I have been thinking lately about privilege.
I am incredibly grateful and aware of the good fortune, and of the privilege I have.
Privilege is what makes me casually knock on the director’s door of the facility in Juvie, pop my head in, say “Hi,” and ask a question. Lack of privilege is what could make someone see that gesture as being disrespectful.
Privilege makes me strong, outgoing, daring. But it also sometimes makes me unaware of how someone might perceive my actions.
Privilege isn't necessarily about money. Privilege is about safety. It's about being bold.
It’s the good side of privilege that made me slap my commanding officer (when I was in the Israeli army) across the face without thinking twice when he pinched my ass.
I watch my children who don't even understand the luxury of their privilege, and then my aching heart observes the girls I work with in Juvie, who don't even recognize the privilege they are lacking.
Privilege can give us a profound and deep sense of being. Lack of privilege can make you feel lost and disconnected.
Never underestimate the power of privilege to corrupt and make people think they can have anything they want, do anything they want, thinking they have no accountability to anyone, and are above the law.
Privilege can make people extremely ugly, unkind and simply mean.
The outcome of someone lacking privilege can be deep and dark.
Probation is a very structured organization. There is a fixed protocol and way things are done. And then there is me, a free spirit, an artist who challenges every protocol, who asks the questions, who calls the number two or three person, instead of giving a written request to number five or six.
I am constantly slapped on the hand, slapped in the face, sometimes, until it burns.
I do not mean to hurt anybody or offend anyone.
I just desperately want to make this system function faster, more efficiently.
Make them see my beloved girls as people and not as numbers.
I want the privilege of opportunity for these girls.
It is at the intersection of privilege and no privilege that change lives.
People from different backgrounds coming together, colliding, crossing bridges, climbing up, out, and beyond walls. Accepting, not judging, understanding that we all come from different places, backgrounds levels of privilege and, therefore, our path to the same destination may not be the same.
Probation has tested my flexibility to no end.
It is in the bandwidth of flexibility, the capacity to bend and not break where change gets the oxygen to breathe, to happen.
Sometimes, at the expense of me feeling as if I am suffocating, that is okay.
I can afford to struggle to breathe, for now.
I can do this, because I have privilege.
Privilege of a support system of people to exhale with when I come home; sometimes, literally on the phone, in the car, on my way home from Juvie.
I have the privilege of community.
But most of all, I have the privilege of love.
I have to tell you, at the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, truly, the greatest gift is the privilege to love and to be loved.
Young and tough she looks at me
“I don’t believe in love.”
“I don’t want no love. It’s stupid!”
“Ever?” I ask her.
She shrugs her shoulders.
She is petite. She is very fair. She is so young.
She will not give in. She has kept her distance for weeks. She answers my writing prompts with one-word answers.
Most of the time they are not nice words.
She is so busy being indifferent, that she pushes everyone away.
This is one who is hard to love.
I wonder who did what horrible thing to her, to make her like this.
Did she ever have the privilege of love?
Deep, meaningful love.
Did anyone ever hold her?
Kiss her head?
Whisper in her ear “I love you.”
She comes every week.
She makes it seem like I am the last person she wants to see and the last place she wants to be is with me, in my group.
Yet, she comes. She sits.
She resists everything but she listens. She is present.
Today I ask them to paint.
This group is different from my other group.
I don’t have a culminating performance.
I focus more on art than I do theater.
I bring canvases. I bring acrylic paint. I bring brushes and sponges.
Her face softens as she paints.
For a moment she relaxes.
“Ms., Can I have an another canvas for later? I like this.”
“Of course,” I say.
“Isn’t painting fun?” I add.
I smile at her.
And there is a new expression on her face, but I’m not sure what it is.
I know probation will never let me leave her a canvas.
I will have to push, pull, nudge and figure it out, but I will do it somehow. She stands close to me.
This one is not a hugger.
“Can you do that, Ms.? Really?”
“I don’t think they will just let me leave you a canvas, but I will think of something – and we will figure this out.”
“I will also put some aside for you in my office, so the minute you get out you can have them.”
I look at her and realize that what I see on her face is relief.
The privilege of love is relief.
It is that soft place to land.
It is knowing someone has got you.
“Thank you, Ms.” And suddenly she is such a sweet little girl.
We almost hug, but I know that would be way too much for her.
“Love you,” I say very quietly.
She blushes, then laughs.
She shakes her head and walks away.
I know this is probably the first time anyone said that to her. I pray it is not the last.