It was over 20 years when my parents migrated to the United States from the cumin-scented land of India. In what is one among millions of classic, tear-jerking immigrant journeys, my parents dared to step off the edge of comfort and normality in a tenacious pursuit for economic, social and spiritual fulfillment. Their pockets relatively impoverished but minds exceedingly rich, my mother and father crossed the Atlantic to provide something to their children that we, as Americans, seem to detest with a burning passion.
I am talking about privilege.
Flash forward to present suburban Connecticut, where privilege flows thicker than blood and the smell of economic opportunity permeates the crisp New England air like maple trees in the fall. Consistently ranked as one of the wealthiest states in the nation, you would be hard pressed to find somebody who is not aware of the ever so pervasive stereotype that people from the Nutmeg State are lying on a plush mattress of comfort, their snobby and egotistical heads resting on the silk cushions of bottomless opportunity. In Connecticut, everything is more expensive. And thus, in the eyes of many, everything is supposed to be better.
Indeed, it seems that no matter where I go, my ties to the place I call my home collectively form an ebony ink blot on my social record, a dark blemish that smudges both my achievements and failures by suggesting that I am too advantaged to be aware of how advantaged I actually am.
Now, I will be the first to admit that I, like many other students in both Connecticut and beyond, am extremely privileged. I come from a household with two working parents, both of whom might I add, have given years upon years of blood, sweat and tears as they climbed the ladder of success, their fingers ever so occasionally slipping on the oily rungs of narrow-mindedness that often plague those who are not born in the United States. I was blessed with the opportunity to earn a public secondary education that allowed me to discover my passions for healthcare, journalism, public service and learning. I am honored in that I was able to form strong student-teacher relationships with a class of educators whose influence on my life has been nothing less than spectacular. And most of all, I am blessed to come from a community that in cases of tragedy understands the power of compassion and togetherness. Together, these environmental influences have played a dynamic role in facilitating my personal and spiritual growth, and I can say with full confidence that I would hardly be who I am today without the opportunities that have come my way.
But despite the extent to which I am grateful for my upbringing, I find it overwhelmingly irritating when I am labeled by stereotypes and misconceptions of my background, when I am assumed by others to be entitled or spoiled or even overly wealthy because I come from New England or because I went to a "good" high school.
Yes, unpacking the war against privilege in our country is almost as dangerous and convoluted as unpacking privilege itself. For one reason or another, our nation as a whole is wired to socially excommunicate and extradite those who are born into superior circumstances. We detest people who are white because of white privilege. We detest men because their gender expression allots them benefits that women have yet to be able to enjoy (Disclaimer: anti-men philosophies can hardly be grouped under the umbrella of feminism). We detest people of wealthy environments because we assume that these people are sheltered, greedy or far too oblivious to care about the fissures induced by social and political inequality.
This is not to say that race, gender and economic equity are not important issues; on the contrary, repairing the damages caused by these forces should always be at the forefront of our minds, especially because we live in a world where police brutality against minorities, the poor handling of sexual assaults on college campuses and the discrimination and criminalization of those living in poverty run rampant. It is true that, as discussed by TIME in its 2013 article concerning entitlement and the millennial generation, our modern society is to some degree built upon a foundation of self-centeredness. But to blindly hate an individual because such matters do not "directly" affect him or her--and to be quite honest, I believe that these topics do and should affect each and every one of us--is to distance our population from achieving our ultimate and often underrepresented goal: increasing our awareness of what privilege is. For me, this misguided perception of me not only undermines my achievements, but also those of my parents, who despite all the forces working against them, prevailed and have worked tirelessly to instill in me an appreciation for self empowerment, education and hard work. It is ultimately because of their effort and not my privilege alone that I am able to attend my college of choice, and it because of their integrity that I am proud to be their son. I am proud to be privileged.
As individuals, we do not get to choose the environment we are brought into. The womb is not rigged with a roulette wheel, and we do not, as infants, have the opportunity to participate in the lottery of conception. I did not ask to be born into economic stability, nor did I ask to be born a male. Similarly, an individual I know from Cleveland, Ohio did not choose to be born into an environment in which for a portion of her life, she had to rely on food stamps to receive adequate nourishment. Now a student at a competitive liberal arts college, she too has experienced the struggle of finding a voice in a world where others are trying to squash it, of having other students tell her that she should take responsibility for conditions that are far beyond her control.
If we truly want to bridge the gap between these instances of birth, if we feel the desire to mend the apathy surrounding the American Dream, then we need to open doors for a discussion of what it means to be advantaged. Tell me not what my community has done for me, but what I can do for my community. Tell me not how advantaged I am, but how I can employ my advantage to evoke a positive change in my world.