People get very responsive when they hear someone speaking about Privilege. They think that the word “privilege” means that there is an implication that the life of the privileged person was not hard—but that is not the case at all.
As a former foster child, I want to share with you how many people have experienced privilege that I will never know.
When I was a little girl, my siblings and I experienced high levels of neglect and abuse. My baby sister was hospitalized a couple of times due to malnutrition, I experienced physical abuse at the hands of my older brother (and at one point when I was seven was cornered and strangled by him), and my other sister—who was only three years older than me—had to grow up far too fast and be “mom” to my younger sister and me… because our biological mom was mentally absent.
My younger sister, although she does not remember most of what we experienced with our biological mother, experienced lasting effects from her lack of care. For years following our permanent placement, she struggled to gain weight and was much smaller than many of her classmates (and yes, it was a concern medically). She suffered from severe ear infections. And the poor thing had night terrors for so long that, even though we shared a room for a long time, I became desensitized to her nightly screaming.
My older sister, although seemingly unaffected by our placement in foster care, dealt with a lot of other issues stemming from her trauma (but I won’t get into those—1. Because I don’t know them but most importantly 2. Because they are not my place to say).
But I will share my issues a bit. Coming from that environment—I still struggle with what I experienced. I struggled with anger problems when I was little (and, no, it isn’t just because I am ginger). I felt unwanted and unloved by my foster/adoptive parents for most of my growing-up years. I still deal with PTSD, Anxiety, and Depression stemming from the trauma that was left untreated while I was growing up.
But I want to point something out to everyone reading this.
Me telling you this does not deny the fact that your life might have been hard—But,
I still dealt with people acting with privilege with me.
I had friends with both parents who loved them—and cared for them. Many of my friends never feared for their lives or ever wondered where their next meal was coming from. They had never had to leave their homes in the middle of the night to run from whatever consequences their parents were facing… and God knows, my new adoptive parents never did either.
So, they didn’t understand the trauma that my sisters and I were dealing with. Sure, my new parents might have struggled in the past, but their lack of experience with the pain, my siblings and I had was their privilege. And judging my sisters and me through the eyes of their privilege caused further trauma for my sisters and me.
When we would wake up from nightmares caused by the trauma we had, my adoptive parents would sometimes respond in annoyance—why couldn’t we just get over it. We weren’t in that bad environment anymore, so we should be fine now.
After being traumatized by our sudden removal from our
biological mother, my sisters and I dealt with the fear that we would be taken
away again—and, unfortunately, for several years we would be threatened with
that very thing when we acted out.
After having experienced abuse and neglect—which includes not being taught proper activities or etiquette, we would find ourselves be screamed at, slapped, or spanked for things we weren’t even fully aware were “against the rules.”
After a time, we all found our own ways of dealing with our new situation. But the trauma remained. One sister shut down and focused on bettering herself, one sister kind of became a wild child for a bit, and I would bottle up every hurt and pain until I exploded—because, to be honest, I was afraid to show any emotion for fear of being ridiculed on not understood… but you can’t hide it all forever… and I developed a severe lack of trust in people—but especially women. Why? Because, when I had been cornered and strangled by my brother, my birth mother denied that he would have ever done such a thing and yelled at me for lying… and then, my adoptive mother compounded the trauma when she would view my behavior through the eyes of her privilege instead of realizing that I was a broken little girl who needed mental support and unconditional (not tough) love.
My adoptive parents are wonderful people. I still struggle with my relationship with my adoptive mom—but I know that many of our issues stem from the fact that as she was raising me, she didn’t understand how to work with me in my trauma. But they are great people… but they had privilege. Theirs might not have been based on race, but it was still there.
But you know something? Even with my past, I have privilege too. Even though I have experienced trauma, there are others who have experienced things that I have not—for different reasons—and I will never have to experience the pain they have experienced. So I have privilege too. And some of that privilege is the mere fact that I was born a red-haired, blue-eyed, Caucasian American. I have witnessed prejudice (even unintentionally) against my sisters who are partially Latina—even from our wonderful adoptive parents (again, unintentional… but still not okay)… and this prejudice is something I will never experience… at least not from that side of things. I even have friends who were judged merely because they looked like they were another race and they were told to go back to the country they were thought to be from. I have never and probably will never experience that.
That is privilege!
Recognizing that you have privilege is not denying that you have struggled—it is acknowledging that you have not struggled the same way someone else has for one reason or another. It could be economic privilege, religious privilege, national privilege, or racial privilege—but you’ve experienced it—and it is time to stop denying it. It is time to listen to our brothers and sisters who have experienced trauma and love them without defense and without viewing their behaviors through the eyes of your privilege.