Privilege Blog

Why I Still Call This Blog “Privilege,” Or, Saturday Morning at 9:07am

When I listed my daughter’s ballet shoes on eBay, I was reminded that my user name in many parts of the Internet is Amid Privilege. You know how that happened. I started this blog as a way to explore and articulate my as-yet-unnamed family culture, to integrate it with my blurt-it-all out, notice-every-iota, feel-all-the-feels temperament. I had my reasons, as they say.

In those early days, I wrote in a voice from my past, the imperious tones of older female relatives. Then, as it became clear that the artifacts and aesthetics of that culture were most interesting to readers, I began to write about style. This dovetailed quite nicely into my 2011 back-to-work project, since, lo and behold, I had to wear clothes. Cue the outfit posts. So fun.

Now we’re on to full lifestyle blogging. Martha Stewart meets Jacques Derrida. Kidding. But the joint’s still called Privilege.

The other night I heard my stepmother speak about her childhood. She was born in Germany, during the war, and emigrated at 5, her mother having divorced her German husband to marry an American soldier. This is a story worth telling. Meaning hangs on bare facts. The pain of war, the fraught role of women, the experience of immigrants in America. The word “father.”

I found myself wondering, what would I say, if ever I found myself at a podium with an audience and an hour? Not that I’d be at a loss for words, they gurgle in my throat at the ready. But what would I say that mattered? I imagine bunting on the hills above Darjeeling, fluttering –  there’s a pattern if one can but see it.

So I leave Privilege up top. If I changed the name I’d call it Kindness. Because if I find underlying meaning in my life experience so far – that’s it. If the world makes sense, when we grow up in privilege and we are not harmed, we will become kind. Our striving to Get will lead us to Give. Otherwise we’re all going to hell in a handbasket and I refuse.

Kindness can’t be legislated. Can’t be theorized. Shame gets us only so far. I believe that people are naturally good but I concede that even in privilege people get damaged – grow up sad or angry or in need forever. If we fail to heal ourselves we can’t follow what I optimistically believe is the natural course.

So take the time and thought to parent kindly, remember that supermarket clerks are human and deserve courtesy, keep your hand off the horn. It’s all hard and if you find yourself unable, you’re probably tired.

Be then kind to yourself.

It’s possible I rely too much on my family as proof that people are good. Please excuse my pride, in advance. Nobody’s perfect. But they work in the service of knowledge, social or personal. Everyone’s trying or has tried to give.

And my stepmother, who, when asked what she had learned in her retelling and repicturing of her past, said, “I was a coward.” She must in fact have been heartbreakingly brave. In the context of her story, she meant she did not search for her German father, didn’t see him until he reached out decades later. But still, once safe from war, to look back and wonder how one could have done better.

Not to blame the world. That’s kindness.

If I’m wrong, if there’s no correlation between privilege and good behavior, why then is the world getting better, overall? So let’s say I’m right. Let’s say people are basically good. Let’s say our main job in parenting is to do no harm. Let’s say that every little bit counts. And let’s admit that when we are lucky we owe it to the very idea of humanity to be worthy of our good fortune.

It’s hard to go by Amid Privilege. In counterpoint, I write on my Twitter profile, “I try not to be a jerk.” I imagine there are many who land on this blog, see the title, and depart in haste. But Privilege is the truth. And truth demands we keep our feet on the evident path.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone. Time is a privilege and a kindness both.


54 Responses

  1. I think it’s good to stick with your original blog name, even if the content has more of a Stewart-Derrida bent. Completely agree about kindness – both to others and to yourself.

  2. Kindness, compassion, “love is all you need”. I believe that! Privilege is being able to practice what you preach.

  3. Dear Lisa,
    One half of my family comes from WASP privilege and the other half comes from a history of struggles, poverty, and some cases of very bad behavior. But when it comes to compassion, it is the family members from the non-privileged side that show more kindnesss.

    1. @Sandy, I am sorry to hear that privilege hasn’t led to kindness, but very happy that the other side of your family gets there even without.

  4. I would say compared to your early life experiences, I did NOT grow up in “privilege”… if privilege means financial security, and all that goes with that. My mum raised me and my three brothers and sisters as a single parent with no child support and we were always in a precarious financial situation. But we had supportive (and kind) aunts & uncles who helped (they paid for our formal gowns for high school grad among other things), loving grandparents, and each other. And later a wonderful step-father. And compared to many kids I went to school with we were privileged indeed. We were encouraged to get a good education (and did, thanks to student loans), to love books, and learning, and hard work, and laughter. So I guess I’m saying that “privilege” is all relative. BTW…I feel privileged to read your blog each week:)

    1. @Sue B, I love the way you put that, Sue B: “Privilege is all relative.” We never had a lot growing up, but we had everything we needed. I was blessed to have my wonderfully nurturing mom waiting at home for me when I returned from school at the end of the day, not to mention, my adoring grandparents right next door. Education was always emphasized, along with service to one’s community and country. A whole lotta love! That’s privilege.

