I’m a sociologist. And I’m a blogger. Lately, I’ve been reading posts from personal finance bloggers writing about privilege. For example, Steve at ThinkSaveRetire recently wrote a post (Stop believing privilege is the key to early retirement). I like Steve’s writing, but the discussion of privilege falls into the trap of being all about ME and MY CHOICES. Privilege is not about YOU! It’s about the way the world works around you and what is valued, promoted, and rewarded. It’s a sociological concept that is part of the larger discussion of social justice. Let’s talk privilege.
Privilege refers to any advantage that is unearned, exclusive, and socially conferred. It’s not a guarantee of good or bad outcomes and it doesn’t mean we don’t have choices. Instead, privilege loads the odds so that members of the privileged class are more likely to have good things happen to them. It’s not something a person has – it’s a characteristic of the social system – like a “rule” in the game of society. So asking if you’re privileged, is the wrong question. Privilege is just part of the social order. It doesn’t reflect on you personally. What you do with your privilege is another matter.
If you saw the movie, Green Book, you saw privilege in action. A world-famous African American musician is treated poorly, based on his race. His white under-educated working-class chauffer has privileges due to his race. Only after developing a relationship and witnessing discrimination firsthand does the white man understand that he is indeed, part of the privileged class. The movie is set in the Civil Rights era in the deep south. But what about today? Do you really think race doesn’t matter?
Let’s dig into the concept pushed by many personal finance bloggers that financial independence and early retirement are choices open to everyone. Choices that require sacrifices and discipline. We’ve just made better choices, right? But wait a minute! Does everyone have the same choices?
Sorry to pick on you again, Steve (honestly, I like your blog), but you wrote that you “chose to listen to those wiser than me.” But it was your privilege to know people who were wiser than you. If I’m growing up in an impoverished dysfunctional household with no access to a quality education, where am I going to find the role models and the wisdom? What choice do I have if I only see despair around me? If you don’t have to seek out role models and education, you ARE privileged.
And let’s talk about good health as a choice – or is it a privilege? If you were born healthy and have full mobility, you’ve hit the jackpot. And it’s great if you’ve chosen to be a gym rat, buy organic vegetables, and prepare healthy meals. But did you know that over 23 million Americans live in food deserts? That means they don’t have ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables and are more likely to find their source of nutrition from the neighborhood convenience store or fast food restaurant. Fresh food is a luxury – and an inconvenience. Yes, many of us can make better health decisions. But understand there are limitations and barriers that if you are privileged, you don’t even have to think about.
“White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.”Peggy McIntosh
Sociologist Michael Kimmel describes the state of having privilege as being “like running with the wind at your back,” unaware of invisible sustenance, support, and propulsion. If you are a heterosexual white man in America, the wind is at your back. Sure, you may face other obstacles, but you’ve got an edge. Recently, the New York Times published an article, For These Women, a FIRE That Burns Too Male and Too White. Among the women blogging community, the article was enthusiastically received and shared widely. But guys – did you share? Did you congratulate those cited in the interview? Did you reconsider your “top 10” blogger lists?
I’ve been a full-time blogger for just over a year now. I started blogging as a hobby, as a way to release my frustrations with the state of our political affairs. Since my career ended, I’ve spent most of my time creating the Early Exit Academy, where I offer online courses that encourage financial freedom among people of diverse backgrounds. Since blogging and course creation are new careers for me, I have to admit, I’ve been struck by the overt elitism and subtle sexism among the blogging community. Would we be more aware of our biases if we were more aware of our privilege?
In the end, privilege affords choices. Those with privilege don’t recognize its force. Those with less access to privilege are deeply aware of their “outsider” status. Sure, we all have choices – but those choices are impacted by the social barriers placed in front of us. We do not all play together on the same playground.
Instead of feeling defensive about conversations about privilege, how about using privilege to make things more fair? I’m talking social justice. Personal finance bloggers have a powerful weapon – our words. We can continue writing to our niche audiences, continuing to serve them more of our vanilla pudding, or just maybe, we can make a conscious effort to be more inclusive of people who don’t look like ourselves?
I’m taking two steps to widen perspectives. First, I’m introducing some of my favorite bloggers who represent different viewpoints. Check out these four bloggers:
Second, I’m inviting guest posts from up and coming bloggers who represent diverse views. If you have a story you’d like to share with The Five Journeys, send me an email. Here we talk about financial independence, healthy lifestyle, inner peace, happiness, and community.
Blogger friends, the next time you feel obliged to “defend yourself” against accusations of privilege, step back. Privilege is not about YOU. It’s just recognition that the world is set up to benefit some people over others. That’s it!