Understanding Privilege

It's time to stop blaming poor people for being poor. There is a bullshit misconception in this country that a person can become whatever they want, so if they're poor it's essentially because they're too lazy or too stupid to do anything about it. In reality the vast majority of poor people were just born without privilege. Yes I too have heard the bits of narrative evidence that are flooding your mind right now - the rags to riches stories we all love to tell ourselves - but the simple fact is that while there are examples of some people who have beaten the odds in awful situations, they have beaten the odds. For everyone else - you know, the vast majority of us that are not child prodigies - the odds largely determine the outcome.

I'm not saying that hard work isn't important or that it doesn't play a role in the outcome, that's certainly not true. What I'm saying is that it's relatively easy to get your marathon time down from 5 hours to 3 hours if you have generally good health. If you're born a paraplegic you can spend your whole life working at it, and you will never run a 3-hour marathon, period.

Similarly, it's relatively easy to graduate from a decent university if the question you were asked growing up was always "which college are you going to go to," all of your peers went to college, your teachers identified you as college-bound, and your family could afford to pay for college (or at least co-sign for your student loans). Students in this situation have the luxury of focusing on their education. Others may be distracted working nights to pay rent. Many people were never even encouraged to apply for college in the first place, so guess what? They didn't.

Most of the people I hear bitching about giving away free education are from the middle-class group I just described as being "college-bound." I get it, I'm one of you, and it was originally difficult to conceptualize anything different for me too. But here's the truth - it's really easy to look in from the outside and judge. It's much, much harder to be on the inside and come to an understanding of what is possible without something to model. There are plenty of communities in this country where going to college simply is not presented as an option to youth. That has got to change. Next time you hear yourself shaming or blaming someone less privileged than yourself, think about what it's like to be in their shoes. Lasting change starts with re-framing the problem.

Related Stuff Worth Checking Out:
QuestBridge.org is a startup focused on changing the college admissions game for underprivileged students. Go support them.
This is an interview Tim Ferriss did with the co-founders of QuestBridge.org.
David and Goliath is one of Malcolm Gladwell's latest books and is my favorite of his to date. A portion of the book discusses the tracking of students into being "college-bound" while others are led down vocational paths.

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