Suddenly a word that has the power to take people to their knees when spoken about, that has begun to lose it’s actual meaning.
Privilege as defined by the dictionary means a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.
Privilege is broad.
However, understanding privilege and choosing to ignore it, is a privilege.
Privilege is being able to step back and analyze various concepts on a complete ideological basis and remove all connection to the very lives directly impacted. It goes a step further and allows people to do such analysis and never bring it back down to the very real realities and how these concepts apply.
It is having a platform and deciding if you want to use it.
It is being able to decide that an opinion or question is worth discussing and if it’s not being able to step back and end the conversation. It is a privilege to not engage.
And there are many types of privilege.
There’s the affluent sports writers and community members who decide to overlook the pedophiles, the grooming of minors, and so on and so forth, in order to stay relevant in the community because of their association with those higher ups. That’s a privilege.
There’s people who don’t know anyone personally who have died or become severely ill during this pandemic and can therefore brush off the entire thing as nothing more than the common flu. That’s a privilege.
There’s people who can attend university without working part to full time. That’s a privilege.
There’s people who’s family members are in various positions – whether in jobs, or connections to schools or government, who get grandfathered in or accepted on a “legacy” basis. That’s a privilege.
But the thing about these privileges is that every individual has a choice as it pertains to the privilege.
The sports writer can choose to hold the pedophile responsible and work towards finding a community that will make sure it’s reporters are held accountable for their actions.
The people least impacted by COVID can acknowledge the reality of strangers and do their part to keep those around them safe.
The student can use their extra time to try and support a student with a different workload, maybe by running an errand, or something that frees up a little time for the working student.
The legacy recipient can take their position seriously and use it to encourage increased access for less privileged individuals.
Now that we’ve established how privilege exists and how it can be used, let’s get into the nitty gritty of privilege.
And if you say fuck you Alex I’m not reading this, congrats that’s your privilege. And your privilege is truly just doing a disservice.
I often stray away from using this platform for things that pertain to politics, but the color of ones skin in not political. Privilege exists in the realm of migraine. And for the areas of privilege I intend to discuss, they were dominant in my life and in my education, so to not use this space would be a disservice.
The privilege of home and community.
My sophomore year of college I distinctly remember the senior project some of my friends were working on for Interior Design focused on a singular block of Milwaukee, WI. The goal of the project was to revitalize the neighborhood. New storefronts, prospering new businesses, but something was missing. These proposals (conceptual or not) lacked community backing and input. Which, the entire concept of “revitalization” tends to forget.
Because us, as interior design students, are taught about value of property and how to make a great aesthetic, but the function as it relates to the surrounding community wasn’t emphasized. Because as interior designers, just as it is for city planners and architects, our history is strongly rooted in access for the most privileged.
Lessons on Redlining and Gentrification were not included in our curriculum.
It took 3 months for me to be living in Milwaukee, engaging in conversations with real people who were born and raised there, to see that Milwaukee was in fact one of, if not the most, racially segregated cities in America.
And so my passion for putting an end to redlining began.
Because I was privileged to live in a luxury apartment complex, built and priced in a way specifically intended to be just high enough that they weren’t required to have a percentage of units available for income based housing.
“Across all public housing, about 45% of residents are black while another third (32%) are white and a little over 20% are Hispanic.” – nlihc.org
Income based housing, also known in large cities as “the projects” has a very unsettling history. The Public Housing Act was developed to provide funding specifically to rid neighborhoods of slums. NPR refers to these projects as “state sponsored system[s] of segregation” that disproportionately pushed people of color into cramped living quarters and out of their communities.
This happened at the same time as two other major events: redlining and the development of freeways.
Now, redlining is commonly discussed in history books, and it is described as programs that prevented blacks from acquiring mortgages keeping them out of certain neighborhoods. Milwaukee did an exhibit that recently closed outlining the history of this within Milwaukee. I had the opportunity to see the installation and it was harrowing.
Today, we see redlining as an adaption from it’s original form. Today it is the presence of luxury apartment complexes springing up all over, without affordable complexes springing up to match the housing demand.
The other event was the development of freeways. City planners wanted to address the traffic problems that began plaguing cities and find a direct route for families living in the suburbs to get to and from work. Areas that were deemed “undesirable” served as the perfect avenue for city planners to address traffic and rid the city of the slums. Except, back then, the slums were simply areas that weren’t primarily white. And ridding the cities of slums, quite literally meant paving over them.
Baltimore is home to a failed freeway project, now known as the “highway to no-where” that cut right through the heart of the community, destroying thousands of homes in the process. It now serves as a scar and a painful reminder of the intentional destruction of the black community.
8 Mile Wall in Detroit is also an example of city planners aiding in the segregation of cities. It disrupted the community and divided it in a way that allowed the new white developments to be separate.
Examples of this segregation often made legal through various loopholes go on forever. There’s hundreds of freeways. Hundreds of housing developments. Heck, there’s even still sundown towns spread across the country. And I can share them, I can point you in the right direction, but the literature is already out there, and I don’t need to rewrite it so it’s more palatable since it’s coming from a white person.
