When Life Gives You Protections: An Open Discussion on Privilege

by / 0 Comments / 133 View / November 26, 2014

It was a warm Wednesday afternoon when I fell in the middle of the street on my way to my statistics lecture.

As I made my way across the pristine campus bridges of the University of Michigan, my ears drowning in the hypnotic tunes of pop music and eyes clouded with quixotic daydreams about dining hall food and CVS coupons and holiday lights, I suddenly found myself stumbling forward, my lanky physique crashing to the hard concrete sidewalk with the grace of a rampaging African elephant. With Ellie Goulding still crooning like a canary in my ringing eardrums, I rose again, gathered my books and limped my wounded self to class.

Since my failed circus routine, my gashing cuts have been biologically sewed shut, the blood on my knees and elbow has dried and faded into nothing more than an embarrassing story to tell my future children, and my torn jacket has been patched up with a quick maneuvering of a needle and thread. Indeed, despite the physical pain I sustained from that afternoon, I consider myself healed. I consider myself to be privileged.

As Thanksgiving rolls around, the very definition of “thankful” is being stained by tense debates over race relations, police brutality and the pervasive force of xenophobia. With protests and violence flaring up throughout the country like a firecracker gone awry, the idea that we, as Americans, are supposed to be grateful for anything is slowly becoming an unattainable figment of our imaginations.

And while my grief for the aforementioned unrest and the communities impacted by it cannot be described in words, I still believe that as an Indian male of an economically stable background, I am socially protected by privileges that have been not earned, but bestowed upon me since the time of my birth.

As an Indian male, I never have to be afraid of the police or law enforcement as a result of the generally accepted stereotype that Indian males do not cause disruption. Because of my race, police officers and legal officials do not consider me to be a threat to society. This stereotype—nay, this protection—is not something I necessarily earned through community service or political activism. It is something that has travelled with me during the duration of my entire life, a birthmark stamped upon my forehead that allows me to roam the streets at night without having to carry pepper spray and enter a store without feeling that I am being placed under surveillance by those around me.

As an individual who has full control of his arms, legs and body, I am privileged in that I am able to stand up when I fall, that I am able to access buildings and facilities on the University of Michigan campus that others may not be able to.  As an individual who is free of medical conditions that may interfere or hinder other aspects of my daily lifestyle, I never have to worry about having a condition that requires extensive medical and monetary attention. I did not earn access to these facilities, and I certainly did not earn my health. It was a bonus prize of my biological makeup that is manifested my medical records, a gift that was unwrapped the moment I learned to walk, talk and function.

As an individual who attends the University of Michigan, I am privileged in that I am able to afford higher education and pursue my dream of becoming a pharmacist. As an individual who comes from an economically comfortable lifestyle, I am privileged in that I do not have to fret over obtaining work-study scholarships or Pell grants in order to call myself a college student. This privilege is hardly something I earned. Instead, it is something that can be credited to my parents, whose perseverance and hard work have granted me flexibility in my future. Because of my parents, I am able to have something that not every individual has.  And for that, I am not only fortunate, but grateful beyond words.

The list of privileges that govern my day-to-day life extends much further than the examples mentioned above. Between being able to write to never having to worry that others will doubt my intelligence based on skewed preconceptions of my identity, I am downright lucky. On a social, economic, political and biological level, I do not consider myself to be oppressed, limited or deterred by factors that are out of my control. As a result, I am able to pursue a “normal” life path and focus on my education without any external disruptions. This path was carved not by me, but by my external environment. And thus, I am blessed.

With so much discord permeating throughout the world, it is times like Thanksgiving that it is important to recognize the elements that allot us the same securities that many of us often take for granted. Of course, nobody wants to believe that we are privileged; as human beings, we are supposed to earn our comforts, because as far as we are concerned, earning is synonymous to having autonomy. But it is when we realize that not everyone can recover from a fall in the street that we come to value the vividly colorful palette that paints the portrait of our lives. It is when we take a step back and approach our endeavors with an open mind that we are able to take a step forward

So, despite the trauma and sadness that are raining down on our world, let us take the time to harness the clear waters of negativity and transform them into illuminating rays of sunlight. When life gives us protections you see, we have no option but to make progress

Happy Thanksgiving.