Simply by the luck of the draw I was born into white privilege.
I have been aware of that since I was a child and also knew that this privilege came through no effort of my own. I knew that with this privilege came the obligation to give back. I volunteered from an early age and have always worked for organizations whose purpose is to make peoples’ lives better and easier.
I grew up in an affluent suburb. We and my father‘s two brothers lived with their families within blocks of each other.
In the early 1950s, when I was a child, Jackie Robinson, the famous baseball player, wanted to buy the house next to ours. All the children in the neighborhood were very excited, but many of their parents were not.
There were many neighborhood association heated meetings with much racist talk about how property values would go down if “those people“ were allowed to buy the house. In the end, after most people agreed the house could be sold, he didn’t want it anymore. Why would he?
With this memory in my past, I made a conscious effort to teach about giving back to our three children and now to our five grandchildren, ranging in age from 9 to 16. I spent many hours talking with them about our obligation to live our lives with service to balance the privilege that we share.
I love to give presents and thinking about what the recipient would like and use. I was beginning to think about Hanukkah gifts last fall when I realized that these children certainly don’t need anything. Instead, it would be a perfect time for them to practice what I preach.
I spoke with each of them privately. I asked them to take some time and think about an organization where they would like us to send a contribution in their names, instead of getting them material presents. I wasn’t at all sure what their reactions would be and was very gratified when they all greeted the idea with genuine enthusiasm and not a tepid “that’s a good idea.“
Their choices were reflective of who they are.
Our oldest grandson wanted us to donate to Memorial Sloan Kettering and, specifically, to the oncologist who treats his grandfather for lymphoma. The next oldest grandson wanted his money to go to the Monterey Aquarium because he has great concerns about our oceans and the wildlife in them. Our oldest granddaughter asked us to donate to the San Francisco food bank, where she has volunteered with her brother and her parents. The youngest granddaughters’ contributions went to the Jane Goodall Foundation and the National Resource Defense Council, which works to save wildlife around the world.
There are many ways to begin responding to the issue of privilege. I think these five children’s choices show that we can and should start to address this in small ways whenever possible. It’s not a solution, but a way to make privilege a conscious part of raising children of privilege today.