Have you ever come across the phrase, “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.” ? Or maybe, “Familiarity breeds contempt”? If you haven’t, it simply means that we don’t value what we have and are familiar with, but think that what we don’t have is better and covet it. Growing up, especially if you come from a family that has had its financial ups and downs, you’ve probably been told to ‘be grateful for what you have’. And, most people would nod their heads and mutter their agreement with the phrase. That’s what I did too. Living in what is technically considered a third-world country, I prayed my gratitude to God every day for giving me a privileged life.
My father owned his own business, my mother was a hard working housewife, we lived in a 4-bedroom apartment overlooking the most bustling city in the entire country, me and my three siblings were attending a private school, and the biggest tragedy in my life was having to wait all week for Sunday to go out on the town with my family. For me, that was – and still is – privilege, and I am not embarrassed to admit it.
As I grew older, I saw things my younger self was too preoccupied with herself to notice. My father was being cheated by his business partners, my mother supporting him alone; I realized my school-mates happened to live in the ‘rich’ part of the city, in hefty houses, with a generous bank account they utilized every other day to go out with their friends. By the time I turned thirteen, I realized that while the life I was living was extremely blessed, maybe even having hints of privilege, it was not even close to being 100% entitled. Turns out, I was just a kid who’d been taught by her parents to be so grateful for every little morsel of food, every scrap of cloth on my back, and every smile directed my way, that I had become blind to the problems we were actually facing; problems that drove us to leave behind that life of ‘entitlement’ and come to the land of American dreams.
Today, my father, a former businessman, works 2 jobs to support his family. My mother, previously a hardworking housewife with all of her family back home, runs a small-scale, yet bustling, women’s clothes business from within our house. Me and my three siblings attended public schools, surrounded by strangers who didn’t speak our native language (we were lucky to have previously attended private schools that taught us English, and helped us catch on quicker than most immigrants), and frowned when they saw my head scarf. We went from our own 4-bedroom apartment, to a small 2 bedroom one with nothing but a single mattress on our first day in the country. Later that night, we prayed our gratitude for the food on our laps and the roof over our head, as a family.
4 years later, we now live in a 3 bedroom house with a large backyard, and a spacious living room. My father comes home smiling from work, and my mother enjoys meeting every new lady – women belonging to the same culture as her – who comes over to buy clothes from her. My sister graduated from UT Dallas, and became the first in our immediate family to land a corporate (or as we call it, “white-collar”) job. My brother scored a prestigious internship and is close to graduating from UTD as well, after years of hard work and helping support his family since he was 17 years old. I graduated from a public high school, and am now a freshman at UT Dallas with a hefty scholarship, and a soaring GPA.
The point of telling you all about my journey, is not to gain sympathy or ‘bravo’ points. It is to tell you- and all of my high school classmates who turned their noses up at the prospect of attending a local university like UT Dallas (they dreamed of escaping this town), or fought with their parents at being denied permission to go out for the fourth time in a week, or even trashed a tray full of food because they changed their mind about lunch- that we are all living a life of privilege in some way.
You might not notice if every single public building in your city is air-conditioned, but I, and many others like me, do. You might also not notice that you never have to worry about the water supply cutting off at your house randomly, or the power going out for most of the day like many others in my country do (I was fortunate enough not to either). Regardless, it takes us time to get used to all these luxuries. I might have come from a substantially entitled life, but even that life does not compare to what surrounds me today. Back home, ‘studying abroad’ would have been a dream that costs more money than a local college student like us could even envision, and today, I find myself casually strolling around UT Dallas like I don’t remind myself every day just how lucky I am, compared to most people I know back home, to be able to do that.
Your race, your ethnicity, your age, your culture; it might affect the level of privilege you grew up with, but it certainly doesn’t hinder your ability to own up to your blessings, and admit that you are privileged. You are luckier than a million people for having even one thing that not many do. It does not make you less of a human to acknowledge that your side of the fence has greener grass. In conclusion….
“Becoming aware of your privilege should not be viewed as a burden, or source of guilt, but rather an opportunity to learn and be responsible so that we may work towards a more just and inclusive world” – Unknown