• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


The Privilege of Not Examining Privilege

Race, class and perspective.

November 3, 2013

Two friends have recently brought my attention to these articles, which explore some of the ways race and socioeconomic status can affect our experiences and thus our worldview.

One could make a convincing argument that the "privilege" of receiving light penalties for serious mistakes is anything but a character builder. Kids whose parents bail them out of every scrape tend to become self-centered, irresponsible adults without a strong grasp of cause and effect. One could even speculate that some of the ignorant white teenagers in the first article might benefit from firsthand experience of the consequences of shopping, driving or walking while black, if only to sensitize them to all the behavior they, as members of a privileged class, routinely get away with.

But the other writer also makes the important point that adolescents and young adults are prone to experimentation, trial-and-error learning, and really stupid behavior. None of us want to think that our own kids might drink themselves into the hospital, or put themselves at risk in other avoidable ways.

The thing is, I don't know about you, but I feel lucky to have survived my own youth. My friends and I routinely bought marijuana from dodgy sources. I drove home from a party on one occasion when I really shouldn't have, because I was the least impaired of my friends. And once when I felt completely unprepared for a final, I took something that was presented to me as speed to study, and experienced shortness of breath, racing heart and an intense feeling of impending doom. I was convinced I was going to die. I didn't go to the college infirmary, because I knew my parents would be enraged if they knew I had taken illegal drugs. I would rather have died than face my parents' anger. How dopey is that?

Yet for the most part, my friends and I were not bad, wild, or stupid kids. We studied hard, we didn't steal or cheat, and we aspired to be prosocial, responsible citizens. We were works in progress, and we made some bad choices that could have had terrible, even fatal results.

Like the author of the Kenyon article, I don't think university or public money should necessarily be made available to get students out of idiotic scrapes. But I do this it is important to recognize that some crazy behavior is part of growing up, and that students with money and social support tend to weather these mistakes better than less privileged ones do.


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