Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege, specifically my own. Up until college I saw privilege as something I got as a daughter of two fiscally responsible parents, not something I got simply because I was white. Truthfully, I thought that was an oversimplification of our society, but I’ve begun to realize that it is anything but. Although I did just UberEats myself two orders of fried ravioli from my favorite restaurant, privilege is much more than that.
“Quicksand” by Nella Larsen showed a clear picture of privilege to me, giving me a side by side comparison of my life, one of privilege, and the life of Helga, a half black woman. Helga goes on a physical journey throughout the novel, constantly searching for something she never seems to find. In Harlem, she first found a community that felt like home, but still lived largely in a society of general oppression towards her and her community. In Copenhagen, she lived a life of great wealth and promise, but the only people she knew exoticized her as if she was a piece of property and not a person. Overall, Helga’s journey is one that leaves her searching for a home, a place where she had a supportive community as well as opportunity to do anything she wanted to.
A lot of the feelings Helga had are definitely ones that I have felt in my life. Feeling left out, isolated, alienated; those are core human feelings because they attack a core human desire, wanting to belong. And as Helga felt those feelings I felt them right alongside her. The difference though between when I feel those feelings and when Helga did though, is she was always trapped in her situation; there was no other alternative or solution. I on the other hand, feel those when I don’t get invited to yet another dinner with my friends or my sisters make fun of the one thing I truly hate about myself, all of which are situations I can escape or change.
And I think that is what creates white privilege. White people are not trapped in bad situations simply because of their skin color. Black people, like Helga, are. White privilege is something all white people have because we, even if it’s difficult, have no concrete, unmovable barriers to our own progression.