  5. Lovely post, Lisa. It’s a kindness just to put the word out into the world. Something we should all aspire to, no matter our lot in life. Thank you.

    1. @Kathryn, Thank you very much. Part of the reason for my blog’s evolution is realizing that it may be the best place for me to effect my values.

  6. I’ve always been fascinated by your life as a child and young woman. So please, don’t stop writing about those experiences. For many of us, that is a very different world–and we are interested.

    This last week brought some very sobering news stories for our area when it was revealed that two of the college students on the OU fraternity bus singing a shameful racist song were from my city–and one from our high school. All the newspaper articles say that these were privileged young men as if their background contributed to their bad behavior. I don’t believe that. I don’t think for one minute that privilege = racism. In fact, I would have thought the well educated parents would have taught their children better. Its puzzling and very sad.

    1. @Susan, Oh that story so upset me. So upset me. How could any group of kids think that was in any way OK? And I’ll keep writing. How about a post on the Joys And Ritual Of Dressing For Dinner:)?

  7. Ah, Lisa, beautifully said as always. You are a joy.

    I think there is perhaps nothing more important in life than kindness, so easy to give and when received, it can be magic.

  8. I wrote of this, myself, (a few years back) for our writer’s group. Kindness, too, is something we learn when we are truly loved… Kathy Lundy Derengowski 11/28/11

    Personal History

    My father worked long days without complaint
    To pay for our piano lessons.

    My Mother made do
    But took us, by bus, to the library

    We didn’t know that we led a life of privilege
    Or what a privilege was.

    There were children who had more
    But didn’t have as much.

    It took some time for us to learn,
    The different ways of being rich.

  9. I’m glad that you’ve kept your original title. Far too few people in the world recognize that they’re probably in the top 1% (or 5%, or 10%, or wherever you/we fit) due as much to the luck of the draw as to their individual hard work and talent. “Privilege” as a title to me connotes recognition of and gratitude for having had the opportunities that you have had, and there’s nothing wrong with gratitude.

  10. I am curious and wondering why you are considering changing the name of your blog at this juncture? Your writing is so interesting that i would follow you no matter what you called your blog!
    Our upbringing was WASP, albeit pedestrian, but we grew up in a wonderful neighbourhood with mostly 2 parent families where the moms had the honor and privilege to stay home and raise the children while the dads went off to work and there was enough money to put food on the table and a little extra for lessons and an annual holiday. I am fascinated by the lives that wealthy families lived but see that there are many more similarities and values than I had ever expected…please keep writing Lisa…on kindness, or carpets, or white roses or fashion and style.
    Enjoy your weekend!

    1. @hostessofthehumblebungalow, Thank you Leslie. Very kind of you. I’m not really thinking of changing the blog name, only musing over the baggage it creates when I bump around the Internet. Imagine the eBay denizens, seeing that user name. What must they think? I should probably have chosen a different eBay name, but I was anonymous back when, so my real name didn’t seem like an option.

    2. @hostessofthehumblebungalow,

      I always cringe when people talk of stay-at-home mothers as “privileged” and it’s because of my age.

      I’m 56 and when I was growing up it was not considered a privilege; it was normal life for the vast majority of women (except the very poor ones).

      I don’t think I’ll ever get used to hearing it referred to as “privilege” nowadays.

  11. Lisa, I think the title is still apt. Our history is a starting point; it’s good to look honestly at where we were launched, and remember that what’s important is what we do with what we were given. And kindness, yes. It’s everything. You are one of the kindest, most gracious people I know.

    1. @déjà pseu, “Our history is a starting point.” True. And thank you. The blog is my best self, I’m trying to use it to inform the rest of my life as best I can.

  12. Hmm. Be kind to yourself. That’s the advice my 10th grade English teacher gave to me. The best advice I’ve ever gotten. The advice I’ve listened to the very, very, very least. But, you know, I’ve got time. I hope.

    I’ve read your blog for a surprisingly long time. From the jingle-jangle of the bracelets of other mothers at your son’s high school graduation (was it?), to your triumphant Brora-clad return to work, to your wedding, to now. Kindness. I like it.

    1. @Charlotte, Oh you should know how very much I appreciate the long readership. So much. And I hope your time gives you soon, the occasion for kindness to yourself.

  13. I’ve had the same kind of reservations or, at least, double-thinking about my blog name — it made a particular kind of sense when I came up with it almost 8 years ago (emerging from many years of grad school, wanting to stake a more public space or voice or something for my domestic/Mater self) . . . Sometimes I feel a bit awkward about it, aware that it needs more context to make sense, that it might make me appear more, I don’t know, regressive or something than I see myself.
    But like you, I’m going to stick with it for now.

