black identity blackness class identity privilege reality
Coming to Terms with Reality: I'm A Black Yuppie and I Don't Know How to Feel7/31/2015
by Jasmyne Gilbert "I really don't understand how people can still eat that shit,"...
"I really don't understand how people can still eat that shit," I uttered to Steph as we discussed McDonald's, or high fructose corn syrup, or some other poisonous food-like substance. Then I thought about it.
"Oh my God... That was some privileged, middle class bullshit. I can't believe I just said that." Steph, who works in a diabetes prevention and education unit, giggled, "Yeah, it was." How mortifying! Generally, I fancy myself as "aware" and "educated" on social justice issues and disparities, so how could I say something like that?
I didn't grow up rich, but both of my parents own property, so I always had shelter. We may not have eaten what I wanted, but we always had food - including McDonald's. Sometimes the utilities got cut off, but they were always restored within hours.
When I discuss my life's trajectory, I often reference living "one street away from being an entirely different person." In the north section of my neighborhood, the kids attended Oklahoma City Public Schools, a less affluent school district than my precious, Caucasian-laden, middle class Mid-Del. If things in my life had lined up just a little differently, I could fit snugly into many of the stereotypes and negative statistics that plague my community today. I had the privilege to attend leadership camps, participate in after school activities, and hang out at bonfires with the rich kids. I was never one of the students that got to drive a brand new Hummer to school, but I was smart and a "non-threatening black," so I had decent access to stuff.
Lady Luck touched me again when it was time for college because I got to leave Oklahoma— something few of my peers could, or even desired to do. I earned my free education, joined a sorority, and did all sorts of typical college kid activities like going on Spring Break trips with my friends, and even landing a couple of paid internships. After college, I moved back home to work for the school district I'd avoided narrowly. Now, I'm an AmeriCorps VISTA, living in "poverty" on food stamps and helping people in Austin gain access to literacy education. If that whole life story ain't some entitled, yuppie bullshit, then what is?
It's important to me to "give back." Since I was a kid, I've been involved in various community programs with my dad, a tradition that continued in college, and now into adulthood. It's also important to realize that the only thing that separates me from the people I'm serving is circumstance. I recognize that if several factors in my life had happened only marginally differently, I could have been considerably less fortunate. I still can be out on the street if I miss rent next month in this obscenely high Austin housing market.
This most recent instance of embarrassing myself is a reminder that we should always recognize our privilege and good luck in this life. On paper — as a black woman — I'm disenfranchised and marginalized in several ways. I’ve likely experienced discrimination when applying for jobs because of the way that my name is spelled, and the child I may carry one day will be twice as likely to die during infancy. All of this solely because I happened to be born black and a woman. However, my first car was beat up old Lexus, I have a free undergraduate degree from one of the top HBCUs in the nation, I have shelter and food every day, and I'm a poor national service volunteer by choice - I'm still a little privileged.
So of course people still eat that shit, Jasmyne. Even if some people are aware of the health detriments of GMOs, fast food and pesticides, it doesn't mean that they can afford your fancy organic produce. About 23.5 million Americans live in food deserts, and half of those people are low-income with little to no capital or transportation to access healthy food options. Hell, the only reason you can afford it is because the Sustainable Food Center has a "double dollar" program for food stamp beneficiaries. So check yourself, and your privilege.
Jasmyne Gilbert wastes obscene amounts of time online and fighting bourgeois tendencies. She blogs about community engagement, social activism and self-empowerment on her personal website jasmynegilbert.com