Here's a story about kids playing baseball. It's such a trope that I'm sure you've seen a story like it on TV a million times.
There was a little league baseball team. It was the bottom of the ninth inning, and the team up to bat was behind. This team needed a home run to win. A disadvantaged kid comes by to watch the game. He loves baseball and would love nothing more than to have a turn to bat. The kids feel sorry for him and let him bat. The pitcher feels sorry for him and throws an easy pitch. He barely makes contact. It doesn't go too far, and he doesn't know what to do—everyone cheers for him to run to first base. The pitcher picks up the ball and throws it wide, way past first base, and the kid is encouraged to run to second base. The winning team decides it's more important to give this kid a win than for them to win the game. They let the kid run to home base, and he wins the game. Everyone is happy. The kids' dad is proud of the other boys for doing the right thing and making his son happy. A few weeks later, the disadvantaged kid dies. This game had been his last hurah.
This story makes most people feel something. You feel bad for the kid because life dealt him a lousy hand. You admire the other kids for putting the boy's needs in front of their desire to win.
I would argue that (at least in midwestern American culture) this is a story that illustrates an example of what society deems "being a good person."
But there are so many things about this story that we don't question. There could be details that change how we interpret the story.
What if this was an inner-city league of black kids and the disadvantaged kid came from a wealthy white family? What if the father was a Trump supporter? What if his family owned all the apartment buildings in that neighborhood and regularly evicted low-income families who couldn't make rent?
I'm willing to bet you feel differently about this situation. Your brain is running a calculation about what is fair. The kid can't control who his parents are or what their political leanings are.
Is this kid "privileged"?
Recently Time published an article about Helen Keller:
However, to some Black disability rights activists, like Anita Cameron, Helen Keller is not radical at all, "just another, despite disabilities, privileged white person," and yet another example of history telling the story of privileged white Americans. Critics of Helen Keller cite her writings that reflected the popularity of now-dated eugenics theories and her friendship with one of the movement's supporters Alexander Graham Bell. The American Foundation for the Blind archivist Helen Selsdon says Keller "moved away from that position."
I can certainly see their perspective. Helen Keller was very privileged. In that era, a little blind and deaf black girl would not have gotten the same care. But I wonder, why does it matter?
Why do we talk so much about "checking" unearned privilege? Shouldn't we focus on correcting unfair disadvantages instead?
I feel our country has become a nation of pessimists. How can we turn things around and get people to focus on all the wonderful positive things in the world?
It is the best time ever to be alive. Celebrate your privileges. They are a good thing.
Published December 21, 2020