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.