On the Privilege of Having a Home
by Maureen O’Danu
The gulf of privilege is a huge issue for those of us who work on racism and sexism issues. I work with homeless adults, so my nose is rubbed in my privilege relative to my clients on nearly a daily basis. Following is a simple list of the privileges I have as a white, middle class, college educated, heterosexual, able-bodied woman relative to my clients. There are lots of intersectionalities here. In some cases, my clients (especially my male clients) have privilege relative to me. But in nearly every case, there are privileges I have through my skin color, social class, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness, or education level that they don’t. I’m not going to break them down by “category” of privilege while listing them. I’ll let you all do it.
- When I use the restroom, it is kept locked until I use it, and there are always toilet paper, paper towels, and soap provided. I do not have to go to the security guards to ask for toilet paper.
- I was asked over and over again as a child what I wanted to do after high school, and college was assumed. It was also assumed that my parents had the ability to pay for my college (though in reality they chose not to).
- Although my home life as a child was chaotic, with an alcoholic mother, neither my neighborhood nor my school was, and though I lived in many different school districts as a child, all but one were known for excellence in education.
- No one has ever whispered behind my back “is that a girl or a boy”?
- For the most part, I am believed when I tell a story of tragedy, even if it sounds outlandish. This is not true of the homeless, and especially not true of the mentally ill homeless.
- It was assumed that most fields of work were open to me, though as a “middle class woman” some were not considered “appropriate” (most of those being unskilled and skilled labor jobs).
- People generally assume I know what I’m talking about on most subjects, because I have diplomas hanging on my wall and I speak in Standard English. This is true regardless of whether I actually have any in-depth knowledge of a subject.
- My blonde hair and blue eyes have been praised for their beauty as long as I can remember. No one has ever called my hair “nappy” (although it is very curly) and no one has ever suggested that I should have expensive, damaging treatments to make my hair more “acceptable”.
- Most of my adult life I have been height/weight proportional, and now that I no longer am, I have the money to buy clothes that allow that illusion to continue.
- I have the money to pay others to help me lose weight, should I choose to, or to pay for a gym membership, should I choose to.
- When I mention to others that I am attempting to lose weight, I am generally told it’s not necessary until I point out that I have a family history of diabetes.
- I go home at night to a house that I (and the bank) own, that I have a key to.
- No one questions my ability and fitness to have children, or to own pets.
- If my home is a mess, no one has to know, because no one is tasked with teaching me “life skills”.
- I go to bed when I want to, and on days when I don’t work, wake up when I want to.
- I have a car, and can afford the gas and insurance to keep it running.
- I am able to apply for jobs that are nowhere near a bus line, and can live over a mile from the nearest bus stop without putting my ability to maintain employment at risk.
- I am offered health insurance by my employer, and am able to afford it at the price offered.
- While I have medical debt, I also have the means to pay it, if not as quickly as the bill collectors would like.
- If I need to see a specialist, I can simply call and make an appointment, and the appointment is generally less than a month away.
- When I am in a bad mood or am excited and happy about something, no one attributes my mood to mental illness or considers my emotional reaction to be “inappropriate”.
- I can take my time in the shower and no one will tell me there are five more people waiting their turn.
- I do not have to carry all my belongings on my back, stash them in a vacant lot, or scrounge up the money to pay for a storage unit.
- I have all my teeth except one, and that one was pulled for reasons other than poor dental hygiene.
- I have eyeglasses that fit and are the right prescription, and can afford to replace them if I should lose them.
- I do not fear to tell people when I get paid, as it is highly unlikely I will be attacked for my paycheck, both because I have a bank account and because I drive a car rather than walk or take a bus to and from work.
- My first name is common and unremarkable. No one has difficultly pronouncing it, and I don’t hear comments about how stupid my mother was for giving me such a name, even though I am not fond of the name and do not use it on line.
- I am not forced to choose between having a protector with whom I have sex, becoming a prostitute with a pimp, or becoming a vicious knife fighter in order to protect myself from rape from random strangers.
- I am not assumed to be a drug addict or alcoholic if it is known that I have had a beer in the last month.
- It is not assumed that there is “something wrong with me”, because I am not homeless.
- Regardless of my birth family’s chaos, I was not put in foster care, but had a consistent family identity from birth to adulthood.
- I have a computer of my own, and writing skills to create this list.
Feel free to add more if you need to. Of course, as I said earlier, I am discriminated against in some ways because I am female. However, as women go, I’m a pretty danged privileged one. Lucky me.
—Maureen O’Danu is the online pseudonym of a woman who incorporates many roles into her identity.She is a homeless activist, mother, wife, writer, gardener, gamer and case manager. She lives in a rambling, old, badly in need of repair Victorian home in the Kansas City metropolitan area. She currently blogs at Walking Upstream and is being added to my blogroll. 🙂
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