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Coming home to realize a new kind of privilege

By Emily Robinson

Check your American privilege. Pretty intimidating, right? Almost offensive, even.

No one wants to be told they are privileged, it can feel like an attack. I know I am given different opportunities because of the way I look and because of what I have – but I’m not rich. I’m not spoiled. I know loss and I work hard for everything I have. I work two jobs so I can pay my bills. I’m not privileged in the sense that everything gets handed to me without reason or hard work, like some of the friends with whom I’ve grown up.

Recently, I was standing in line at Marshalls and looking at all the crap they try to sell you while you’re trapped in the checkout line. I thought of Sneha Chettri, a 10-year-old girl who lives at the 13th kilometer marker in Kalimpong, India.

She’s beautiful, she’s caring and she’s full of love.

After staying in her home for two days, she tried to give me the only headband she owns and wears every day.

Each morning, she wakes up and walks down 800 stairs to school, and up those same 800 to get home. She is one of the smartest and top-performing students in her class, and she wants to be a history teacher someday. Her bed has no mattress, and the few pieces of clothing she owns have grown tattered. Yet, she wanted to give me her headband.

Her home is colorful and well-kept. The kitchen is a separate building from the bathroom, which is a separate building from the three bedrooms, which is a separate building from where they eat dinner. When the power goes out, as it often does, the entire family continues to prepare dinner by a single candle, cooking outside before sitting on the kitchen floor to eat.

Standing in line at Marshalls, looking at iPhone 6 Plus Cases with ironic one-liners and cheeseburger cartoons on them, I thought of Sneha, walking up and down 800 stairs to get to school.

Put her in this Marshalls. Show her this department store. Give her a bike, an iPad, a badminton set that isn’t broken like the one she has and loves anyway. How might she react? The look on her face when she was given a new jump-rope was indescribable.

This is privilege. Going to Marshalls is privilege. Owning a car is privilege. Getting water from a bubbler, getting on a bus to go to school, having access to tampons, turning the heat up at home, taking a long hot shower when your sinuses are clogged – all of this is privilege.

Privilege is having what others do not. Privilege is being rich in America, or being poor in America. It’s having opportunities others do not simply because of how you look or where you live. It’s walking into an air-conditioned Target and picking out pretty produce or nicely boxed cereals and placing them in those clean, red shopping carts.

It’s being white in a society that values whiteness over colored skin. It’s being a man and automatically getting paid more because of what’s between his legs. It’s being able to use public bathrooms and not having to worry about being kicked out or assaulted in them.

Privilege is shopping the iPhone cases in the checkout line of Marshalls and having the opportunity to have met Sneha.

No one is asking you to feel bad about your privilege or to be sorry for it, but you should be aware of it. If your name is Eric, know that you have a better chance of being hired than D’quan, and if you’re impulse-buying a cheesy case for your phone that’s worth several hundred dollars, know you have it better off than others. This isn’t supposed to make you feel bad about something you can’t help, like the color of your skin or where you come from, but to ask you to check your privilege, to be aware, give back and be the change you want to see. If you don’t, who will?


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