I remember in college I was friends with this guy, R, a sensitive, vegan, white boy with a jew-fro and bare feet. He lived in co-ops, was the founder of RASP, radical art social protest (? I can't remember the acronym exactly, but it was along those lines), and performed slam poetry. He wrote a poem about his shame over not speaking up to injustice and fading into the safety of his own privilege. He wrote a poem about the stark contrast of his life and folks with less money, less access to education, and more melanin. Basically he meditated on his white, straight, male guilt. I used to joke, "Poor R, somebody just needs to go oppress that boy and he'd be so much happier." But it's only years later that I realize I should have said, "Poor R, somebody just needs to go kick him in his white, straight boy ass and tell him to stop wallowing and do something."
If recognizing privilege is hard, giving up privilege is harder. I have no doubt that somewhere within the comfortable hearts of well educated, upper class radicals like me, there isn't a sigh of relief that the world that we advocate for, a world with resources spread equally and no carbon footprint, will never come in our lifetime. Deep down I am scared to give up my one-bedroom apartment (all to myself), my car, and the periodic indulgences (on top of my usual baseline of privilege - acute on chronic, if you will) that I allow myself.
I'm beginning to understand, that no matter how obnoxious it sounds, there is a necessary period of mourning of privilege. I remember the first point of tension I had with my girlfriend. What was so hard for me was listening to her struggle over the privilege of being part of the majority. Watching the process of struggling with giving up a privilege that I was never even offered, that should never exist, was maddening. At the time, I was too consumed by my own anger and suffered injustices that I was unable to remember my own struggles with privilege.
Interestingly enough, what finally snapped it all into focus for me, was a lecture on sexuality during my second year of medical school. Sally Foley , sex expert extraordinaire, was commenting on the use of condoms. Yes, folks think sex just isn't as much fun; yes, folks think you just can't feel as much, sex is less enjoyable; but unless you're in a monogamous relationship with a clear understanding of your family planning goals, you simply have to use them. "You can mourn the loss of condom-less sex, but you still have to use them."
Suddenly, it was much easier to let go of some of those guilty battles that I struggled with. I like fancy cell phones and gadgets. I like accessories, expensive watches, sunglasses, and hats. Previously these wants were largely curbed by an unrelenting sense of frugality instilled by my parents and a lack of disposable income; to a lesser extent, the value of maintaining a simple life without extravagance. I'm not exactly sure why, but being given the permission to mourn somehow gave me the freedom to admire from afar. Suddenly instead of battling between indulging a guilty pleasure and denying its existence, I was given a third option, admit and repent for sinful thoughts. It's a way to go easy on yourself without necessarily giving in.
I guess the next step would be actually conceding something substantial.