You Asked It

Just Wondering

Advice about class privilege, finding a drummer for your band, and being friends with boys.

My family would be considered upper-middle-class, and we live in a relatively well-off community. I have lived like this all my life, but over time I have come to realize more and more the huge privilege I have compared with so many other people from lower-income families. I should be thankful, but I just feel really guilty. I don’t know what I should do—should I just give a bunch of my stuff away? Or just learn how to be really thankful? I can’t leave this community yet, because I’m still in high school. —H., San Diego

First of all, thank you for this question. It made me feel very itchy and uncomfortable, which is a good sign in this context, because it means you’ve forced me to think about Trying to Be an Aware Human to Others. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, but that’s part of why it’s so important: Privilege is very frequently invisible to those who have it, especially those who’d rather not confront it and have to feel its itchiness. Some people choose to ignore, or just straight-up never make, the realization that you did: that this status you’ve lived in for your whole life is way more complex than it may have seemed to you in the past. But since you do feel that itch, you’re in a prime position to learn more about how to use your class advantages for the greater good, and I’m happy to help you as best I can.

Growing up, I had wealth privilege on par with the fancy suburb I lived in—my dad earned a lot of money and we lived in a big house—but not the same amount of class privilege. My parents were born to lower-class immigrant families and, unlike my friends’ parents, did not have fancy educations.

Despite these divisions, my wealth privilege was responsible for so many unfair advantages, such as when, in my sophomore year of college, I blithely exclaimed to my roommate that I couldn’t wait for summer vacation so I could do the cool projects I had spent the year saving money for. He replied that he couldn’t wait for summer vacation so he could get a full-time job and stop having to worry that he wouldn’t have enough money to come back to school next year. I responded with one of those guilty half-apology shock noises that you make when you’ve said something offensive without realizing it, and he said, “It’s OK. Just don’t do it again.” If he had never called me out, I know I would have kept doing that same rude thing again, and probably hurt a lot of people I care about. But I didn’t, because I listened to his experience and it widened my perspective, and now I’m a perfect person who never made that kind of mistake again (jokes!—these situations are gonna keep happening, which is a really good thing, since you’ll grow a little bit each time they do).

No matter how much $$$ privilege you have, H., it shouldn’t be weighing you down with the kind of guilt you describe in your letter. A life truth: While it’s awesome and necessary to be aware of your situation in the context of other experiences, it’s NOT awesome or necessary for you to feel straight-up bad about this, which is not something you had any say in at all! Take a second and let that shame-y feeling loose like a ponytail being shaken out at the end of the day—you’ll feel better and more mobilized to take action when you’re not scared of having done something wrong (you haven’t) about this. In my experience, the idea that you have to relinquish your community, even though you’re grossed out by what you’ve been given unearned, even if don’t want to be the beneficiary of those things anymore, is as unhelpful as not being aware of your priv in the first place. The idea you had about showing gratitude for what you have is a way more fruitful one—doing so doesn’t mean you’re smug about the benefits and advantages of your life, it means you’re grateful for them, and aware of their meaning. And being aware of their meaning will help you come to a better understanding about how to help others who aren’t as lucky as you are.

Speaking of: The most tried-and-true way to use privilege productively is to redistribute that shit! If you’re not sure where to start, seek out writing by low-income people and see how you can apply what they teach you to real life. Two pieces that came out late last year, “Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense” and “The Logic of Stupid Poor People,” have almost exactly the same titles, but are radically different and equally true, and will help inform you about how to use what you’ve got to help less economically fortunate people in proactive ways. In general, try to refer to sources like these—stuff that comes from direct experience—and avoid writing by people outside of those realities that speaks for folks from the communities you want to support. People can advocate for themselves far more effectively than any outsiders can.

Beyond reading about how to help, it’s important to personally reflect on the ways in which your background has buffered and supported you, and think about how to make life easier and safer for people who don’t have those same buffers. Sometimes, yes, this can literally mean giving your money or material possessions away—Resource Generation is a rad group of wealthy young people trying to figure out how to use their $ for radical change—but it can also have to do with how you approach your personal interactions. Jessica Luther, a reproductive justice advocate, has some great advice about the process of being an ally in this interview.

I extra-appreciate your question, because the idea that privilege is just too complicated to talk about or think about or even acknowledge tends to stick around like a shitty fungus. Powering through the difficulties and the uncomfortable moments is the only way to overcome your biases and assumptions and connect honestly with other people. Saying the wrong thing is a lot less likely if you’ve been listening to the people you’re talking to, but if it does happen, that’s OK, too—learning about this stuff is a process. Perhaps the best thing to remember on your life-bus journey to Intersectional Justice Junction is to treat “ally” as a verb, not a noun: When you encounter people with different life experiences, don’t expect them to educate you: Ask questions with the awareness that they are not obligated to educate you, thank them if they do decide to answer, and (this is super important!!) don’t fight people on their experiences, or get defensive. If they tell you about something that you may be doing that isn’t cool to them, listen respectfully! Again: You are sometimes going to fuck up, and that’s OK! No one—not me, not you, not anybody—is ever going to get EVERY SINGLE THING about dealing with privilege right. What we CAN do is try our best to keep scratching the itch by staying committed to learning from and supporting one another.

