Navigating Privilege

CATE O’BRIEN | OPINION COLUMNIST

You know what I’m tired of? People trying to calm me down by telling me that the actions of the government do not affect me. I know they don’t affect me. I’m white, middle class, moderately healthy and on my parents’ health insurance. Of course they don’t affect me. I’m privileged.

We hear that word a lot these days, but it’s a difficult concept and can sometimes be controversial and angering. Essentially privilege stems from the idea that life isn’t fair. Some people will have more money, more opportunities, and more respect in life simply because of the circumstances into which they were born. Being privileged doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It just means that the situation you are in isn’t fair to others.

Now, it isn’t necessarily natural for us to want to balance unfair situations if they lean in our favor. We want to do what’s best for ourselves. A lot of people I talk to say that they realize that life isn’t fair, but they have their own lives to worry about. Life isn’t fair, but that’s not their problem. I would argue that to an extent it is.

It’s not that everything needs to be completely balanced and fair. That’s just not possible. But we are part of something – a civilized democratic republic. Being part of something means both receiving and providing. We benefit from the roads, libraries, and universities of a civilized democratic republic. We’re proud of the accomplishments of individuals who are from our civilized democratic republic. And we therefore have a responsibility to address the basic needs of all of the people who are also part of this civilized democratic republic. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because when people have their basic needs met, they have room to grow into the best version of themselves. That could be anything from a game-changing scientist to an influential artist to president of the United States. I firmly believe that anybody can do incredible things if given the right situation. And when they are given the basic resources necessary to just live, we benefit from them just as much as they benefit from us. That’s what being part of something is – receiving and providing.

So why not take care of the basic needs of our fellow Americans? Isn’t that what government is for? Balancing our human nature; making sure that the self-serving survivalist in us will occasionally make room for whatever the “greater good” may be? What use is a government if it doesn’t do that?

So no, the actions of our current government don’t affect me, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be angry about them. We should all be angry about a government that isn’t doing its job, and frankly might not even be able to. If not for us, then for the country we are a part of.

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