She Says it Better

The Other Side of Privilege at Princeton

If you haven’t heard about the Princeton Kid, you should look into it. Essentially, he wrote a no apologies piece about not being sorry for his privilege (primarily “White,” and “male,” in this case). The article I’ve linked provides another lenses with which to consider privilege–and it is such a good read. And it is much more eloquent than the stream of thought I’m about to put out here. (So please, read the above article first.)

I’ll own up to my privilege in this world. I speak English with an American accent. I grew up not rich but without want. I largely wasn’t questioned for my achievements in school and in music growing up; my success was attributed to inherent talent along with hard work. I can hold hands with my significant other in public, and our orientation is never challenged nor called out.

And at the same time, I can point out many different ways in which I understand not having privilege. My identity is constantly questioned and assumed to be something it is not. “What are you?” is one of the first questions I am usually asked, usually following “What do you do?” and “Where are you from?” People have gotten upset with me when my identity does not fit what they expect or want. “No, you’re Latina; I know it.” “You’re not really Asian, though. Filipinos aren’t really Asian.” “You’re basically White!” Sometimes, I don’t get to tell my own story, and it rightly pisses me off. You don’t know me; how dare you invalidate me.

People sometimes assume I don’t and can’t speak English. Or they’re surprised it’s my first (and only) language. And others guilt me for not speaking my “native tongue.” I don’t speak Tagalog because my father didn’t speak it, and it was easier in the household to just speak English.

I couldn’t afford a private education. I grew up in the public system, and was constantly top of my class. I went to public universities because the burden of debt at a private institution would have been too much for my family. Certainly I was capable. And if I had gone to an elite institution, my presence as a mixed-race, middle-class female would have likely been questioned or downplayed. Some would have thought my scholarships were due only to my race or my socioeconomic class; that’s not right, and it’s frustrating to have your own hard work come with an imposed disclaimer.

And regarding my partners? Well, I definitely have heterosexual privilege, but at the same time, there are people who still question my relationships because of the color of my skin. What the actual Hell, people?

I recognize my privilege, and I honor the stories my family has provided me through their own struggles. And some days, I feel the weight of having more than others. I am still working on what to do about that. How can I provide equity in this world? How do I make things just a little bit better? These are terribly difficult things, and I will do an imperfect job.

But I will at least try.

Look, privilege and identity and the truth and reality we live are all different. Sometimes we benefit from the established order because of those who came before us, even if they were completely misguided. Sometimes we oppress others because of that same constructed order. We all struggle, and we all struggle differently. I’m not asking for apologies. I’m asking that you LISTEN to my story and to others’ stories. I’m asking that you drop your judgement and your guilt, and listen.

Learn what empathy really is. Learn that your experiences are real and valid, but not everyone lives the same reality as you. I’ll admit I am still learning this, and it wasn’t until I was well into college that I began to understand the complexities that make up our experiences.

Princeton Kid, I don’t want your apology. You do you; live your own story. Your reality is just as real (although you might want to do a bit more analysis. Yes, analysis of a story, like we did in high school English). But to invalidate others’ stories? That’s not acceptable.

I only hope you grow and learn and open your mind and heart–and it is difficult, that’s for sure. I cannot tell you how shaken I was when my beliefs were challenged for the first time.

But here I am, weary yet stronger for being challenged.

It is a long journey.

Last thing I will say for tonight… Princeton Kid, I will use my privilege as a (very lax) Catholic to say I’ll keep you in my prayers. I will do my best to challenge others to stretch themselves and understand the stories we all live. I will come at you not with fire on my tongue, but with stories and ideas that you may hate. But I’ll put them out there, leave them there for you, and constantly hope that you take the time to listen.

It’s not enough. It will never be enough. Yet… At least it’s something.

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