Privilege and the independence myth

Dear President Trump,

When I was a child I was fascinated by the “accident of birth” idea and routinely tried to imagine having been born into the life of an East Indian in one of the untouchable castes. I’d try and picture picking through heaps of garbage to find food and anything I could sell. I imagined the smell, flies, and heat. I sometimes imagined succeeding in getting an education and getting out of that hellish environment through a combination of personal fortitude, pluck, and intelligence all mixed with luck. I also sometimes imagined not catching those breaks and instead having my own children eventually there with me in the garbage heaps that would define my existence and theirs. You may think I made up this story of my childhood imaginings, but I really did spend a fair bit of time wondering about these things as well as what it would have been like to have been born blind or deaf or not very smart or Black.

Basically, whether we want to accept it or not, different people start at different points on the proverbial ladder. Some people’s circumstances are so dire they don’t even know there is a ladder and if they stumbled upon it wouldn’t have a clue what to do with it while other people are born into circumstances where they not only find themselves near the very top, but their wealth and family help them navigate the final few rungs and catch them if they slip. The kicker though, is that very few people whose accidents of birth land them near the middle or top of the ladder seem to get that it isn’t primarily their own personal work ethic and brilliance that enabled them to be where they are or to climb a few rungs. Rather than feel grateful for our unearned position, to preserve the myth of our independence and our pride, we look down on those who haven’t made it so high and believe, with a degree of certainty characterized by defensiveness, that those less fortunate just aren’t as smart or as hard working. Ultimately, this stance ends up limiting us all and I believe it is best abandoned.

May we all be safe and supported equally.
May we all be happy to level the playing field.
May we all be healthy enough to acknowledge the role of privilege.
May our lives unfold and intersect with generosity and grace.

Tracy Simpson

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