As I sit here and write this post it is two days from Thanksgiving 2019. A time that should be celebrated with loved ones and friends regarding reflection upon the year thus far. Unfortunately, this can be a difficult time of the year for millions of people across our nation when given the chance to cast back thoughts. I want to open this with a story from my youth and maybe my points will be made clearer:
When I was a young child, my family like millions of others across the world had a dog. Our family’s dog was named Rocky; a Cocker-Spaniel who had a ton of energy. As I can recall, Rocky was always a good dog, in fact, there are numerous pictures of 3-year-old Kyle attempting to ride the back of Rocky with little to no protest from him. As I grew up, however, Rocky’s attitude and demeanor began to change. He became a lot more aggressive and stopped listening to his commands. Rocky could not be let out of the house anymore due to him trying to run away (and seeing how we moved to a house on a busy street, it was dangerous). I think the biggest change I saw from Rocky was one night he bit my brother in the cheek that required Kerry to receive stitches from the hospital. I remember being very angry at my dog for the harm he caused to my brother and until Rocky died a few years later after that incident, I recall never quite having the same opinion on my childhood dog. Now being completely fair: Kerry did step on Rocky’s tail accidentally and while Kerry was attempting to comfort Rocky that’s when he was bitten. Kerry was also in kindergarten at the time, so it is entirely possible he could not tell that the dog was agitated. However, my opinion still was that Rocky had changed and I did not like it. Was it possible that he has always been this way and I was too naive to notice? Had there been signs about his behavior this entire time and I just didn’t see them until too late? Had people tried to warn me regarding his behavior and I simply ignored them because I was set in my ways of thinking? Any of those scenarios are possible as I sit down and reflect. I do know that to this day, I tend to be very cautious around even the timidest of dogs due to my past experiences. I know that not all dogs treat me like Rocky did towards the end of his life. But it does raise concerns on my part and it causes me to express those concerns with my dog-obsessed fiance all the time regarding adoption in the future.
So why this story? Well, work with me for a second. What if I told you that people in this country have the same opinion about the United States that I did regarding my family’s dog? It’s possible to love something but still recognize that there’s a problematic behavior that needs to be corrected. In recent years, there has been a rise in “woke” culture. The idea that being blindly taught that everything is okay in the name of getting along is starting to take a backseat into “waking up” to what is really happening. Without a doubt, this coincides with the rise of social media over the last decade or so. Before going any further, I want to put this on the record: I’m very thankful for living in the United States of America. I, like many people, recognize the privilege that comes with being raised in a developed nation where I have access to clean water, a place to lay my head at night and education that has allowed me to advance my career. I am thankful to the men and women that defend my ability to enjoy these freedoms and I recognize how living in this digital age makes things often appear worse than what I actually experience. With that being said; I am not blind to what struggles and disadvantages go on in this country on a daily basis.
For example, I live in Milwaukee. One of the most socio-economically segregated cities in the United States (it’s a well-known fact). The north side zip code 53206 has among most incarcerated adults of many zip codes in the country (47.5% according to a 2017 study). I recognize the privilege that my parents busted their asses (both parents have post-graduate degrees and were married for 26 years) to give their children a head start on life and every opportunity they didn’t have growing up. Opportunites that many children, specifically minority children, did not and could not get. Was my life growing up perfect? Absolutely not. Did I face hardships that were self-inflicted? For sure. Could my parents both having graduate degrees solve every problem? Not one chance. Do I recognize that my experiences are very atypical and that at any moment due to either divine intervention or a simple choice I didn’t make I could be in a very different position right now? Absolutely 100%.
I reached out to a number of friends to help me get some insight into this post. I want to choose my words carefully because I do not want to create a false narrative for anyone, especially those who took time out of their workday to help me get my thoughts straight. One of my dear friends is an immigrant from Colombia, he has been in the USA since 1997 and just this year became a U.S. citizen. He shared his struggle with assimilating to the U.S. culture. I can attest that throughout high school he took a lot of “Mexican” and “illegal immigrant” jokes in stride because “it’s just easier to go along with the joke” (man that struck a nerve with me). Could you blame him if he, a Colombian immigrant, over time just had the idea “why should I be thankful to a country whose people treat me like this?” I couldn’t. Yet he’s living the American dream with his family, a job he loves and he’s a homeowner. It’s hasn’t been perfect for him but he does find pride in being an American citizen and thankful for the opportunities and privileges that come with living in the USA.
