A cartoon that was popular a couple years back is making a resurgence in social media lately. Created by New Zealand illustrator Toby Morris for The Wireless, it attempts to present the concept of privilege in a simple and straightforward manner. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth taking a look.
I like things like this that make me stop and think. But unfortunately, it spoon-feeds an idea without critical reflection. The cartoon, like the conversation about privilege, isn’t being completely honest.
The cartoon contrasts the fictional lives of two young people as they grow up. It selectively illustrates different vignettes that represent turning points in the characters’ lives and how it affects their futures. Being presented in a simplistic way, of course, the cartoon asks us to assume a great many things.
There is no background on what lifestyle or financial choices Richard and Paula’s parents made prior to their birth. Apparently Paula’s parents have never heard of public libraries (or Dolly Parton’s amazing Imagination Library). More significantly, the cartoon does not share the simple truth that both Richard and Paula are privileged by having two parents who work hard to create the best opportunities possible for their child.
Privilege Theory Cultivates Resentment Against Virtue
Progressives define privilege as a set of unearned benefits given to people in a specific social group. Magazines like Everyday Feminism state that society grants privilege to people of certain races, genders, languages, ability, religion, etc. Not sure which side of the privilege fence you fall on? The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a handy checklist to find out whether you should cry “mea culpa.”
This definition is a pretty convenient contrivance to label a specific social group without admitting to a broader, more accurate definition of privilege. Nevertheless, there is a range of unearned benefits that progressives do not allow in their definition, such as the benefit of not being aborted or having a loving parent or two.
Parents are the primary and most pivotal privilege. A research study published by Dr. Paul Amato of Pennsylvania State University found that children who grow up in households with two continuously married parents are less likely to experience a wide range of problems affecting behavioral and emotional well-being, as well as being more likely to perform well in school.
These children, Dr. Amato found, “receive more effective parenting, experience more cooperative co-parenting, are emotionally closer to both parents, and are subjected to fewer stressful events and circumstances.” The most basic unearned benefit that a person can have is a pair of present and married parents, because it provides the most practical basis for future success.
Marriage Privilege Has Nothing to Do With Race or Poverty
The wonderful thing about this privilege is that it can be enjoyed no matter your race, religion, or socioeconomic background. In remembering her father, Parton said, “Our sweet daddy worked so hard for all of us. At night we used to take turns rubbing Daddy’s cracked, hard-working hands with corn silk lotion and we soaked and washed his tired feet. […] If you’re lucky enough to have great parents, it’s truly one of God’s greatest gifts.”
While certainly not a guarantee, this status is the simplest privilege; and unfortunately one that only half the children in the United States enjoy. If having parents is the ultimate privilege, this flies in the face of the progressive notion that privilege is another aspect of oppression, because it places the control and responsibility of privilege in every individual’s hands.
Most parents will tell you they would do anything to help their children be successful in life. My neighbors have two of the most polite little boys you’ll ever meet. When I asked their father, a former Army Ranger and now police officer, how he and his wife did it, he replied, “They may not grow up to the be most athletic, the most intelligent, or the wealthiest men. But if they can learn good manners, then that will set them up for success.”
Whether a child is taught to read, the value of work ethic, or how to be polite, there are many ways to give your children privilege. This isn’t some sort of systemic conspiracy theory; we’re all trying to privilege our progeny to the best of our ability because we’re trying to remove as many obstacles to their potential success as possible.
If you’re an adult, you’ve probably realized by now that the world is apt to take people down a peg or two. If parents have to work a little harder, spend a little more time, or make certain sacrifices to give their kids a leg up on the competition, then so be it. That’s because even with all the privilege in the world, it’s still a jungle out there, and all the unearned benefits in the universe aren’t a guarantee of success. Ultimately, we try to give our kids the best shot we can and hope they make good with it.
With Advantages Comes Responsibility
On the other hand, if providing privilege is a parent’s mandate, then parents have an equal responsibility to teach their children not to abuse it. In Morris’ cartoon, Richard comes off as a real jerk in the end, taking accolades for the success he’s experienced thanks to parents who prioritized his needs. While they succeeded in instilling work ethic, they clearly missed the lesson on humility. In this regard, Richard’s (and others’) pretentious lack of modesty is a personal character flaw, not an indication of some malignant system of power.
You don’t have to teach kids to be entitled. It pretty much comes naturally. One of the biggest challenges of raising decent human beings is finding the balance between taking care of your children’s basic needs and helping them to appreciate that it doesn’t come free. Barbara Lewis, in her book “What Do you Stand For? For Kids: A Guide to Building Character,” finds teaching gratitude is vital to helping children develop empathy and understand that their parents and other people do things for them.
Progressives will never be able to eradicate privilege as long as parents care about their children. Nor will they be able to counteract the ingratitude of jerks through guilt-trips disguised as awareness campaigns. Richard’s statement that “No one ever handed me anything on plate [sic]” is simply a lie. No one gets anywhere without help. But I’m not going to stop trying to make my kids’ paths a little straighter because it offends a progressive’s notion of fairness.