I never thought about privilege, white, male, or class, when I was a kid although, sure, we were told about the starving people in Africa, China, or India when we didn't eat our broccoli.
I didn't realize that just living in a normal house in a normal town was privileged although it didn't feel particularly privileged living at dysfunction junction with fighting parents and divorce on the way.
When I went out hitchhiking on the road (after reading On The Road) with just fifty bucks in my pocket that didn't seem very privileged. Okay, I lied. When I went out on the road I had five hundred dollars, my life savings, and I was the richest hitchhiker out there in 1972. Only right now while writing this am I making the connection between that $500 and privilege.
I earned that money with my teenage jobs including house-painting, parking lot attendant, phone solicitor, and paperboy. When I worked for the painter I made $2.25 an hour doing the nastiest jobs like climbing up a very tall ladder to spray poison on the wasp nests near the roof. Another time I painted a small barn and planned an elaborate bank robbery as I worked for hours. (Living in the outlaw Northern California hills for forty years was actually like committing a slo-mo bank robbery.)
I bought nothing, saved every dollar, and that's the connection to privilege: I didn't have to help support my family with my after-school jobs, it was all mine, all gravy.
From my twenties through my fifties I never thought about privilege although I did come to realize that my fellow denizens out here in the hills were probably the most privileged people on the planet: living with clean air and water, an easy job with great pay, and long vacations.
It was only after I retired from the green-race that I started to contemplate the nature of this concept.
I wasn't going to feel guilty about being a white male and having stuff: I had lucked into this hippie lifestyle, my neighbors a generation of well-off bums, and sorry millennials, you were born forty years too late and will probably never have anything.
In a recent essay about this area I mentioned white privilege and I was corrected by a commenter: there was no “white privilege” out here in the hills, ie, the few Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and many Native Americans here had the same opportunity as anyone else to put some pot plants in the ground and make bank. It took some happenstance and serendipity to end up here, and who you knew sometimes mattered which points to privilege again.
What makes America wealthy? First of all we're at peace, well not in the under-privileged ghettos, but mostly we live without fear in our small towns and rural areas. What makes the U.S. wealthy is that even the most impoverished renter can take a hot shower, a reality not shared with most of the world's population. (Sixty per cent of humanity does not have access to clean water.)
Yes we are privileged, especially as seniors with socialized medicine: I recently got a hip replacement absolutely free just because I'm sixty-five, wow, what a gift — changed my life.
No, I have no solutions except to maybe give some of it back to those less fortunate: I have a friend who made fifty grand on Tesla stock recently and he donates $7000 a year to worthy causes, good man! And when his wife sells her rentals, gained by inheritance, they go to the long-term renters at below market prices. They are a very nice couple, but you can bet they will be passing the bulk of their wealth down to their child, no doubt.
See, we should give some or a lot of our stuff, our houses and wealth, to those less fortunate but we won't. Why? Because it's dog-eat-dog out there and we cling to our bank accounts to help us get through this last chapter of our privileged lives, old age, right?
Look at the big picture: the wealthy white people control a lot of the world's wealth, we didn't ask to be privileged, and now that we are what are we going to do about it?
I have some extra rooms and could probably take in seven homeless people but why would I want to ruin my life just to be a saint?