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The Privilege of Earning To Give

January 14th, 2015
giving, money

It feels to me like I fell into programming, like it just happened that I graduated college with a skill that was highly in demand. But how did I end up here? Because of my race and gender people were more likely to see me as a potential engineer and take my efforts seriously. Because my parents could afford a computer in the 1980s there was one around for me to learn on. Because they could afford good schooling for me there were classes where I could practice this skill and study the theory behind it. It's hard to know the chain of causality that led to me getting into programming, but it's substantially less likely that I'd be here if I'd not had these advantages along the way.

If you think of privilege as something you have that makes you a bad person, if you know the word and know it applies to you but you try to hide and dismiss your privilege, to find axes along which you have less of it, that's only marginally more helpful than if you were to deny your privilege entirely and insist that all your accomplishments in life have been due to your efforts alone. Having privilege puts you in position where you have an outsized ability to effect change. The best response to privilege is to turn it to fixing the situation that led you to having these major advantages over others.

If I look at my situation, my race, class, and gender privilege have been helpful, but my nationality privilege is by far my biggest unearned advantage. Someone at the poverty line in the US earns more than 90% of people in the world, even after adjusting for money going farther in poorer countries. This is not to minimize the suffering of people in the US, along any dimension, but to illustrate the extent of the problem and the work required. With so much need, how could I possibly justify keeping my luck to myself?

So I earn to give. I can't reject my privilege, I can't give it back, the best I can do is use it to give back.

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