Housing privilege is white privilege. And perhaps housing privilege is the most well documented phenomena that allows the overall concept to best be communicated.
This was the field I wanted to work in and create a life in. I wanted to focus on fixing up homes, specifically the Victorian homes. Revitalization and restoration sounded beautiful, until I became aware of how often these acts are truly just gentrification.
There’s even a show on HGTV about a mom and a daughter fixing up homes and they’ve done almost an entire street in Indianapolis. They advertise how property value will go up and the neighborhood is turning around… But what happens to the community that used to live there? Where will they go? You buy the property at a low cost, fix it up so it sells for a price that the original occupants could never afford, and you do that house after house and push people out one by one, and those who remain are pushed out by increased property taxes.
It trickles into another area of ownership that has a very complicated history: heirs land.
After the Civil War, one of the Reconstruction terms were coined as “40 acres and a mule” where the land of Confederates (the people who lost the war) was given to former slaves as reparations. This promise was never fulfilled as intended, due to Jim Crow Laws and klan activity, but some land was still dispersed. A distrust in the legal system created a new system where land was passed down through generations in a rather informal way.
In short, heirs are able to live on this land, but they do so without many of the rights of typical land ownership, and the cost to rectify it is unattainable. Every year thousands of families are pushed off their land, as in some cases a single heir can decide to sell the property, even if they personally have no ties to the land and the other heirs living on it. This allows big developers to swoop up large swaths of land fairly easily, and certain laws have made it legal.
It creates this environment where many black families are land rich, but cash poor.
I highlight redlining, freeway development, and heirs land to make a singular point as it pertains to white privilege: The generational impacts of discrimination and segregation based policies are still dominant in society today and disproportionately impact people of color.
The freeways are still in tact. They destroyed thriving communities and divided communities removing the strong sense of community from those neighborhoods. Because they were literally cut in half.
Modern day redlining prevents people from having access to safe and affordable housing. The ADA is 30 years old this month, but the accessible apartments that are required to have been built over the last 30 years are not affordable to disabled people. And luxury apartment complexes only make room for older complexes to increase their prices.
These are still issues today.
Choosing to not recognize them as problems because you haven’t personally experienced it, is a privilege. But you don’t have to use your privilege in that way.
And perhaps your exposure is limited.
I am privileged in that I follow and interact with many thought leaders and activists who discuss these problems and have real plans for how they can be changed and addressed. I see the impact.
I’ve lived where heirs land is a regular part of life. I’ve lived in communities where the hospitals have closed. I’ve regularly commuted through towns long forgotten and left to remain in poverty. I’ve lived where we’ve fought against new luxury developments and for enrichment of the existing community. I’ve gotten the opportunity to vote for the only candidate who has ever explicitly addressed redlining in her campaign as a modern day problem.
And I recognize that not everyone has had such a direct exposure. And I don’t fault those without direct exposure for not having direct exposure.
It is however worthy of fault when the mere concept of engaging with experiences beyond your own is unreasonable.
White privilege is about the lack of systematic discrimination on the SOLE basis of skin color.
It isn’t about being condemned because you are white. No one is condemning you. You cannot be condemned in the very systems you and people who look like you control.
You can however choose to return to the idea of how you use your privilege.
Are you actively rejecting racism? Hate crimes? Lynchings? Are you looking at your place of work to see what kind of actual support is being offered to people of color in your system? Do you recognize where other voices should be centered and uplifted?
Can you step back to realize that some of the perceptions you’ve grown up with are a product of your surroundings and that those perceptions may not reflect reality?
Maybe you can. Maybe you aren’t there yet. Maybe sitting with what you interpret as shame or guilt is too much for you.
I am not here to change your mind, change you, or say you’re wrong or right. Because if you view me in that light, that isn’t my place to address it. Information and education and expanding your realm of knowledge beyond your personal lived experience is what this space has always existed for.
There is more than black and white when it comes to migraine and what this disease is. This space fills in that in-between grey spot. But much of life beyond migraine is also a grey spot, and I can and will use this space to continue to bridge the gap.
For further reading and research, here are a few places to start:
- Neighborhood Isolation and Mortgage Redlining in Milwaukee County
- The Physical Legacy of Racism: How Redlining Cemented the Modern Built Environment
- Affordable Housing, Exclusionary Zoning, and American Apartheid: Using Title VIII to Foster Statewide Racial Integration
- Highway to Inequity: The Disparate Impact of the Interstate Highway System on Poor and Minority Communities in American Cities
- Highways gutted American cities. So why did they build them?
- Their Family Bought Land One Generation After Slavery. The Reels Brothers Spent Eight Years in Jail for Refusing to Leave It.
And if you’re wondering why I didn’t address police brutality and current events, it’s because I already have and you can find it here, available to the public on my Patreon. 504 Sit Ins and Black Lives Matter