Privilege: A Pedestrian’s Perspective

Have you ever been on foot, walking your dogs or baby or both, when you come to a four way stop? And nobody lets you cross?

I have, and how frustrating and powerless it makes me feel! When the private school up the road starts, sometimes there will be a long line of cars with drivers that don’t make eye contact or recognize my pedestrian self and my need to cross the road. Finally SOMEONE will take pity on me and let me cross.

From what I have heard, it is worse for those on bicycles and motorcycles who actually use the same lanes as cars. Sharing the road is a difficult concept to practice. 

We technically live within the walking zone for our elementary school. It would be (will be?) a long two mile hike for a kid but as a neighbor around the corner has learned, unless you pay to bus, the school district won’t budge. So every school morning if I am not already at work there is a line of children down the side walk to the Main Street crossing, where a crossing guard in a yellow vest waves kids across. 

Of course someone could ignore the crossing guard. But it is a lot harder to ignore a full-grown crossing guard in a yellow vest than children with backpacks waiting to cross! 

What does this have to do with privilege? you may be asking. Or maybe you already see where I’m going with this…

I will be honest, I am still new to this journey. I spent an amazing, difficult summer in St. Louis in college talking about social justice in ways that changed my mind. I learned verses like “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”‭‭(Micah‬ ‭6:8‬ ‭ESV.)‬‬ Or this one, speaking of God: “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy‬ ‭10:18-19‬ ‭ESV‬‬.) Those verses have remained in my heart. 

God loves justice; he loves the least fortunate and the most vulnerable of our society. I recently went to a talk at work about racial disparities in health…. African American babies are born earlier and smaller. First generation African immigrants don’t show this effect, but by the second generation they do; the stress takes a toll on mothers and babies. And this is true throughout the life continuum. This was a waking call for me; this is affecting my patients, the people I work with.

So back to my metaphor. When I am walking my dogs, those people on the road are not inherently better because they are driving a car. They are dropping off kids; I have the day off and am talking a walk. Their cars are big and dangerous, and they certainly can ignore me and any applicable laws and drive through the intersection, relatively confident I will stay out of the way.  

However, we do have laws. We have crossing guards to try to protect the most vulnerable. We can’t rely on those; we also need to watch our own driving. Are we being kind? Are we yielding to others? 

Even if spiritual arguments hold no weight, the golden rule is always something to consider. We all have pedestrian experiences. Maybe it is when we travel or when we need health care; maybe it is when we are students and our professors show mercy in extenuating circumstances (or not.)

Based on our ethnicity, our citizenship,our financial situation, our jobs, we come into positions of relative power, we have “privilege.” But what do we choose to do with this power? Do we use it to preserve the status quo? Do we use it to show off our status, to ignore those who are lower on the perceived totem pole, to endanger them because it is not convenient for us? Do we drive through the intersection without a second thought or look?

Or perhaps I should say – “what should we do?”

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