Saturday, January 24, 2004

Martha Stewart's Handbag and Privilege

Joi talks about "Carrying Privilege" on his January 24th, 2004 post (I won't link to the post, don't want to be listed under trackbacks), and how people who are privileged "carry" themselves. When I think of carrying privilege material items come to mind. Clothing, transportation, housing, and other creature comforts are all ways that people can show how much wealth they have.
There are people who seem to gloat in and flaunt their privilege, constantly bragging and doing the nudge-nudge-wink-wink. Others carry it naturally. Others seem to feel bad or strange having been chosen to be among the privileged. Some seem to guiltily enjoy the privilege.

Some seem to believe that the privilege they have comes with the responsibility to use it to help others, while others seem to think that privilege is something they deserve to use for their own personal gain.
I don't like it when people flaunt their wealth and possessions, but it's hard to determine whether they're doing it or not. For example, if a friend mentions that she went to the Seychelles, I wouldn't feel like she's flaunting her wealth, but other people would feel that she is. Where does one draw the line between flaunting wealth and just merely having it? I guess it depends on who your talking to. If you're talking to somebody who can't afford to travel more than 100 miles, you can say that you went on a vacation and relaxed. This may be more acceptable than "I went to a remote island half way around the world and splashed around in the ocean." Martha Stewart flaunted her wealth by carrying a designer handbag to her court appearance and it caused a big stir.

Joi also mentions that some privileged people feel they have a responsibility to others who have less. This sounds alright at first; people should be helpful and try to improve the lives of others. But I think there's another side to this. In the past industrialized European nations felt that it was their duty to civilize the rest of the world; the White Man's Burden. This seemed like a glorious and noble things to the western Europeans, but the people of the lands they conquered would probably disagree. It's similar to America's war on Iraq, and how it's supposed to liberate and free the Iraqis. The privileged view of how to help may be distorted in a similar fashion as the 19th century Europeans and the Bush administration. How does a privileged person "help" one of lesser fortune? Do these people even want help?