In Which A Window Quietly Opens
In an argument over our heating bills, my wife inadvertently introduced me to a metaphor.
Which is to say that it was 74 degrees in the house at our most recent Rock Band party, and I wanted to turn on the AC. Gini said this was bad for the AC, and berated me for my electricity-happy ways, and asked, “Why don’t we simply open the windows?”
So we did. Both kitchen windows and the dining room window, flung open. The party went well. I forgot about our conversation entirely, perhaps due to the influence of four bottles of Yuengling.
Over the next two days, though, these weird noises intruded into my life, making the living room kind of creepy. The trees made frighteningly loud noises, with leaves shushing and branches rattling. There were sudden movements outside from animals. Occasionally fragments of half-heard conversation would drift through the door.
I didn’t realize the windows were open, so it was almost like the house was haunted. I didn’t like it. Things were too busy, and I kept getting up to see what was wrong.
It wasn’t that these noises never existed – they did – but because I had the windows closed, I didn’t have to interact with the outside world. When those windows were opened, suddenly all sorts of things I’d never noticed before were brushing up against my consciousness, and things felt wrong. Scary. Quietly out of place.
I think that’s not a bad metaphor for privilege.
Privilege has mutated into a term that’s used to silence and suppress more often than I’d like, but at its heart the idea is one that every human being in Western Civilization should keep in mind: you most likely have certain advantages that don’t even register as advantages for you because of your status/race/sex/sexuality. (The classic is male privilege, which has a nice list compiled here, along with a link to several other privilege lists of mixed quality.) The the way society quietly shunts those problems away from you are just transparent, like the air around you, not even seen as an advantage but just the way things are.
Then someone opens a window.
Once you’ve really started examining privilege, you start to hear all sorts of other noises seeping in. It’s not as comfortable. But it’s not as though those voices outside never existed; you just had a window shut so you didn’t have to hear them. Now you do, and you have to deal with them.
It’s not a bad thing. As long as you’re aware of the source of the noises, they’re not scary. The world has not suddenly become a worse place. You have simply become more aware of what’s going on, and now you get to deal with it a little more honestly.
And be a little more grateful for your house, and perhaps a little more willing to consider what it’s like for the people outside.