Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of ... Privilege

Michael Burg, MD

Straight. White. Male. — I’m almost completely unassailable, just with those three factors.

Add to that mix: slightly above-average height, tolerably OK appearance, reasonably intelligent, neurotypical, able-bodied, not significantly overweight, homeowner, native English speaker, possessed of a solid education and profession, financially stable.

Oh, and I live in California in a community that’s atypically accepting. It is peopled by many who support healthy lifestyles and benefits from good weather and clean air and water. I’m almost perfectly healthy physically and have no diagnosed mental illness.

That quite a list of privilege. With that tally, I’m essentially “un-messable-with.”

If you look closely though, my facial features speak to my immigrant heritage, specifically my Eastern European Jewish roots. However, you do have to look closely, and most don’t. Few have dared to overtly hate that part of me. Long ago, a physician looked me full in the face and opined evenly that Hitler’s only failing was his inability to finish what he’d set out to do. And, every once in awhile someone will slip up and break out the “Jew him down” slur. But, that’s rare.

Also, now that I’m a man of a certain age, I attend to ageism slights more than I did in the past. They’ve not been directed at me, yet, but that day will come, and soon — too slow, too uncool, too tired, too rumpled or ugly, too unhip, “Boomer,” and the like.

Even with the “useless old Jew” thing though I’m still nearly safe, “bulletproof” if you will, at least until America takes yet another slide from closeted-to-open Fascism, and puts me and those like me on a train to the gas chamber.

In short, my lengthy privilege list tips society’s balance strongly in my favor.

Please note, I’m not making value judgments here. “Tall” is not better than “short,” but it’s different than and, as it turns out, more highly prized and valued in our society. So it is for so many of the traits I possess, many of which I did nothing to acquire. That’s especially true about the major ones that protect me from hate and help shield me from abuse. They just came my way, as happy, undeserved and unearned, accidents.

I’m keenly aware of, and grateful for, my fortunate — “privileged” — life.

Again, unless our society slides still further towards Fascism and begins ethnic cleansing above and beyond its systemic racism policies and practices against POC, I’m safe. I’ll never be racially profiled or discriminated against. I won’t be assaulted, jailed, killed, tortured, demeaned or even treated unfairly because of who I love, my gender, my race, my beliefs, my skin color or any other trait that make up who I am.

That’s incredible. So many in our society will never know the safety, the unassailable serenity, the security of that fact. That’s privilege.

So why can’t we as a society recognize that as a good thing and extend that “privilege” equally to all?

Let’s stop seeing people as members of groups and see individuals for who they are, one at a time, as individuals. Some short and some tall, having different backgrounds and skin colors and belief systems and lifestyles and so forth.

We’d all be privileged, to live in a society like that. The richness of our differences could be celebrated and would draw us together rather than split us apart.

Then, rather than me being unfairly privileged for an arbitrary set of characteristics that came my way largely by happenstance, we’d all be privileged. We’d be privileged to live in a society that celebrates diversity and equality and understanding and all the positive attributes we all bring to this experience we call living.

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San Luis Obispo, CA

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