justice interests as my “Kumbaya phase.” I think, in this statement, my father has echoed that sentiment. Why would someone grow out of caring about the fixing one of the largest problems in the world? Does my father think I will get tired and give up? He knows that would never happen if I actually had set my mind to something. Dos he think the problem is unsolvable? Perhaps, but as a person who lived through the civil rights era, my father has seen so much growth in the status of minorities in America that he should honestly believe that anything is possible.
The conclusion I have come to is not one that is easy for me to accept, and one I hope will not ever actually come to fruition. The key term in white privilege is privilege. Privilege, in most cases, and certainly on a personal level, is usually considered better kept than lost. My father thinks that I will first find a job. Second, I will keep that job. Third, I will make money from that job, and, fourth, I will enjoy having the money from that job. That job will most likely be obtained through some form of white privilege.
As a twisted manifestation of the Protestant work (even though we’re Jewish), ethic combined with white privilege my father has predicted that once I have seen the benefits of my privilege I will not want to simply spend it on the benefits of other people. I will have important personal uses for my privilege, and, it will be too valuable to give up.
In some ways, my father is right that this could feasibly happen to a lot of people. Once someone fighting against the systematic privilege of our oppressive society feels the benefits of that privilege, it has to be exceedingly hard to give that privilege up. This is especially true when someone feels that he or she has earned that privilege. So, I pose this question: How do we stop people from growing out of it? The most important people to change are the biggest benefactors of privilege. In order to break this system, privilege, even “privilege earned” (and I stress the quotations) must be spent for the greater good, not kept for personal gain.