I hope this helps you—I’m proud of you for being so thoughtful about it and confident that you can use that thoughtfulness to make real change for others. —Lola ♦

Is there something on your mind that you NEED a total stranger’s opinion on? Send it to us! Please, please, PLEASE include your name (or nickname), your age, and where you live.

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30 Comments

  • gr-ass January 21st, 2014 11:31 PM

    i feel you so hard on being called cute. im 4’10 and the only thing people say when they see me is “omg youre so cute!!” and i should be flattered at the compliment but im so sick of being called cute all the time! i wanna be thought of as hot or sexy or beautiful not cute yknow

    • Anielica January 24th, 2014 9:39 AM

      I hate those sorts of compliments that just end up being a bit insulting. Like constantly hearing, “you’re so cute!” or “your face is so tiny!” or “you’re so skinny!” It’s especially been annoying because I’ve got pretty low self confidence and a lot of the time I find myself ugly and unattractive, and hearing ‘you’re cute’ when I wish I could be told I was beautiful or looked pretty is pretty awful.
      PSA: Even if you mean it as a compliment, think twice. I also look a bit younger than my age, so I’m sensitive about being called cute b/c I’m trying to look older, not little and cute! Ugh.

  • Emily January 21st, 2014 11:52 PM

    To the girl who was looking for a drummer, Nirvana went through like six drummers before they found Chris Novoselic, and they’ve been nominated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So keep looking but don’t freak if you don’t find the perfect one at first. Good luck!

    • froctopus January 22nd, 2014 2:20 AM

      Nirvana’s drummer was Dave Grohl, now lead singer of the Foo Fighters. Chris Novoselic was the bassist.
      But I agree, drummers come and go from bands like crazy sometimes. Don’t give up on the search, it’s well worth it being in a band.

  • sadie lidji January 21st, 2014 11:59 PM

    Amy Rose u r the best

  • honorarygilmoregal January 22nd, 2014 1:10 AM

    Rookies always give the best advice :)

  • RisainSanFrancisca January 22nd, 2014 1:34 AM

    This is perf <3 especially love the privilege stuff, being a well-off white person gives me a ton that I'm always checking myself on and making sure I'm not being accidentally racist/classist/etc.- at least as a lesbian I just have to worry about my friends! The response on not changing yourself for anyone else was so necessary for me right now too, thank you so so much for these rookie!! <3

    http://manyrisas.tumblr.com
    http://manyrisas.blogspot.com

  • AndreaGG January 22nd, 2014 2:13 AM

    I don’t hate being call cute that much, but I do hate never being a dating prospect, to anyone, ever. I’m known as the smart kid who people like and trust and are impressed by because I’m involved in a lot of stuff, like music, church, university, ans I can actually make it through. But when a guy friend come to me an says “You’re like a little sister to me, and so smart and nice and cute” and call me pet names and at the same time they’re checking out a girl butt, I just know I’m being friendzoned by him an everry guy in a 500m surrounding area, forever. And I don’t like it.

  • TessAnnesley January 22nd, 2014 3:52 AM

    wow i’m a drummer and now i feel really weird… dude, surely we aren’t that rare haha

    • zoeah January 23rd, 2014 4:28 AM

      completely unrelated but NO FREAKIN WAY YOU HAVE THE SAME SURNAME AS ME AND I’VE NEVER COME ACROSS ANYONE ELSE WITH MY SURNAME BEFORE WHO WASN’T RELATED TO ME

  • Kirthi January 22nd, 2014 6:01 AM

    I just have to say the one about the no platonic relationship is so ridiculous! And the most amusing thing is that we have it just the opposite. In India arranged marriage is dominant, so dating and romance and other lovely things are normally frowned upon. When we are seen with a boy we have to explain that “he is just my frrrrrreind.” So ironic !!

  • soviet_kitsch January 22nd, 2014 11:37 AM

    lol i’m barely 5 feet and look hella young and i’m so tired of the whole “you’re so cute!” attitude. although in my experience, essentially everyone who calls me cute turns out to be a raging asshole in a lot of other ways, so i guess it’s a good way to weed people out.

  • spudzine January 22nd, 2014 12:12 PM

    I was shocked at how many of these applied to me. I was called cute a lot a couple of years ago, and it bothered me to a stressful extent. Because others couldn’t see my other qualities(ya know, the ones that weren’t just “cute”), I chose to see those qualities myself. Same for the sex-appeal situation. It was only when I got more comfy with myself did boys(REALLY REALLY CUTE BOYS)start checking me out, THANK GOD. And I’m still the same bubbly, geeky girl I was before they checked me out. The only difference was was that I’ve been working on liking myself more, and that somehow projects radiates off of me and gets hotties to check me out. So yeah. Just do you, and all will fall into place ;D

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • strawberryhair January 22nd, 2014 1:59 PM

    ANAHEED. That was so. good. <3

    • strawberryhair January 22nd, 2014 2:09 PM

      Also Amy Rose be my big sister ugh it’s not even okay how cool you are

    • Anaheed January 22nd, 2014 2:29 PM

      Aww, thanks, hair-strawb!

