As my financial situation changes and I find myself in a very unfamiliar income bracket, I can’t help but ask, “How did this happen to me?” How is it that a queer brown man from a working class family was able to jump up to a “middle class” salary in a world where class mobility is all but a myth? Is it because I hunkered down, worked hard, and pulled myself up by my bootstraps? As much as I’d like to attribute all of my 'success' to my own hard work, I know that I cannot.
Even as a queer person of color, I recognize that there is a certain amount of privilege that has gotten me to where I am today, and I cannot ignore this. In refusing to ignore this reality, I have decided to make a list of the privileges I possess that have indirectly and directly contributed to my success. This non-exhaustive list serves to recognize that these privileges exist in our society and that I possess them. Just as I refuse to be naïve and complacent about the privileges I lack, I refuse to be naïve and complacent about the privileges I have, and I certainly refuse to be a shining example of what POC can achieve if they try harder.
- Light Skinned- Although I identify as a person of color, I am mixed race and fairly light skinned. My life experiences have shown me that while I do not pass for white, the colorisim in our society is very real, very distinct, and very much something that I benefit from.
- Male- We live in a patriarchal society, and even as a gay/queer male, being a man affords me a certain amount of social capital that has worked to my advantage as I navigate through life.
- Cisgender- My gender presentation/identity tends to (for the most part) align with what society expects of me. By not breaking gender norms, I have a much better chance at getting hired as well as advancing within a company.
- US Citizen- I am a natural-born citizen of the United States, which has opened up many opportunities for me that I would have missed out on had I not been a citizen. Regardless of documentation status, being an immigrant in this country creates a lot of challenges that I’ve never had to face.
- Native English Speaker- Growing up, English was the first language that I learned to speak. This prevented me from being tracked into ESL classes in grammar school, instead tracking me in ‘regular’ classes, which would eventually lead to honors/AP classes. This may not have been the case had I been placed on a different track, as many of my neighborhood peers were.
- Educational Access- I was fortunate enough to be able to go to one of the highest ranked public colleges in the nation. Scholarships, State Financial Aid, Student Loans, and Timing made me capable of affording to go to such a school (tuition rates have been steadily on the rise since I entered the school, and if I got accepted today I would likely not be able to afford to attend). Preparation through access to free or low cost after school programs, as well as EOP and other programs geared at supporting first generation/low income students, made it capable for me to succeed at such a school.
- Family Support- Unlike many, many queer folks, I am very fortunate to have a family that continued to support me after I came out to them, both financially and emotionally. This family support prevented me from having to resort to street economies or other forms of survival tactics to support myself, which would have created a whole different set of challenges on my life path.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t work hard to be in the position that I’m in. But I know from experience that not having these privileges could have caused my situation to turn out very differently.
So where does this list leave me? Do these privileges, both new and old, erase the privileges that I lack? Do they invalidate both the community and artistic work that I do? Does my new socioeconomic status negate my experiences growing up in a working class household? Should I sit around feeling guilty about these privileges, and my newfound economic privilege? The privileges that I possess do not erase the ones that I lack, but rather serve as a reminder that privilege effects everyone differently. They do not invalidate the work that I do, but strengthen my resolve to challenge the oppressive society we live in. They do not negate my experiences growing up because my lived experience is my truth, even if it changes over time. And I certainly won’t sit around feeling guilty about the privileges that I have because that’s not helpful to anyone. I will instead use my privilege to become a better ally to oppressed communities that I am not a member of. I will educate myself, and I will show up and be present when needed. I will use my privilege to speak up in environments where others might not feel comfortable doing so, and I will listen to what communities need from me as an ally. In short, I will continue to do the work that I do because I believe it’s important, and numbers on a paycheck won’t change that.