You Look, But Do You See? Talking Privilege and Perspective

By: Beatriz Craven, Guest Blogger

My husband and I arrive to the opening party. It’s raining outside and a young man working the valet opens the door for me. I step out of the car in my 4-inch stilettos and glittering jewelry. A woman waits for me with an umbrella to cover my head. I start to feel uneasy inside and flash a half-queasy smile. Despite being socioeconomically privileged, this kind of treatment feels alien to me. My privilege is quiet and reading a book, surrounded by art. I don’t know this kind of privilege. I thank the woman and fight my compulsion to grab the umbrella out of her hand in a swift “you don't have to do that, I got this” action. She walks me to the entrance and I enter a world I have very little experience with.

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Image courtesy Beatriz Craven

 

I do my best to act normal as I navigate the room by my husband’s side. He makes conversation with anyone and everyone. He talks football and I look at him with my head cocked to one side wondering who in God’s name this man is because mine doesn’t know a pigskin from a baked ham. I meet several kind, pleasant people. I also meet several older gentlemen in positions of power. Their hair is white with age. One in particular smiles warmly and talks with us about the many years he has been in the industry. He talks about a group he meets up with at the country club every week to talk business. They have met for well over a decade. An eager young woman perks up and shows interest in joining them, but he assures her that other women have tried to get into the group before and that it is strictly “men only.” His wrinkles start to appear more deeply set. His hair is growing whiter with every word. I quickly remind myself of his context and stop imagining myself karate-chopping him in the throat for some of his comments. I notice that I start to remind myself of the age factor like I do when my husband’s incredibly sweet 93-year-old Greek grandmother tells us that the Mexican who cleans her room stole her booze (in her defense, it seems that may have actually happened for once).

Old familiar feelings of frustration and sadness start to kick in. They are feelings that remind me of that time in graduate school when I found myself looking tearfully at the floor as my male professor tried to explain how downplaying my femininity would be good for my career. I wonder about where the glass ceiling lies in the room I'm standing in. I start to feel my skin flush in its tone of olive. I wonder if this bubbling feeling within me is both valid and perhaps more heightened than it needs to be. Isn’t that what we get told all the time? Maybe I’m being too sensitive. Reading into things too much. Too quick to throw cards from a deck no one wants to hear about. I find myself genuinely wanting to make room for possibility and yet I can’t deny the real discomfort I feel in my being. My body is reacting to an undeniable eau of wrong in the air. Does this man recognize the scent at all? I don’t see so much as a flinch on his part. I look down at my drink and give it a swirl, giving my long black hair a toss with my fingers. This plus one is feeling powerless at the party and starts to twist the watch on her wrist, nudging the seconds to pass more quickly.

Soon enough it’s time to leave and I walk outside to the valet again. My husband and I decide to walk to our car ourselves and I take a final glance back. In contrast to my previous company, I see a valet crew that looks like me. Their figures: petite, dark, and sun-kissed. A part of me breaks in that moment. In the way that it does when I'm in a nice restaurant and the only people that share my heritage are those bussing tables and shuffling pans in the back. I'm not always sure how to communicate this kind of heartbreak, but I do know that I want other people to hear it. I know I want people to understand. Behind the veil of comfort and privilege, there is much work to be done. There is so much to understand.

About Beatriz

craven.jpgBeatriz completed her PhD in Counseling Psychology. She works with college students at Sam Houston State University and finds incredible meaning in her work as a therapist. She is an avid life enthusiast, loving wife, and movie fanatic.

 

 

 

 

Image via favim.com

 

 

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