    • AnaRuiz January 22nd, 2014 10:01 PM

      I agree. I guess it’s too early to say that your answer changed my life, but it at least helped me channel some feelings that I didn’t know how to put into arguments.

  • taste test January 22nd, 2014 7:36 PM

    Lola, your answer on privilege was really great. I’m pretty solidly middle-class, so I’m better off than a lot of people, but I’m going to a private college with some very rich people- and it’s also a very liberal college, so class privilege is an idea they have some familiarity with. a lot of them either bend over backwards to reassure the world they aren’t THAT rich (“yeah, my family has a couple summer houses, but they’re small and we share them with all my cousins’ families so you know no big deal lol”) or act like they hate their lives (“I wish my parents would stop buying me things and give the money to charity instead, I don’t deserve this, ugh”). it’s annoying as hell tbh. I know they’re trying but it’s unproductive and also kinda comes across as humblebragging. I wish I could print out your article and show it to them because “you can just be grateful” is something they really need to hear.

    http://xyzzyzzyzx.blogspot.com/

  • Anya N. January 22nd, 2014 7:56 PM

    amy rose is the only person that gives LEGIT, HELPFUL ROMANTIC advice FO REAL FO REALZ. she’s the real-life LUV doctor im tellin u. hahaha just think of how this compares to seventeen omfg i laugh, i laugh.

  • rhymeswithorange January 22nd, 2014 11:25 PM

    Amy Rose, the verb “adolescin’” hahahaha amazing

  • pizzaface January 23rd, 2014 5:07 AM

    I love Amy Rose’s answer, it’s so uplifting and helpful and full of ‘you go girl!’ vibes

  • Monroe January 23rd, 2014 10:15 AM

    As someone who grew up, and still is to be honest, very, very poor I feel compelled to comment.
    Lola, what your roommate did was not cool. I would never bring down a friend who was excited about something just because I don’t have the same privilege.
    I don’t believe in guilt tripping people for the crime of being born into a family who is fortunate enough to be able to provide them with things that makes them happy. It would be nice if we could all live that way. Unfortunately we can’t. Life is sort of a gamble, and through whatever chances of fate or decisions that end badly, some come out on top and some don’t. It is impossible to change this.
    I have NEVER resented it. I don’t believe in deluding myself that if others had less I would have more.
    Growing up I would listen to my friends gush about their vacations in Hawaii and see them take for granted their ipods and American girl dolls and designer clothes while I had no plumbing and was sleeping on the floor.
    And I was fine with it. Its frankly ridiculous and selfish to live your life expecting everyone to hide their financial good fortune from you and wallow in guilt because they committed the CRIME of being happy and having privileges that some people don’t.
    Should I cry over every plate of food because there are places in the world where children go hungry? We should always try and help those who have less but in between helping live your life, be happy and grateful, and don’t waste your time in useless pity that doesn’t help anybody.

    • champagnecoast January 25th, 2014 12:15 AM

      Thank you for this comment! I agree, what your roommate said wasn’t cool at all. For me it comes down to “don’t make other people feel like crap for being born into their circumstances” (whether that be wealth or otherwise)

    • January 25th, 2014 3:43 AM

      Completely agree (I grew up poor too). It wasn’t even like she was bragging about her parents buying her cool stuff, she’d saved up to be able to do cool stuff, and that’s a real achievement and I wouldn’t call anyone who can’t celebrate my achievements with me a friend.

      • nellie79 January 27th, 2014 6:27 PM

        I agree as well (also grew up poor), she clearly wasn’t bragging and the dude shouldn’t made her feel bad just cause she was born into a privileged family. Believe me, I have lots of friends who are upper middle class and I’d never make them feel bad about being excited for something they saved up for or if their parents are doing for something for them.

        Honestly I’m happy to see someone who is privileged and trying to become more aware regardless.

  • elliecp January 23rd, 2014 1:20 PM

    to the first question…I’ve found people often have opinions that do not agree with my own morals. The best thing to do is accept that that is how they feel, but basically take no notice and live the way YOU think is right. Don’t stress about it, and trust your gut.

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • chameleon22 January 24th, 2014 8:35 PM

    Hey Anaheed, I just wanted to mention that your answer meant a lot to me. in fact, I am commenting now because I returned to this page several days later to reread it. As someone who’s constantly falling in love with their friends, your advice was so comforting. Thanks.

    • Anaheed January 25th, 2014 12:33 AM

      Thank you so much for saying this! It warmed my heart. Constantly falling in love with your friends = evidence that you have a huge heart and haven’t let life reduce your capacity for love.

  • verosaysmoo January 25th, 2014 12:31 AM

    WONDERFUL. Thank you Rookie!

  • AmeliaWM January 29th, 2014 2:03 PM

    Thank you Amy Rose! I loved reading your response. You hit all the right notes and even pulled on a few o’ my heart strings :’) xoxo

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