A Little Story About Privelege

I always like to start my day with some Starbucks. Yes, I know it might make me sound “basic”, but there’s nothing better than kicking off each morning by sitting in a quiet, air-conditioned cafe sipping the foam off a cappucino. Oh, and nomming on a scone (or 20).

Although many people probably share in some form of 8AM Starbuckery, there is one special feature of my morning ritual that I imagine is pretty unique to me. When I go into Starbucks, I like to be wearing my special “Starbucks hat”, a big novelty top hat that I bought at a gift shop once on a whim. I don’t know why, but it gives me a great sense of comfort to wear that hat when I drink coffee. It makes me feel like an 19th century gentleman, like George Bernard Shaw, and that feeling helps me think with a critical mind.

For a long time, I never really considered my eccentricity to be problematic. I figured it was a harmless little quirk. All the baristas at my local Starbucks are used to me coming in every morning with the hat on, and all their little jokes are pretty much exhausted by this point (although there is one little rascal that curtseyed at me last week). But something happened yesterday that changed the way I thought about my special hat, and the nature of my existence in general.

A homeless man was posted outside of Starbucks, wearing a roll of toilet paper on his head, perfectly balanced. It would have been impressive if the sight hadn’t been so dire and sad. He was filthy, ill-shaven, and clearly crazy, frothing at the mouth and doing a little dance. At one point it looked as if he was going to enter the Starbucks, but just as he was about the clutch the door-handle, the manager quickly lept up and shooed the man away, aggressively pointing towards the street.

It was at that moment that I realized how truly lucky I am to be a middle-class white male in a nice suburb. I began stroking my hat and thinking about how an eccentricity like a funny hat could get you labeled as dangerous or crazy if only you are a little rough around the edges, and clearly not from around Middleton (my hometown). Perhaps the roll of toilet paper on the homeless man’s head was his special “Starbucks hat”? We’ll never know. I am free to be as weird and silly as I want, but the same liberties do not apply to all people, and they will never have the benefit of the doubt. Quirkiness is a privelege. Silliness is a freedom.

So the next time you don that dorky hat or weird shirt, I hope you remember: it’s fun to go crazy sometimes, but never forget that there are many people out there who will never know what it’s like to confidently stroll into a Starbucks looking like a 19th century gentleman without fear of repudiation. Such kooky behavior is the domain of a certain upper crust, an upper crust whose existence is very far from the norm.

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