I did laundry the other day–an oft skipped chore due to a lack of quarters and an apathy to seek out quarters. We have communal washers and dryers in our apartment complex and as I stood there I realized that this was one of the few forced communal activities that I take part in. Most things throughout my day are done in privacy, I am rarely forced to interact with people or even be near people that I don’t choose to be. This is a form of privilege, one that I had rarely considered. Like all forms of privilege, it is one that must be checked, its innate unfairness must be thought through, and what to do about it should be judged according to its benefits.
Only the privileged can afford privacy; to weed out various types from their lives–picking and choosing when they want to spend time with people. This comes in obvious forms like the difference between houses and apartments. Houses are larger and often come with more space between each one, apartments are large buildings filled with many rooms that share walls. Apartments are invasive, your words and actions are not entirely your own and your neighbors are daily a part of your lives. With houses more effort is required to annoy, but even so, as houses raise in nicety privacy often increases with night watches, gates, and Beware of Dog signs rising all around. As your upward mobility takes you to larger and more expensive places you can afford to construct people out of your life.
In most parts of the US it is the poor who take public transportation, occupying the buses, metro lines, and trains. Those who can afford cars take them, often by themselves to avoid the inconvenience and to dwell in the privacy. Cars ensure that we don’t have to talk to anyone, bump into anyone, or be disrupted in any way. The upper class are also more likely to be able to avoid being in government service buildings, places packed with long lines of often anxious and nervous people. People put their kids into expensive private schools–places meant to fit specific needs for those who can afford to get their children there. Public schools are more random, dependent on whoever lives in the particular neighborhood.
When we are privileged we don’t have to (get to?) have these experiences. We systematically set ourselves up to choose who we want to see, interact with, and be a part of our lives. When we do participate in communal activity it is in the social clubs of our choice (think of the stereotypical country club, the monocultural church, or a book club). The ability to make this choice is not necessarily wrong, even if it is privileged, but there is a lot of power in being able to make these choices and we must be careful with who we choose because our histories of exclusion have often been ugly portraits of marginalization, discrimination, and injustice.