    Meanwhile, it’s always a real Privilege to read your blog and this is a lovely post, Kindness and Wisdom beautifully articulated.

    1. @Frances/Materfamilias, Thank you very much. As your family extends, and the grandchildren multiply, Materfamilias takes on new meaning. And you’ve surely done your time and made your mark teaching, so the Latin name is apt. I like it. Gravitas.

  14. Beautiful post. Privilege can be and mean so many different things, so although it started as a nod to your past, it has evolved to other sorts of privileges, as has your blog and your life. And of course, a big yes to kindness. XO

    1. @kathy, I learn so much here. Yes, I hadn’t thought of that, the privilege and my understanding of it has also evolved. The title becomes a sonar buoy of sorts, as I go. Thank you.

  15. Lisa when I changed the name of my blog to Art by Karena to The Arts by Karena, paying it forward and kindness to others became my mantra! If only kindness were a natural for everyone! Focusing on the creativity of artists, designers, architects, etc who add so much beauty to our world.
    The Arts by Karena

  16. Oooh, Lisa, I’m so glad we’re still on this subject because i forgot to tell you something yesterday.

    A few years ago I was working on a project with a friend that involved Martha Stewart as a speaker for a prestigious conference for (very) successful women. Everything with the arrangements regarding her were complicated and in constant flux. The conference was in another city (as in all of the attendees flew there and stayed in the gorgeous hotel where all the events were scheduled). Martha’s people said she would not be staying in the hotel. Fine, no problem.

    She then arrived with her p.r. person and decided to stay in the hotel. I’m getting to the point. . . The charming and accommodating reception desk people were both impressed to see her and a little flummoxed because they had to scurry about to find an appropriate room for her. As this was transpiring she was absolutely vile to the people who were doing everything in their power to help her.

    In other words, it seems kindness and politesse are not part of her DNA. I’ve heard she treats people “in service” very badly. Since I saw her in action — she was equally unpleasant with me — I can confirm the rumors.

    I don’t buy into the explanations that a woman has to be nasty to succeed. There were women at the conference who were far more successful than she who were kind and fun, including Madeleine Albright.

    1. @Tish Jett, I had heard that too about Martha, from someone who once worked in one of her enterprises. That Martha is mean and Madeline kind and fun, well, that kind of makes my day. Not the meanness, of course, just the idea that someone as smart and tough as Madeline is also nice and fun. Glad you came back to tell the story;).

  17. I think your title explains who you are and where you came from. As another long time reader, I like the title. Call it what you will, I will keep reading.

  18. I’m with Mary Ann, and no explanation of your choice needed. When kind people work in what you call “the service of knowledge” they very often create indelible impressions and lifelong gratitude in those whom they touch. What a beautiful way to live.

  19. I can’t imagine your blog not being called “Privilege”. It is a privilege to share with you in so many ways, from your rose garden to your changing sense of fashion to stories of your past.

    All the Best from Nairobi this time!

  20. Usually I read your posts online and then comment on your Facebook page, but the majority of people comment here, so I think I’ll join in. Your blog name never gave me pause, maybe because I knew you first on Twitter, or maybe because I go into situations thinking the best and with an open mind. I do see how the word privilege could put some people off because words are loaded with multiple meanings, and we live in a world in which people seem increasingly ready to take offense where none is intended. I do believe kindness is the key to a good life, kindness first to oneself and then outward from there, and I think it exists with the corollary Assume Good Will. At times when I am upset at what I perceive as a lack of kindness I tell myself to Assume Good Will. If I then find there is none, I proceed accordingly. You are a kind person. I have first hand experience with that. You get to name your blog what feels right to you. People who Assume Good Will will find the jewels in your writing. I’ve been reading you for a long time and I have watched you go back to work, get married, grow more firmly into a realization of your beauty and the style that most complements that beauty and makes you happy. You have enriched my life with your words and I am grateful.

  21. I’m a relatively new reader, & from what it seems, one of the younger ones. My upbringing was vastly different from yours, being the offspring of immigrants & having not grown up with much money, but I always knew I was loved & my parents did their best to provide me & my siblings with what opportunities they could afford.

    That, in itself, I know is a privilege & one of the reasons I enjoy your blog so much is how honest you are about your background & grateful for what that has enabled you to do & become.

    On a slightly different note, I saw this article & would love to hear your thoughts on it:

    1. @m, Thank you. I have to be honest as much as possible or I feel I have much less to offer.

      And for the article about cookbooks, it seems really smart, but I haven’t kept up on the cookbook world, so I need to do some background reading to be able to really comment. I looked forward to doing so.

  22. I love your posts and love the name. It has a certain grace to it…Privilege recognizes the beauty that life has bestowed upon you. It extends to health, family, style, family traditions, love of travel and new things/ideas. I love your voice and will read even if you change the name but love it as is.

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