December 16, 2013


adjective (of a person) not enjoying the same standard of living or rights as the majority of people in a society.
synonyms: needy, deprived, disadvantaged, poor, destitute, in need, impoverished, poverty-stricken, on the poverty line, indigent, lower-class;

'Underprivileged' is a word commonly used in reference to the poor, most commonly to refer to poor children or communities. It is a curious choice of words. 

This language is oddly used by a culture that often doesn't recognize its own tremendous wealth and privileges. I remember when the Lake House first decided to shut off our air conditioning how much we and others acted like it was a necessity for Florida living. It isn't, and most of the world lives in similar climates without it. It is a privilege that we mistakenly consider a real need. We think we need our mattresses, our hot water heaters, and our air conditioners and never realize that these things are mere luxuries and privileges. Even our choice to go without any such luxuries is itself an expression of privilege. We can choose to use it or not. We are very privileged. Choice, I would argue, is an expression of being a human. To strip one of their freedom and choice is to strip them of their humanity. This, in my mind, is truly what poverty is: a lack of choice or freedom. 

Another possible implication of the term 'underprivileged' might be that it is an accurate assessment. Without even being conscious of it, we use as a kind of subconscious confession. Perhaps we realize that everything that we have beyond food and water and basic shelter is just luxury and privilege, possibly at the expense of those who do not. Perhaps we realize the very privilege of being able to choose whether or not we talk about, think about or face poverty (if we are not poor), racism (if we are white), or sexism (if we are men) at all. Perhaps using the term 'underprivileged' is a way for us to acknowledge all of our privilege. Once we can acknowledge and embrace the fact that we have privilege in this world we can make it available to those who may not. Not as a hero or a saint or a martyr but as those who have come to realize that our salvation and freedom is as much wrapped up in our need for them as theirs may be in us. Together we can be free, together we can be human.

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