UPDATE: 2/26/2016: I’ve kept the original article in tact below, in its entirety, so everyone who reads this can learn from it. I have since drastically changed my thoughts on privilege, and openly & adamantly declare that I am incredibly privileged.
I highly encourage everyone to read the comments by two of my good friends, NB & Janice. Both are exceptional human beings, and I can’t thank them enough for their friendship, as well as the huge knowledge & experience bombs they dropped on me. I agree with both of their comments 100%, and you should absolutely read through them in their entirety.
I also thank John, the guy on Twitter who started this whole thing by calling me out for my ignorance. I write on this blog for a few reasons:
- For me, to reflect back on previous life experience
- To help others who might have similar thoughts, or just enjoy my perspective
- For everyone, to learn something new, or perhaps even change their behavior for the better.
My blog is called “An Alternate Route” because I do a lot of things out of the ordinary. Some are well thought-out; others, like this one, aren’t. But it’s that unique journey by which I learn and grow. And I thank you all for being a part of that journey.
Now that 2 days have past, I’ve had time to let it sink in, and hear some reactions from friends & strangers alike, I’d like to share this with you.
Interesting Twitter Response
John (on Twitter) writes:
I think John follows Hilary. I don’t follow him, nor do I know who he is. Nonetheless, he had something interesting to say about my experience. I’d like to add my thoughts (in more than 140 characters).
The goal of this was never to have fun. That wasn’t my intention, nor do I think it was Hilary’s intention when she first stood on the corner. We weren’t looking for fun, nor did either of us anticipate it would be a whole lot of fun. And now that it’s over, I still can’t say I had much “fun.”
So what was the goal? I’ll be honest, I didn’t think too much about it before I did it. I knew it would be uncomfortable, and most things that challenge us out of our comfort zone, end up building character. Aside from stepping outside of my comfort zone, I just wanted to raise my sense of awareness, and take in what happened around me.
I’d also like to mention that I specifically left off the words “Not Homeless” from my sign. Some really good friends of mine thought that might be offensive, and had the potential to really hurt someone’s feelings. Extremely valid point, and thus, I decided to leave it off my sign.
I recognized what I was doing was questionable. But if we all shied away from doing questionable things, our world would remain stagnant, and life would have no purpose.
Now that it’s over, my goal (or, really, my hope) is that it:
- made people smile
- will make people think differently about those standing on the corner, regardless of what they look like, why they’re there, or what they may or may not be asking for
- gives people hope that there is tons of goodness in this world, regardless of what the media throws at us day after day
- inspires others to step outside their comfort zone & put themselves in an uncomfortable situation, on the corner or otherwise
I looked up the definition. Variations include:
- belonging to a class that enjoys special privileges; favored
- having special rights, advantages or immunities
- not subject to the usual rules or penalties because of some special circumstance
- having the rare opportunity to do something that brings particular pleasure (as in, “I felt privileged to be able to _____.”)
I’m not sure what John meant when he called me a “privileged white dude”—especially since we know nothing about each other, have never met, etc.—but by definition, I would certainly not consider myself to be privileged.
I was raised by two loving parents, who taught me many important life lessons, supplied food & shelter, and paid for countless extra-curricular activities growing up, not to mention helping big time with college. And I realize that, to no fault of their own, many people don’t have access to these things growing up. So, perhaps in that sense, I am privileged.
However, those same parents also taught me to work hard for things. That I had to do work in order to earn allowance. I had to eat my vegetables before I could eat ice cream. Likewise, my coaches made me earn a spot on the team, with hustle & countless hours of practice. My employers put me through stringent interview processes with many other candidates before awarding me the job.
I’m not immune from anything. I play by the same rules, and face the same consequences, as every other citizen of this country. And I challenge anyone to bring to my attention a special right or advantage that I’ve been granted because of some special circumstance that I didn’t have to work for.
In terms of the last definition, “having the rare opportunity to do something that brings particular pleasure”… there is nothing rare about the opportunity to stand out on a corner, with a cardboard sign, smile & wave. Every person who has at least one arm could do exactly what I did (heck, even if you have no arms, get someone else to write it & lean it up against your chest from your wheelchair).
That’s the beauty of this challenge. The barriers to entry are about as low as they get.
