Shit is getting real out there. I don’t think anyone can deny that at some point over the last 12 months social media went from being a place we shared cat memes and pictures of food to a place we share news headlines, world atrocities and our very vocal opinions on what the heck is exactly happening.
The “status update” implored us to share our of-the-moment thoughts and activities: What are you doing right now? What are you thinking about? What do you want to share in this very moment to everyone in your network?
If you’re like me, your updates are divided between thoughtful shares, funny jokes and the occasional thought stream that just feels like it needs to live outside my head. This is what I’m thinking about in this moment, this is what I want to share with the outside world, this is the thought so mundane or ridiculous that I just can’t let it die without being heard… my observations form themselves in 140 characters or less — such is the world we live in.
It was a typical cold, grey London day in late April. I was waiting on a train platform for a train that did not come. I had flown out there to see some new doctors for my cancer treatment, as the one I had found in Italy had put me on a regimen that had made me very sick. (Living in Florence has it’s magical qualities, but access to functional medicine and modern healthcare is not one of them.) After a delayed plane and three canceled trains I was exhausted. Rather than post about that, I posted how grateful I was to be able to buy a coconut water in the store, and that if only the train would come, everything would be perfect.
This happened to be the same day that the world took to social media to share the atrocities of war on so many children in Syria. Having been traveling all day, I wasn’t aware. So it caught me off guard when someone I knew from back home sent me a message a few minutes later telling me my status update “reeked of white privilege.” That I, more than anyone, should know how lucky I am to get to travel and live the life that I do, and I should be mindful of what I write because I am a writer (as is she).
I was floored.
White privilege? Was she kidding? This coming from a woman whose job it is to write about and promote super important things like National Unicorn Day and some pop-star’s new album.
I suppose that sounds bitter, but I have never really been one to know what to do with harsh criticism.
It’s a term that I had barely heard until the last year or so. “White privilege” is something now used to define how white people can never truly be able to relate to the problems of other races, due to the nature of privilege we receive… just from being white.
I know I am very lucky to live the life that I live. It has come at the cost of a lot of sacrifice, which I don’t really talk about because I am learning that, along with gratitude, I have to give myself permission to be okay with what I have, and also, with what I don’t have.
Despite my overwhelming desire to defend myself, I didn’t. I thanked her for her opinion and told her I didn’t wish to continue the conversation. I wanted to tell her that I wasn’t on a joy trip to London. I wanted to say how sick and tired I was, how scared and alone I felt, how, by writing what I did, I was trying to turn my negative self pity into something positive and funny — more for myself than anyone else.
In the past, I have posted articles about news-related items and matters that make a difference. I’ve shared GoFundMe campaigns for friends who needed medical help and cancer fundraising. I’ve tried to do my small part to make a difference. But somehow, so many of these things seem to fall into an abyss when white privilege rears its head.
I wanted to tell this woman that… but I didn’t. I deleted the comment and tried not to let it bother me for the rest of the night… but it still did. And then again the next day, and the day after that. Not because I did anything wrong — but because she was right.
“Check your privilege” is not just a meme anymore. It’s a wake-up call.
We can’t just blatantly complain about being stuck in traffic on the 101, how annoying it is to go to Whole Foods and not find what we are looking for, or how brutal it is to have your plane diverted because of bad weather. A minor annoyance is nothing compared to the reality of what the majority of people in the world are facing — and a status update about a minor annoyance will just annoy everybody.
So maybe today things have changed in the “free speech” world of social media. Maybe we don’t get to freely (and non-judgmentally) use our Tweets as a platform to complain about our day-to-day grievances anymore. But the beauty of it is, we do get to use it as a platform — one where our words carry energy and can be as powerful as we want them to be.
Maybe the real lesson I learned was that instead of needing to check our privilege, we need to actually use our privilege. And how we use it is up to us.