What I Learned About ‘Privilege’ Living In The City

Posted on April 8, 2016

By Tia Ray:

A homeless girl begs for money as it rains in Bombay, August 1, 2005. Heavy rain again flooded Bombay on Monday after a record downpour last week triggered floods and landslides that killed nearly 1,000 people in and around India's financial capital. Floods closed key roads and delayed train services in the sprawling metropolis of more than 15 million people, but there were no reports of new casualties or serious damage. - RTXNOJG
Image credit: Reuters/Desmond Boylan.

I no longer see poor people. I have become almost accustomed to the sight of the starving and the homeless.

Like most of my fellow citizens, I too have become almost inured to the common sight of the many poor, starving and homeless on the periphery of my street, my city, and my life.

Last Thursday, though, I saw an image that I thought would haunt me forever.

All that separated us was the car window. It could have been a mirror. She was my age and had the same black hair and sharp features. Except, while I had a pair of headphones stuck on my ears, she had a baby dangling against her body. Eyes yellow, lips parched, and hands knocking on my window and then going to her mouth in a feeding gesture repeatedly – something about the sight got to me. Perhaps it was the thought that she is probably a teen mother with an unknown fate. Perhaps it was the fact she was asking me to help feed her and her baby.

I don’t know what it was but it made me cry, filled me with anxiety, despair and guilt.

I thought the image would never go away. But it did. I got over it in a day. I was filled with a new, more relevant anxiety – about my Economics exam. I despaired at not having spent enough time studying statistics. It made me cry to think that I may not do well. Then I was anxious about not having a blue dress for the theme-party later that evening.

What did not leave me though was the feeling of guilt. As I enjoyed post-exam parties, this niggling, bad feeling wouldn’t go away.

Why wasn’t the guilt going away? Am I responsible for this? Should I feel bad for being privileged?

I am not trying to say, “look at me, I’m so sensitive.” In fact, I think I am beginning to believe the opposite. I have been brought up to believe that good people care and perhaps that is why I feel I must. I have also been brought up in a world where the education system and lifestyle of those who have privileges numb us to the despair of everyone else. I have my own angst; I don’t want to deal with others’.

Maybe if I didn’t have to see the inequality and the pathetic condition of so many around me, I could be happier. I try to look away. But I guess there is no running away.

Every time I am faced with the sight of the little boy outside my local market asking for money for food, I make plans – I will give him food; I will buy him books; I will petition someone to do something; I will ask my parents to adopt him.

But I do nothing.

I don’t know where to begin. And I see no end in sight.

So, for now, I am pushing away this feeling and focusing on acquiring some skills and an education. Maybe, someday, I will be able to use them to gain personal happiness as well as make a difference to those less privileged.

I don’t want to carry this guilt like a trophy of achievement. It is debilitating.

Meanwhile, can some adults around me who may have managed to resolve this, please give me some advice?

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