One of my morning rituals when I moved to New York City was to listen to WNYC. I listened to public radio when I was in Los Angeles, and I enjoyed learning about local current events and the intellectual stimulation that diverse topics on most shows covered, but I noticed a trend listening to NPR. There seemed to be an endless focus on “white privilege” and “underprivileged” groups. At first I didn’t think anything about it, but as time wore on, I really became irritated, not because I didn’t think that inherent racism and bigotry exists (after all, I have been the target of this myself, often from minority groups, which is quite ironic) but because of the sense of entitlement that seemed to be projected during these programs.
My own mother and grandmother were immigrants (technically, they were refugees) to this country during the 1960s who spoke entirely no English upon their arrival. They left their home country with two large trunks full of clothing, and their first jobs when they arrived in the US were as maids and cooks at a resort in the Catskills, in upstate New York, where a relative lived. They struggled to learn English and still maintain thick accents even today, after 40 years. My mother later shared a two bedroom apartment in the Upper West Side of New York City with four other women in their 20s so that she could live in a lower crime neighborhood. She put herself through college as an adult in her late 20s.
My father, although he was native born, came from a working class family of immigrants from the Balkans, and paid his way through college with student loans and also working as a bar back (while he was underage- which I guess you could get away with back in the early to mid 70s.) After scrimping and pinching through his Engineering degree, he got a full time job offer in Los Angeles (which is where he eventually met my mom, and where I was born.) He used most of his life savings to buy a car to take himself out to the West Coast on the original Route 66, and had just enough left over to put a deposit and first month’s rent on an apartment. He then told me that he ate “poor man’s hotdogs” which were 15 cents or so at the time, which apparently consisted of a bun, and as much relish, pickles, onions, and other condiments that you wanted to put on it, until he got his first paycheck.
Both of my parents grew up with an “old world” life mentality, and that is that struggle and hardship are inherent to existence. They did not gripe or stress about small things. They buckled their belts tighter, gritted their teeth, and moved forward. Although technically I grew up in an affluent household, the beneficiary of a lifetime of careful fund management and strategic moves to nice neighborhoods where there were better schools, what I began to realize is that the struggles and hardships that I endured when I became financially independent and began paying my way through grad school at the tender age of 21, was that I expected these hardships, and that actually made it easier for me to deal with them. As I began listening to radio show after radio show, I began to become exasperated when I realized that many of the things that I had to go through were far worse than some of the things that the guests on the shows were experiencing. Through most of my 20s, I had no health insurance coverage, although because I was a good saver, I always had funds available when I needed to go to the walk in clinic. I skipped out on buying expensive clothing so that I could pay for 250-300 dollar medical textbooks and equipment, although I always found money for food, there were definitely a few times towards the end of the month that I was stuck eating cheese and crackers, which was the only thing I had on hand. In fact, in retrospect I realize now that one of the reasons that I was so thin is because I spent almost no money on food!
As I entered my 30s, and as I benefitted from lots of experience with all kinds of different people, I realized that not all people were poor because of lack of opportunities. I certainly met plenty of people in the adult industry who became “rich” fast and quickly and then rode the roller coaster down to rock bottom because they snorted and drank up most of their profits, or wasted them on frivolous things thinking that the money train would never end. I’ve met plenty of college graduates whose parents paid their way through college, giving them generous allowances, who later crashed and burned due to addictive behaviors or had problems with impulse control and judgement, and later ended up doing the couch tour with anyone who would have them. I also began to realize that not everyone prioritizes the same sorts of things, and that many of my fashionista friends of friends were sporting 300 dollar shades while sleeping on mattresses on the floor. I also began to realize that while I was brought up on the old world ethos of self-sufficiency, hard work, and being prepared for difficult situations, that many of my peers enjoyed extended adolescence into their late 20s as their parents paid their bills and they took ski trips during winter breaks. This trend has become more and more pronounced, partly because of the economic crisis, but also because of a militant strain of self entitlement held by many youth.
I think that there are quite a few misconceptions about “privilege” and discrimination, the first, and most important misconception being that only white people discriminate. The dirty little secret is that lots of groups hold xenophobic views, and these are often the same groups that we tend to see as “minorities.” It is especially true if you are in any way connected to any kind of alternative lifestyle. Angry mobs of all colors of the rainbow will attack like rabid dogs if you stray too much from the acceptable status quo of behaviors.
The second misconception about “privilege” is that privilege has to do with money. This is often true, but what is more important than money is connections. Those who have connections and are able to work the system are going to benefit more than those who simply have money. A perfect example is the family court issue that I went through with my ex-partner, Alex Cornfeld. Although technically he, and not I, was the member of the minority group, and although my father helped me to get an experienced lawyer and paid over 20k for my own expert psychiatric witness, the Cornfields lied, manipulated the system, blocked my witnesses, and I suspect, paid people off in order to get their evil way. Luckily, because I spent a lifetime dealing with difficult situations, I developed the coping mechanisms to handle them, to roll with the punches, and to carry onward even amidst the worst of the nightmares that anyone can imagine.
As a child I remember the vestiges of a cold war during the Regan era, seeing the wall come down, the scourge of the aids crisis, and then the Iraq war during high school, and the worst of all, the tragedy of 9-11 during my college days, however, nothing has quite compared to the violent chaos and social unrest that I have seen in the past five to eight years, which has been fueled by idleness of the masses suffering from a lack of economic opportunity (a fact which is seriously downplayed by the media.) This is truly a difficult time to be alive, especially if you have not developed the right mindset.
While I no longer can bear to listen to NPR, I certainly believe that the ability to peacefully maintain an alternative point of view without fear of personal attacks in an important privilege of living in a free society, however, I can see that this right is slowly being infringed upon by angry anarchist mobs who are too cowardly to show their faces.