Another one of my friends, a natural-born United States citizen, has a very different view. I’ve known her since grade school and she currently lives in Atlanta and works as a psychologist. She brought up the fact that “I cannot have pride in a country that was stolen from one group of people and built off the blood of others. I am though, appreciative of the opportunities and privileges being an American affords me. While it’s a messed up country, I can admit that we have it better off here than many other countries. So grateful, yes. Proud, not so much.” Another one of my friends, another natural-born citizen does not find pride in being American because she “did nothing to become an American citizen…just because I happened to find my way into an American woman’s birth canal.”
I want to take a few moments and talk about the word “privilege” and what it really means. In almost every single conversation I had with a person regarding this topic, the word privilege was brought up in every single one. In our society, privilege has a negative connotation and I don’t think that the word really warrants that connotation at all. Privilege by definition is “a special right, advantage or immunity granted or given to a particular person or group”. Privilege should not be seen initially as a negative quality for a person to have. Examples: I had the privilege of having both parents present in my life my entire childhood, I had the privilege of both parents having steady jobs and post-secondary education, I had the privilege of going to a private high school, I have full usage of all my limbs and in relatively good health for the majority of my life, I have access to clean water and a warm place to live, finally I live in the United States of America where I have earned my college degree and I’m in the process of working on my Master’s. Every single example I gave is a privilege. Not something negative, as many people want to imply unless I use those privileges to complicate the lives of other people who do not share in these. Case in point: earlier this year I had knee surgery that required me to use a handicapped parking sticker when I would go out to run errands. There was a period of a month where I did not have the privilege of walking. Normal day activities like; using the stairs, changing clothes, and showering, became a chore because I did not have that privilege of not worrying about how that would be taken care of in my day-to-day routine. In shorter words: if you don’t have to worry about it, then it’s a privilege for you. Just think about it, when was the last time you had to worry about being able to get to your job because you don’t have access to a vehicle? When was the last time you couldn’t think of how to get a meal? It is okay to acknowledge your privilege. Somebody made it so that your life is a little bit easier. Not everybody shares privileges that I do, I acknowledge that as something that is a part of life. Is a life with privilege perfect? By all means no. Is it a little bit easier for example? Yes, it is. Again privilege is not bad, but there has to be an acknowledgment that some people do not share in the privileges that you do.
Which brings me to my final point: living in America is a privilege. That is without question. It is not perfect by any means for any of her citizens, but it is a privilege to live in this country. What I want to implore to you is that this privilege is not free from questioning and criticism. Without going too far in-depth, I want to lay down a few challenges to you regarding healthy conversation regarding privilege. I challenge you to find someone who may not have the same viewpoint of you regarding the outlook on the USA. I challenge you to find out what is the cause of that different point of view on the same country that you live in. I respectfully challenge you not shut down if that person says something that rubs you the wrong way. Especially if that person mentions a privilege that they do not get to experience. Because again: privilege is not a bad thing. Finally, I challenge you to reflect on this question: does my privilege prevent me from seeing the blight of my fellow citizens? If someone who is disabled comes to me and says that “I feel like my problems are not taken seriously” is my first reaction going to be “Well pal you must be crazy” or “tell me more about what you mean?” If I talk to someone who is jobless, homeless, sick with a terminal illness, a victim of police brutality, LGBTQ+, or any other marginalized group am I one to shut down because their pain is not the same as mine? I would hope not, and if you are reading this I hope you aren’t either. If you are, then you really need to listen to people’s stories and testimony about their experiences without the same privilege that you experience and you don’t have to think about. Privilege is not a bad thing, but you cannot act like everyone has the same access to them.
I sincerely hope that all of you reading this have a wonderful Thanksgiving, thank you for taking some time with me in my small corner of the internet.