I found it interesting that John used the words “white dude” to describe me. He may have meant nothing by it, but I interpreted it as an assumption that a majority of homeless people are some race other than white.
While there are sources out there that show african americans are more likely to end up homeless than whites, I found the historical stats & somewhat current stats to be interesting:
- In the 1950s & 1960s, the typical person experiencing homelessness was white, male, and in his 50s
- As of 2000… 44% single men, 13% single women, 36% families with children, 7% unaccompanied minors
- As of 2000… 50% African-American, 35% white, 12% Hispanic, 2% Native American, 1% Asian
- As of 2006, families with children comprise 41% of the homeless population
- According to a 1996 survey…
- 44% did paid work during the past month
- 66% have problems with alcohol, drugs or mental illness
- 38% say someone stole money or things directly from them
- 30% have been homeless for more than 2 years
It appears, at least from the stats I could find, that a majority of homeless people in this country are non-white. However, 35% is still a decent chunk. And it does vary greatly based on geography (big city vs. urban vs. rural).
The two things that stand out most to me are: the number of homeless families with children and the percentage whom have had things stolen from them. And to think, the homeless guy who walked past me the other day actually tried to give me money.
Take what you want from these stats, but please think twice before assuming why, what or who is standing on the corner with a sign.
They might not be who you think, and it’s possible they’ve dealt with more than you can possibly imagine.
Thanks, John Sico, for the continued discussion. And Hilary, for having my back 🙂
4 thoughts on “Not Homeless… Just Saying Hi – Follow Up”
People on the internet say things all the time. Who cares about that guy. That being said, as someone who knows you and loves you, I feel like I have to say this; not to be a troll, not to be an ass, but as a friend. The section of your post about privilege first made me so angry I got tunnel vision, and second made me so sad I nearly cried. You are privileged. You are so privileged that you don’t even have to recognize your own privilege. I’m white, I am not excluding myself from this; I will never know or understand the opportunities my skin color will afford me. However, the male part and the class part are two things I will never know about. Reading that section of your post is hard. Reading about standing on the road with the sign was hard for me for a number of reasons, mainly because it is an example of class tourism that white people do that makes me embarrassed to be white (however, then I have to recognize that folks have to experiment and learn in any way they can, so then I stop being embarrassed because its better than nothing)– I know you, I know you meant no harm because I don’t think you have the capacity to be insincere and thats part of the reason why I love you so much and feel honored to call you a friend. But you are privileged and the fact that you even had people around to give you the lessons that they did is first and foremost, evidence of your privilege. The fact that you have the TIME, ENERGY and AWARENESS to do this experiment is evidence of your immense privilege. All of those things are very very RARE. The fact that it was even an option for you to not have ice cream if you didn’t finish your dinner is privilege. The assumption that there IS ice cream or that there ARE veggies in the house to make that lesson available to you is a sign of your privilege. The fact that there was enough extra money to give you an allowance for chores is privilege. The fact that someone in your life cared enough about you to let you work your ass off on the sports team and teach you leadership and dedication is privileged. And the fact that you list these things off in your post, as if the very opportunity for you to work hard and dedicate yourself just *happens* is evidence of your privilege. People who aren’t privileged don’t have the luxury of spending an hour of their time doing or postulating anything; they have to survive. All of their time is spent just surviving. Sports teams, dinner time lessons, allowance–these are all extras. This doesn’t just happen.
When I bring these things up, I do not mean to guilt you or anyone else. I do not aim to make you feel sad, ashamed, or upset at what you’ve been afforded. I see you understand how lucky you are to have your parents and whatnot in the second paragraph, but KNOW full well that you ARE immune to a great many things in this world. No one crosses the street when they see you walking toward them because theyre afraid of you. You rarely ever have a reason to feel fear when walking alone–evidenced by the fact that you stood alone on a corner. As a woman, I could never do that. You do not have to live your life based on a rape clock. If you are at a job working, you can be almost guaranteed that your superiors will also be white. If you fuck up, or if you do well, no one will ever hold you as an example of your race or class. The most prestigious elected and appointed officials in the world are a reflection of who you are (white, hetero, cis, male). When you are in public, your race, sex, and gender identity is not on trial because you are the standard. You will never have to worry about your wardrobe speaking silently of your presumed sexual availability. Complete strangers probably never tell you “smile, hon” as if your day’s feelings or thoughts are too inconvenient for the gaze of a man. If you have a big stack of cash, you are less likely to have someone wonder if you stole it. You are incredibly unlikely to be beaten up because of your sexual orientation. No one ever comments on your hair or asks you to touch it. You will never be denied a job due to the texture of your hair. The list goes on. These are just SOME of the “special right or advantage that I’ve been granted because of some special circumstance that I didn’t have to work for”.
