A few weeks ago, a close family member was driving to work (or so he thought, because he thought it was Monday when it was actually Sunday) when he realized he was disoriented. He managed to drive himself to the hospital, where tests revealed a severe arterial blockage that would, he was assured, have resulted in a massive heart attack if he hadn't sought attention when he did.
Then, last week, a friend I grew up with, who had not previously exhibited cardiac symptoms, had a fatal heart attack on the golf course. I attended his wake this week, and it was deeply moving — a close-knit, loving family that has already experienced too much loss, reeling from the sudden collapse of a dear, seemingly fit father/husband/brother/cousin/friend in his early sixties.
Adding to my sadness was the realization that this had almost happened to my relative as well.
All of this has been hard, but waking up Thursday morning to the news of yet another mass murder in a historically black church forced me to reflect that even in illness and loss, there are levels of privilege.
My relative was lucky enough to have good health insurance, and easy access to excellent medical care. Even though he was apparently driving erratically, he wasn't pulled over—and if he had been, I'm pretty sure he would have been heard out and escorted to the hospital.
Short of doing a DNA test there is no way to determine this, but I'm pretty sure that everyone at my friend's wake was of European descent. We were all shocked and saddened — some were devastated — but we could gather and mourn without fear that we, or the priest, would be attacked.
Whenever I write about race and economic disparity, I get comments about the ridiculousness of "white guilt." But I don't feel guilty about my privilege. No one gets to choose their ancestry or the circumstances they are born into, and we all have to play the hand we are dealt.
There is a difference, though, between rejecting guilt for the screwed up system we were born into, and failing to acknowledge that it is, indeed screwed up. I am a smart, decent person who has faced certain disadvantages because of my gender, and who, at the same time, enjoys unearned privileges because of my race and SES, and who feels an obligation to help make the system fairer. Except, possibly, for the "smart and decent" part, I don't even see what is controversial about this.
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