Remembering Privilege: Using the Past to Motivate
I recently had the opportunity to visit historic places in Alabama that were tantamount to the civil rights movement: Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma. I have extended family in Montgomery and Birmingham so I’ve been visiting there all my life, but now that I’m old enough and mature enough to fully understand what happened 50 years ago, those visits take on a whole new meaning.
It is important for everyone to know the history of the country’s biggest social revolution (especially since it is still relevant today), but as a black person it’s even more important to keep in mind the changes that needed to happen, and sacrifices that were made to get us to where we are today. (Whether that place is on equal footing as the rest of the country is debatable, but again, that’s another story.)
To think that just 50 years ago, less than the lifetime of my parents, it was normal not only for people of different races to be separated in most of the country, but for that separation to be included in things like education and work opportunities, something that most would think to be a basic right of every human being. But people allowed prejudice and uninformed biases lead their way of thinking, and took full advantage of the social and financial inequalities to keep minorities in a lesser state of personhood.
The point I’m trying to make with this civil rights mini-lecture is that we, as a society, need to remember how incredibly lucky we are to have the opportunities we do today. It wasn’t so long ago that things were much worse than they are now, and while we have come a long way, it isn’t far enough. And more importantly, this isn’t given enough weight in our everyday thinking. I’m not saying that we should think about our dark past every moment of our lives, but at least acknowledge that it happened in some way.
Remembering that there was a time where a black person in this country wasn’t even allowed to have an education really puts things into perspective. I am very lucky to have the privilege to pursue an education at my own will. And it’s not just limited to race – America as a whole is lucky to have the privilege of (for all intents and purposes) free K-12 education for all.
They say that we need to remember our history in order to have a future. In terms of education, I think this is one of the biggest motivators that gets lost in the fray of modern-day comfort. Knowing that people literally died in order for me to sit here in my room, on my own laptop, use the internet, type this article, read, have opinions that can be read by others, go to school, vote, and be overall informed about the world is a humbling notion, and I dare not forget it.
To end this in broader terms, basic human rights are not as basic as we may think they are, and we should keep in mind how lucky and privileged we really are that we live in the world we do. It may not be perfect, but it’s a vast improvement from where we used to be.