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Feelings of Guilt around priviledge

Arifah Rahaman-Aronson

I'm on a quest to dissolve the emotional blocks that keep me from being authentic. I grew up 'privileged' in Barbados and felt guilt around it because I got that question "so you were rich then?" I was a young adult and didn't know how to respond. My parents worked hard for what they had and in thinking this way diminished their commitment. To be doing good, real good, we have to remove these hidden dust bunnies.

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  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    Complicated discussion for sure. I see moments of people understanding how their privilege contributes to oppression, then suddenly switching sides and pitying people who are oppressed. Wrong way to go.

    "Much of the time, when people are asking you to “check your privilege,” they are not telling you that you should feel guilt about your identity. They are simply asking you to consider the ways that your words or actions are furthering oppression so that you can act differently."

    • Arifah Rahaman-Aronson

      I was referencing a specific sentence used toward me and the reaction I had. As an adult I can respond with questions and expand into the dialogue. I agree that most people aren't being ill-spirited. I was never raised to 'talk' about money or privilege so as not to offend another. Which just compounds the problem.

      I just think some need to consider how they phrase the questions and inquiry. Especially when money is closely tied to greed. It's a tricky slope. Both sides need to be considered, and not a reaction to someone that was raised with privilege. I've refrained from sharing that I went to a private school because I see the raised eyebrows. Some people are impressed and some aren't. Either interpretation doesn't sit well with me. It's not who I am.

      I don't feel like I need to justify my upbringing because it diminishes the hard work my parents put in to provide for their family. It's offensive when people think that because I was 'rich' that means that I need to behave a certain way to continue to earn my privilege. Because in truth, if the person was paying attention to me, and how I was communicating, they would see that I'm not pretentious or carrying my privilege. Far from it.

      I see this as the same as "is a black person valuable because they speak well?" Do we look down at a person because they speak poorly? I bring this up because when I arrived here from Barbados I had an accent. People laughed at it. Then when they realized that I came from privilege they suddenly liked me. Judgment is the issue.

      With all that said, I realize that some just don't know how to handle privilege and need advice and guidance. I'm just thrilled that I broke through a guilt that I was carrying.

      • Alessandra Rizzotti

        I think it's about reframing how you see yourself in the big picture. How can you contribute to a community regardless of privilege and if it's guilt that's holding you back, it's important to explore why.

        • Arifah Rahaman-Aronson

          I think our lines are crossed. I'm explaining how I interpreted the question during my 20s, how it made me feel during that the hope that others would consider asking "so you were rich?"

          The person I am now doesn't project a burden that affects my contribution to society (I know that's what the article was talking about). I was attempting to show a different perspective to the a young adult without the emotional intelligence to cope with that question. I'm sorry, I didn't do a very good job explaining myself.

          • Jelena Woehr

            I love that you are so analytical and introspective about this issue! I think it's one we all have to grapple with. Everyone experiences some form of privilege, even if they are in other ways marginalized or oppressed. I remember being stung a few years ago by a piece of poetry that suggested that it was offensive for white women to feel sorrow after witnessing oppression of women of color; I didn't understand at the time the poet's distinction between sorrow and action -- I just reacted with "geez, you'd rather I NOT care about my fellow human beings then?" without dissecting it enough to understand the difference between feeling sorrow and feeling moved to action, even if said action might mean discomfort, mistake-making, and opening myself to being corrected firmly by more experienced activists.

            Years later I still don't think I fully get it (and I have finally let go of the belief that I should somehow be able to "get" a piece of art not intended for me) and I still think I make several mistakes every day concerning my own role in the intersecting systems of privilege we all experience. But I think I'm doing a better job these days, and I think I get how sorrow/guilt at witnessing oppression can be offensive and dehumanizing if it isn't paired with action, vulnerability, and thoughtful analysis of one's own role in that oppression.

            Have you read Americanah? I think the author does a great job of humorously, but very seriously, reckoning with the uselessness of paralyzing privilege guilt. There's a character who is so uncomfortable with race that she can't describe a person as "black" and instead says "beautiful," like "my beautiful friend" instead of "my friend, who is black." She eventually annoys the main character enough to provoke a very amusing but incredibly thought-provoking conversation.

            • Arifah Rahaman-Aronson

              Yes! This is a very stimulating conversation. You raise an interesting perspective, about sorrow and action. (Maybe even a distinction between sorrow and sympathy?) I think it's about being able to move from compassion which could be tied to sorrow...into Active Compassion - the action.

              I just told someone today that "I'm sorry" is a pretty crappy response. It's a fall back, terribly inadequate and misses emotions. Yet it falls off our tongues as the natural response during times of pain.

              You've brought up such a good point with pairing action...that's truly a cure, in a manner of speaking. It brings us into thoughtfulness.

              The word 'privilege' has attached to his historical judgments/interpretations that automatically enter. It's taken me a long time to learn discernment, and how to move away from those past ideas and embracing my privilege. I know I don't need to say this to you, not from arrogance and carrying it, but from the sheer burden my mother went's respect to carry my honor women, my father who provided well, and their ancestry. This has much bigger implications. As much as any person of color has a history of oppression to overcome, the person that is not, has to express a deeper care toward the oppressed. It's a lot to expect especially when both sides of the fence are making mistakes and defensive. I think there's beauty in the struggle as we move toward trying to 'get along'...this is a piece of art....and no I don't always get it either.

              No I've not read Americanah. I'll put it on my list it sounds right up my alley.

          • Alessandra Rizzotti

            I totally didn't mean to interpret this as your current adult experience. By "you", I was referring to anyone who is currently experiencing your former 20s experience. A bad on my end! You explained yourself well, don't worry!

            • Arifah Rahaman-Aronson

              Oh good! Then we are on the same page, and I do agree with your points.