I noticed your stats on some of these issues in the section below. They’re nice and all, but I dare you to take those stats into the neighborhood that I grew up in and imply that you’re just like them. Or even remotely similar. Or even part of the same world.
Again, I am white, I am part of this. I feel like I need to reiterate that. The maleness and the class tourism is very far from my understanding as a human. I am marginalized because I am poor and because I am a woman and because I do not, have not, and will not ever have parents that are there for me. Our whiteness is all we have in common in terms of this particular conversation.
Here’s the bottom line for you and I as white folks. Denying out IMMENSE and unknown privilege outwardly and willfully ignorantly is like sitting at a table with a huge plate full of food. If we sit at that table, eat the food–every bit of it— lick the plate completely clean, drink the wine and then look over to the “other” who is sitting at that table with us, who has had an empty plate since the beginning, and say “See, were the same. I’m just like you”, then there is no hope for progress in this world. We are different and we will never know fully how much we did not have to earn.
I love you, Dave. If I didn’t I would not have the energy to have this conversation with you. I’m not trolling. Please please please understand that. But I cannot just read that and not attempt to have this dialogue because it literally turns my stomach to think that you truly believe you play by the same rules.
Hi Dave! My tweet admittedly came off assholish – which wasn’t really my intent. I’m sure you’re a super nice guy, and meant no offense.
That said, N.B. above describes what I meant by “privilege” FAR more eloquently than I could have (which, frankly, is because of the exact privilege that I experience). From one privileged white dude to another, it’s definitely worth really thinking about. Thanks, NB, for writing that.
And thanks Dave for reading my stupid tweet, and thinking about it. Sorry my 140 characters took up some brain space.
John, I didn’t think it was assholish. And I wouldn’t assume that of someone whom I don’t really know.
I’m glad it took up some brain space. It made me think, and that’s one of the top reasons why I write. Another big reason is to hear others’ feedback and start a dialogue. I think we’ve been pretty successful at doing both.
N.B. is a good friend of mine, and her and I are going to talk face to face about her comments. She made some excellent ones. Some I agree with, some I still challenge, but it sure will make for some great discussion.
Thanks for being part of it, John.
As someone else who loves you (as evidenced by the fact that I still read and comment on your blog :), I also feel the need to comment on the privilege section of this post. I totally agree with N.B., and definitely assumed the best of you when reading that section, but still found myself a little angry. I think right now the word ‘privilege’ is thrown around a lot, by a lot of people. One on hand, this makes me happy. After graduating with a Womens’ Studies degree and talking about ‘privilege’ in lots/all of my places, I was soon disappointed to discover in the real world how few people were thinking and talking about unpacking the same metaphorical backpack of baggage we had read about in virtually every class. So I really am happy that people are finally talking about it. But I also think the overuse of the word has led to some misunderstanding and misconceptions about what it means, and that it’s bad.
You ARE privileged, and this does not mean you haven’t worked hard in your life. You are privileged that you can stand on a corner with a sign and not be harassed with honks, stares and inappropriate looks that make your skin crawl. That is privilege. I can’t walk my dogs in my neighborhood without this happening, and I’m certain it doesn’t feel the same way if you’re a male. You can walk down the street and start a conversation with someone and not have them immediately assume the worst, walk away, or hide their purse. That is privilege. It is not always the same for those who are not white. You did work hard in school and work throughout your life, but expectations for what you would achieve were set at a very, very young age. That is privilege. It is not the same for those born in different zip codes, to different parents with different levels of education, and those with less money. It is not something to be ashamed of. I am grateful for my privilege every day, but it is something to be aware of, something to think about and unpack. It is not privilege in and of itself that is off-putting, it’s the lack of acknowledgement of it.
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