Los Angeles, CA

What I Learned About White Privilege as a Poor, White Woman in L.A.

Elle Silver

When white people like myself acknowledge our privilege, it’s the first step toward change.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=08ymvl_0YpUajRf00Image by Pexels.

Nothing underlines my white privilege more than a trip to my local laundromat. I live in an industrial part of Los Angeles. I used to live in a middle-class area until I divorced my husband and moved into a dinky apartment near the projects because that was all I could afford.

I wash my clothes at a laundromat that's located on the gritty drag that cuts through town. The building that houses the laundromat is ugly, its windows streaked with dirt. A garish yellow sign says “fluff and fold” in red print, taped haphazardly to the door.

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Photo by Mike Balbus.

One business over is a liquor store that attracts loitering alcoholics. As I lug my dirty laundry inside the laundromat, these alcoholics always ask me for spare change. I was taught by my Republican family never to give spare change to men drinking from cans hidden inside paper bags. In this case, the advice has stuck.

And yet I’ve dropped most of my family’s other teachings. I’ve chosen a different path. I'd have more money if I'd chosen a different path. With all my education I could have done anything I wanted. But I’ve chosen to write.

And so now, on my own with two kids, I don't have a lot of cash. I live in this crummy part of town.

Still, I’m privileged.

I didn’t grow up going to laundromats like this one. I didn’t even grow up in this part of L.A. I grew up in a place like the next town over — the one known for its horse trails and good schools and big houses with swimming pools in the backyards.

Like I actually grew up in that town.

My children go to school there. My ex-in-laws live there.

I still have that privilege.

My education is a privilege (and a privilege of my whiteness). That alone puts me ahead of most of the people who patronize my local laundromat. Yes, I also live in this neighborhood. I shop at the same discount grocery store. I also go to the doctor at the clinic here. My doctor visits are also free, thanks to my welfare health insurance.

But I can still pass as a member of the wealthy community where my kids go to school. I have the language down. When I drop my children at school no one ever questions whether I belong there. I smell of the place. The town was created for people like me. This entire country was organized around the guarantee that people like me would succeed in it.

But I’ve fallen on hard times.

When I left my husband, I left with nothing. I became a single mother. I became a member of the working poor.

And yet I’m still privileged.

My credit is bad. My ex gives me very little money in child support. My kids are on the free lunch program at school.

But still, I’m privileged.

My whiteness and my education guarantee that.

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Photo by Autri Taheri.

I experience culture shock while doing my laundry at the laundromat in my neighborhood.

I always experience culture shock when I do my wash at this laundromat. That in itself is evidence of my privilege.

As I do my wash, a homeless woman howls obscenities in front of the dollar store across the street. Representatives from a free-phone program have a booth in front of the dollar store. All you need to be eligible for a free phone is to be on welfare. Everyone here is.

In the distance, exhaust from a nearby refinery forms a plume in the sky. I live here, and yet I'm different. I will never totally fit in here. I might also be poor, but I'm white. I'm privileged.

Other people wash their dirty laundry at the laundromat. Brown people. Black people. These people live in the projects or the modest homes nearby.

I live in an apartment in the historic downtown area of town that’s been struggling to gentrify for years. It hasn’t so the rents are still affordable for people like me.

When I first pull up at the laundromat I’m always reminded that I’m poor. Once inside, though, that sense disappears. I’m the only white person here. I’m tall, slender, with dark-blond hair. I look like a woman from the next town over — the wealthy, white one — because I am.

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Photo by Courtney Rose.

I will always have that. I can’t lose it. That makes me privileged. Yes, I’m still digging myself out of debt but in the past few months, I’m closer to getting back on my feet.

But I’ll also never deny that to an extent, my poverty has been a choice. Had I wanted, I could have taken the corporate route. I could have made more money, say in marketing or some other white-collar career, thanks to the education my parents paid for.

Choosing poverty has been a privilege. I've chosen to write. This is a privilege because I could have pursued any career I wanted.

I speak the language of the dominant mainstream. I have the looks of the dominant mainstream. My cultural understanding is that of the dominant mainstream. That alone opens doors for me.

I recognize that privilege. I don’t pretend it doesn’t exist.

Most white people are completely clueless about their privilege.

Most white people never move out of their bubble. Why would they want to? It’s not very comfortable outside of it.

Living outside of your bubble means life in a poorer neighborhood. It means living amidst crime and industrial pollution. Refineries near where I live pump god knows what into the sky all day and night. We’re not told because we have no power because we have no money.

When I was married, our circle of friends consisted of other denizens of the dominant culture. It was a world where it was a given that you had a certain amount of money in your bank account and that your children were attending good schools. Of course, your kids would go on to college just like you did.

It was the world of the privileged.

I didn’t realize how privileged I was because I’d never lived outside of that bubble. It took for me to actually become poor for me to realize my privilege.

I can use the machines at my local laundromat to wash my clothes but I’m still an aberration here.

When white people acknowledge their privilege, it’s the first step toward change.

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I'm a relationships expert with a focus on post-divorce dating and family. Everything I've learned about love, I've learned the hard way. You can learn from my mistakes.

Los Angeles, CA
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