As much as I wish I didn’t, I have a middle class white privilege American tendency to think and behave like the world owes me something. It doesn’t.
No one owes me anything.
Not even my family.
In high school, one of my teachers showed a clip of the 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. In the scene, John Prentice, played by Sidney Poitier, argues with his father that every chance he was ever given his father owed him, because he brought him into this world.
From that day you owed me everything you could ever do for me like I will owe my son if I ever have another!
When I saw this clip, I thought, “He’s right.” I carried that belief for years, thinking that, because my parents decided to have and to keep me, they owed me just about everything they ever gave me to ensure that I had a good life: food, clothes, education, shelter.
Today, I think all they really owed me was a chance, and they gave it to me. They didn’t have to give me anything else. Now that I’m an adult, I can see it even more clearly: they don’t owe me anything.
What really brought me to this realization was the last time I was in Houston with a friend. Sam and I were having a late lunch at Olive Garden, and because she’d taken three boxes of books to Half Price for her parents, her mom had generously texted, “Lunch is on us!”
I wanted dessert — the most important meal of the day — and Sam said, “Well, we’re not going to get it here. I don’t want to run up the bill for my parents.”
I felt thoroughly chastened, and we didn’t get dessert.
Later, I told — no, complained to — my fiancé about it — because if I’m writing this story I have to write it honestly — and I said, “How is she so good all the time?”
“I’m the same way about my parents,” he said. I knew he was right, and felt even guiltier about the steak that I’d ordered the last time we were out to dinner with them. (I’m the same way about his parents; I’d expressed concern about the cost at the time and his dad told me, as always, not to worry about it and even ordered the same thing.)
They’re both right. It doesn’t matter whether our parents have an easier time making money than we do, or if they’re in a better financial position than we are. They don’t owe us anything. Especially as we’re all adults who are out of their care. We don’t deserve any of their money, and even when we’re in need of help and they give it, they don’t owe it to us.
Both sets of parents helped us buy our house, and they didn’t owe us any of the money or advice that they freely gave.
I don’t think Sam’s parents help her out very much financially, but I know they do in a lot of other ways. They don’t owe that to her.
My family never owed me the car(s) they bought, the education, the clothing I wanted but didn’t need, the food I wanted but didn’t need to stay alive, the bedroom with TV and computer and books, the 4-wheeler, the markers so I wouldn’t have to share, the allowance, the this, the that. But how generous they were with everything they gave me.
I benefit from so much privilege in this way. Privilege like mine should have no place in America. Privilege like mine is ripping America apart, and it has been for a very long time. I’m not proud of this, nor of the fact that I have benefited greatly from it. I acknowledge it for what it is, not in the least because if I don’t, then I will continue to be complicit in perpetuating the plague. If society as a whole cannot benefit from it, it shouldn’t exist at all.
For people like me, the world owes us nothing, and yet it has given us everything. It’s time now to stop negligently enjoying the privileges we have, and to start examining how we can use them to level the playing field, and to give back to the world.