A Letter to the Privileged: You May Feel Guilt, But Don't Deserve Sympathy
Dear Kate Menendez,
On Sunday, Thought Catalog published your monstrosity in which you demanded the world to get off your back and stop making you feel bad for being privileged. On first read, I was livid. On second read, I remembered your opinion is not isolated. There are plenty of people who are frustrated with feeling ashamed for living in a nice apartment and not having any student debt. However, your article lacks critical thought, and you reveal yourself to be an entitled rich person with hurt feelings. Classism has real-world effects on the working class and poor people of this country. Your guilt resulting from classism is not a result of your interactions with working class and poor people, but rather a symptom of benefiting from an oppressive system.
Classism is the systematic oppression of working class and poor people for the benefit of the middle and ruling classes. As demonstrated by recent attacks on Obamacare and food stamps, classism is alive. Millions of people are forced to decide whether obtaining health care is worth being buried under a mountain of bills. Millions of people worry about whether they will be able to feed themselves and their families.
You claim to "understand the overwhelming financial burdens of others," but you don't. Until you have been oppressed, you cannot truly understand it. You can read about it, listen to people describe their experiences, and think about what it might be like, but you cannot understand the overwhelming stigma experienced by those who are oppressed.
You do not understand what your doorman is thinking when he hands you your J. Crew package. You say you want people to complain about their overwhelming financial burdens, but you hate feeling self-conscious when others lament their overwhelming student loans. This is because your discomfort is not rooted in the complaints of the poor. Your discomfort lies with being reminded of your privilege.
As countless scholars have demonstrated, one way in which oppression is reproduced is through the invisibility of the privileged. When we discuss race, we quickly name "Black," "Latino," "Asian," as if socially constructed whiteness, which is the root of racism, should not be analyzed. Likewise, when considering the classism of which you are part, you maintain the default position. You do not consider the effect your class has on your experiences because it has never hindered you. For your entire life, your class and privilege have been invisible to you.
Now, you are becoming aware of your class. You are starting to realize that you benefit from privileges that accompany being a part of the oppressive class. You are starting to hear people complain about not being able to afford "nice" clothes or not being able to afford higher education. That you don't have these complaints should demonstrate that our society is tailored to you, the person with privilege.
Instead of realizing the larger social implications of your privilege, however, you simply take away hurt feelings. Instead of recognizing that the complaints are about the experience of oppression, you make them about you and your experiences. If you wanted, you could easily spend your life ignoring your position of privilege in order to avoid the discomfort you temporarily feel. The working class and poor people cannot do the same, because their very survival is constantly being threatened.
Instead of complaining about the shame you feel, do something about it. By professing your discomfort, you make it more difficult for working class and poor people to deal with the oppression they face. By refusing to confront your privilege and the systematic nature of classism, you allow it to continue. If you aren't part of the solution, you are the problem.