Check YOUR Privilege

It takes a lot to insult me, but there is nothing that grates on my nerves quite like the phrase “Check your privilege”. It drives me absolutely nuts when someone tells me to “check my privilege”, because that person has just made a very inaccurate assumption about me. That is because I have been stereotyped as someone who is only successful because of the life circumstances that I was born into, and the so-called “privileges” that I enjoy were not earned through any merit of my own. If that is what they believe, then they are the ones who need to check THEIR privilege. There is a lot that they don’t know about me.

I am not going to say that I went to bed hungry when I was growing up or that I shivered because we didn’t have heat, because that isn’t true. I had enough to eat, and I stayed warm. Unlike the majority of children now, I grew up with a mom and a dad who were still married to each other and still happy together. That is something that I cannot put a price tag on. I had more than many children do, and for that I was fortunate. But I was not “privileged” as some might think, and my family struggled to make ends meet. My dad was a fourth-generation Iowa farmer. He doesn’t have a college education, which was not uncommon in the 1970’s if you were working in agriculture. It wasn’t a problem until my parents suffered from losses accrued during the 1980’s Farm Crisis. By the mid-90’s, they weren’t making enough money farming to support our family. My dad was very limited in where he could work because he didn’t have a college degree. He started driving for a trucking company in northwest Iowa so that he would have an income. This was a huge sacrifice. My dad was only home every other weekend while I was growing up, and as a result, he missed a lot of my childhood. There were many holidays that my dad didn’t make it home to celebrate with his family at all, and he wasn’t there for most of my recitals, competitions, shows, or tournaments.

Soon after my dad got out of farming, my oldest sister was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 21. She incurred a lot of medical bills, which took a financial toll on our family. My parents and I moved to Iowa City so that we could be closer to her and care for her while she was taking chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. To generate extra income, my mom started an in-home daycare. This way she could make money and not have to worry about the cost of childcare for me.

Because of my parent’s financial burdens, we did not go on vacation when I was growing up. Our clothes came from thrift shops and garage sales because new clothes were a luxury that we couldn’t afford. Our vehicles were never from the current decade, and we drove them well beyond the point at which most people would have traded up. Eating in restaurants was a novelty because it was more economic to eat at home. If the phone rang, we usually let the machine get it because it was probably a bill collector or a creditor. Most of our mail was bills that my parents lost sleep over how they were going to be able to repay. I didn’t get an allowance, and we usually waited until after Christmas to exchange gifts so that we could buy them on sale. Some privilege, if you ask me.

I went to a private liberal arts college, which is notoriously expensive. I did not go because my family was wealthy, but because I funded my college education through scholarships that I had to work very hard to win. Not only did I receive substantial academic scholarships from the college, but because I had finished my high school coursework early, I spent almost my entire senior year researching and applying for academic, leadership, and community service-oriented scholarships. I did not have to take out a loan to pay for tuition until my junior year of college because I had worked so hard to ensure that I had college funding ahead of time, and as a result the loans that I had to take out were much less than those that most college students in the same situation require.

It hurts when someone tries to label me when they don’t know what I have experienced. I know that most people do not know about my family’s hardships much because I don’t like to talk about it. It’s uncomfortable. But I think that it’s important to inform these individuals who jump to conclusions that I am not successful because of my “privilege” or “lucky circumstances”, but rather because I have fought incredibly hard against the odds to achieve all that I have accomplished. I do care about others, and I have shown that I do through the hours of service to my community that I spent helping other people who were less fortunate than I was. So I would suggest that the “Check Your Privilege” crowd take a step back to re-evaluate their assumptions and stop pointing the finger of blame at everyone else. If they listen to the other perspective, they might find that they are, in fact the ones who need to “check their privilege”.

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