Checking My Privilege

A few weeks ago, I listened to an amazing podcast on Intersectional Feminism. Prior to listening to this podcast, I never realized how much the traditional feminist movement had done to privilege white, heteronormative voices. I was amazed and ashamed. But I think my biggest takeaway from listening to this podcast was how important it is to be willing to step back, check your privilege, and be “called in” when you unintentionally exclude the experience of others.

As I was listening to this podcast, I couldn’t help but think about how my privilege has shaped my money story and this blog. The first thing that came to mind for me wasn’t privilege in a traditional sense – it wasn’t strictly related to my race, ethnicity, sexuality, or socioeconomic status – although all of those elements certainly play into it. It’s the fact that throughout my life I have always had a financial safety net.

The toughest financial situation I’ve been in was during graduate school. I had just graduated from college and it was the first time I had to pay my own bills, budget, and earn money not just for the experience but to actually make ends meet. My budget was tight and I certainly had to make some sacrifices, but through it all I knew that I had a safety net – my family.

During this time, my car started having some pretty serious issues. My dad flew up to Minneapolis from St. Louis with a car part as his carry-on to help me fix it. My aunt and uncle helped me find a car repairman that I could trust to help me fix my car when my dad wasn’t available. When the repairs were too much for me to handle financially, my grandparents and parents chipped in. Unlike so many people around the world, and just down the street from me, I was never entirely on my own. I had a loving, supportive, and generous family that was always willing to help when times were tough. For that, I am eternally grateful. 

As I think of other tough times in my life, I’m drawn to the period that my husband and I are in right now. Unlike my graduate school experience, my husband and I are in the best state that we’ve ever been in terms of our finances and our relationship. Even with this safety net, the physical, emotional, and financial challenges that my husband and I have faced over the last few months following his accident have challenged us and in many ways they have rocked us to our core. These challenges have also served as great reminders of our privilege and given us a window into the experiences of others.  

Our community of family and friends has shown up for us in big and small ways. They’ve brought us meals, sent us care packages, and run errands for us. Tyler’s family has come to stay with him many times so I could continue to travel for work. Our community has filled the gap for us in countless ways – financially and emotionally.

During this time, I have feared for our finances. But I know, for the most part, these fears are unfounded. We’ve been privileged enough financially to create a strong safety net for ourselves, and we know that so many others in our community would reach out to help us if we needed it. We’ve been reminded countless times that we don’t have to walk through this situation alone.

During these last few months, I have heard stories from nurses and doctors of other people in similar situations who didn’t experience this kind of physical, emotional, and financial support. My husband’s surgeon told me stories of patients who come out of surgery with no one to greet them or assist them in the recovery process. I’ve heard stories about people who have experienced the same injury with no insurance to help them take on this financial burden. Stories of people who did not receive disability insurance during the time they were out of work and who are unintentionally or intentionally penalized for their injury when they come back to the office. Medical expenses are a leading cause of debt and now I can certainly see why. This accident has shown us how privileged we really are.

So what do I do with all of this?

I think, for starters, it’s important to name my privilege. I shouldn’t shrink from it or deny it – these privileges (and many more) have shaped my worldview, my story, and my views about money. I hope you’ll join me in sharing your privilege, too. As you hear the stories of others who grew up with a different worldview than you (whether more or less privileged), take the time to listen without judgement or assumptions. Don’t try to explain away their experience – hold space for it.

Sometimes, I think people struggle to tell the difference between privilege and hard work. My family has a history of generosity – to their own family and the broader community – that they have worked hard to preserve. I’m grateful for the choices that my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles have made to continue this legacy. This being said, we all began our lives ahead of the starting line because of our race, socioeconomic status, and countless other reasons. While I give thanks for the countless ways that we’ve used our privilege well, it’s important to name where we came from and admit we might be blind to the perspectives of others.

As I’ve been on this post-accident journey over the last few months, I’ve been drawn to this quote by Mary Oliver from her famous poem “Lead”: “I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.” The accident broke my heart in so many ways. But this initial breaking open has created space for a deepened sense of empathy and compassion for those who are hurting, those who are lonely, those who are recovering, and those who are drowning financially and emotionally.

Checking my privilege requires me to acknowledge that I have choices that so many others do not have. I have enough money to cover my needs and most of my wants. I have the privilege to put my money to work so that it stands behind my values and fuels my vision of a fulfilling life. With a heart broken open, I intentionally choose to use my money to create a more fulfilling life for others, listen closely to their needs, and not decide for them what their fulfilling life should look like.

As far as this blog goes, I thought it might be helpful for you to hear a little more about my perspective. Thanks for giving me space to check my privilege. I’ll continue to share my story. I invite you to share yours, too. Bring your voice to the table. Call me in when I’ve viewed the world and finances too narrowly. Let’s work together to create a more fulfilling life for ourselves, our communities, and our world.