Privilege: Packer’s Perpetual Undercurrent
Every winter day during break, the sophomore grade is forced to wade through piles upon piles of puffy, enormous, inconveniently placed coats. A few weeks ago, while traversing this sea of bloated fabric, my friend jokingly turned to me and asked, “how many dollars worth of jackets do you think we’re currently stepping on?” I laughed and continued stumbling through the mess in front of me, but the offhand, casual comment later gave me pause. The joke stuck with me, because it forced me to consider both how privilege manifests itself in nonverbal ways at Packer, and the common assumption that every student comes from the same socioeconomic status, which is in reality far from true.
As a privileged white girl, it is far easier for me to recognize, and in some cases commend myself for acknowledging, overt demonstrations of status. It is the subtler demonstrations that I find myself more unwilling to call out. Perhaps this is because it is easier to avoid participating in undisguised displays of our socioeconomic status; it takes limited work and thought to refrain from explicitly stating our level of privilege. Contrarily, nonverbal displays of privilege have become embedded in our culture in many different forms, whether it be the brands we wear, the vacations that we post about on social media, or the restaurants we choose to frequent for lunch. They are commonplace in social interactions and therefore take considerably more effort to evade. Yet despite their quieter nature, these displays of privilege can be equally as damaging.
There have surely been times where I have failed to hold myself accountable for casually exhibiting privilege. I sometimes speak before thinking, failing to check what I’m saying and the implications that it may have, such as when I mindlessly slip my family’s second home into stories, or suggest walking into a clothing store simply because the window displays are tempting. It is unfair for me to preach that we become more cognizant of our informal, absent-minded actions without doing so myself.
I wish that there were a space within our school for us to discuss socio-economic privilege as honestly as possible, because that is the only way to truly become aware of our harmful behavior. Conversations surrounding privilege are always uncomfortable to have, because, for me, they serve as an unwelcome reminder that I have done nothing to deserve or obtain the ease of my life, and I would imagine the same to be true for some others. These discussions are typically enveloped in vagueness, because I am unsure about what to say and how to say it in a sensitive, effective way. Since I have rarely been probed to examine privilege in the context of our school, I am reluctant to ask those questions elsewhere, or even at all.
Despite all of the challenges that accompany talking openly about privilege, I think it is imperative that we begin to do so at Packer in a concrete, consistent way. I am confident in assuming that there are things I unintentionally do or say that reflect privilege in an unbefitting manner, but their being unintentional does not mean they are excusable. The only way I can adjust my behavior is through being made aware of specifically what I must change, and the only way I can learn what to change is through having conversations with my peers.
As a school community, we are extremely hesitant to discuss the privilege that is present both within our walls and within our city. The topic is left undiscussed and unacknowledged due to its uniquely awkward nature. However, it is this very awkwardness that serves as an indicator of how necessary these conversations are. If we as a school made the conscious effort to have socioeconomic privilege become a part of our dialogue, we would grow into more mindful people. Upon graduation, Packer hopes to imbue in us an awareness that enables us to see the world beyond the scope of our own experience; discussing privilege both in the classrooms and in the hallways is a necessary step towards achieving that goal.