The other day, I clicked on one of those viral videos on Facebook called "What privilege looks like." You never really know what you're going to get when you click on those videos, but still, the comments are always my favorite part. Because no matter what the video is about — cute babies, smart dogs, or drying paint — people will always find something wrong with it. The internet trolls never fail to make a good thing into something controversial.
Well, the commenters on this video were no different.
The four-minute video started with a man telling a group of teenagers to line up shoulder-to-shoulder. They were going to have a foot race and the winner would go home with $100. But, before the race began, the man added that he would make a few statements and if that statement applies, take two steps forward, and if not, stay on the starting line.
"Take two steps forward of your parents are still married," he started.
"Take two steps forward if you grew up with a father figure in your home."
"... if you had access to a private education."
"... if you never had to help mom or dad with the bills."
"... if you never wondered where your next meal was going to come from."
At the end of the exercise, he told the ones who were able to step forward after every statement to look around and notice their clear advantage to those still standing at the start. "This," he said, "is a picture of life."
He pointed out the reality, which is that some people are born into a life with more opportunities and avenues to aid their success, while others start the race born into a world of difficulties and turmoil.
I thought the video was a great illustration of that, but going down the rabbit hole of comments, I found that other viewers begged to differ.
Critical comments ranged from "That's called hard work and responsibility" to "What about the privilege of government assistance and affirmative action?"
Other commenters turned defensive, saying that those born with privilege shouldn't have to feel guilty or bad because of it. And those who weren't shouldn't play the victim role.
- Noriko Cooper | Dreamstime
But, this isn't a matter of making one race or group of people feel bad, while victimizing another. It's really just about realizing what stepping into someone else's shoes feels like. It's about understanding and admitting — as hard as it may be — that the starting line isn't the same for all people. It's about coming to terms with the fact that some babies, by no choice of their own, are born into bad situations — ones they didn't choose. It's about accepting that while some circumstances can be avoided, the unavoidable truth is, some can't.
A child doesn't have a say about the mistakes of their parents or their parents before them. A child doesn't get to choose if their parents stay together, if their neighborhood school is poorly funded, or if their parents choose to commit crimes and are in and out of jail.
I'd say that's a disadvantage. It's not the end all, be all, but it is a setback. The system is helping, but then it's not. It seems like the system was put in place to help people of color and lower-income Americans survive but not thrive. We have schools in poor neighborhoods, but many lack quality teachers and basic supplies that students need. There are places in poor neighborhoods to buy junk food, but nowhere to get fresh fruits and vegetables. There are houses, but some are rife with mold, poorly built, and on the brink of dilapidation.
I once met a 13-year-old girl who goes to school in North Memphis and lives in one of those falling-apart houses near Nutbush. She would still be on the starting line at the end of the video exercise. She lives with her mom and her two siblings. Her mom is in between jobs, doesn't have a car, and has been in and out of jail. Her dad is out of the picture. Sometimes she doesn't go to school because she doesn't have a way to get there. Sometimes she goes to bed hungry.
As a middle school kid, she's faced with tough decisions — like, do I go home hungry today, or do I steal this one bag of chips from the store? And that's where it begins.
No, a tough life doesn't excuse bad decisions, but it can catapult you into survival mode — the breeding ground of poor choices, crime, violence, and, oftentimes, drug use.
In real life, we don't necessarily see people's starting lines. Sometimes we just see those poor choices, not knowing the setbacks they've had or the obstacles they've maneuvered. We only see what we see. Good or bad, we should stop and check our own privilege before we judge a person who is running a race we could never imagine running and won't ever have to run.
Maya Smith is a Flyer staff writer.