A thought on language use vis-à-vis “privilege”

I often think of the rhetoric used to describe people in challenging socioeconomic situations (i.e. “the poor”, “the homeless”, etc.). The one thing that always bugged me is the collective praise of those who make it and how media tells their stories. If media (say, a journalist) asks someone like Steve Jobs (or any other successful person) how he made it to the top and he answers “I was lucky”, this “luck” is hardly ever examined. The statement that the person did indeed meet a set of “lucky” circumstances is socially accepted. However, if media interrogates a homeless person or an addict and the person says “I was/ am unlucky”, the statement is generally met with derision, contempt, the implication being that poverty or homelessness are the result of bad choices, poor judgment, individual blame.

In my previous post about my love of language and dictionaries, I almost wrote “I was lucky that my parents gave me unlimited access to books”. I think it is my responsibility to re-think my use of language in this regard. I wasn’t lucky; I was privileged. If we learn to dissociate circumstances that have been almost always portrayed as a result of “luck”, perhaps we can also question the noxious and generally accepted paradigm that being poor is just an act of individual responsibility.

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