I never understood privilege till later in life, but I obviously understood the benefit from privilege because I lived it in many forms. It isn’t until you grow up in your head that you really grasp the fact that the things you take for granted aren’t normal everyday things for everyone in the world. I had many examples of this, but I never felt the examples how you’d feel them if you read the situations now. I just didn’t feel privileged at the time, but there are reasons for that as well.
I’ve recounted through numerous… numerous…’God tell him to stop writing adoption posts now,’ posts about my abandonment as a child and my adoption journey. I know you all love it.
Anyways, as an adult I sometimes joke I eat like an orphan because I was told that joke after seeing me eat as a child. The adult in me can laugh, but at the same time something in the back of my head hurts a little bit, or maybe it is my heart. I think there was a period of my life, maybe a half a year or more, that I knew hunger. I know this because I visited several orphanages in Korea in 2000 and even then these kids were eating “fluffy Korean rice” as a meal. It was heartbreaking. I hated being there.
I got adopted by the most wonderful humans in the world. My father is a priest and a doctor and is honestly someone I aspire to be in my next life… because I’ll never be the kind of man he is. But I am damn sure proud to call him my father. My mother is a kind, giving person who is a wonderful inspiration to me. She pushes me to want to find out a little bit more about myself each day.
I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth, not in my mind. My father was a new doctor which means, and I understand this now as an adult, that he was paying medical bills while supporting a family with three children they had adopted. That’s no small feat and I grew up thinking getting a large French fry from McDonald’s was a special treat. As long as you gave your mom the bag fries right?
Eventually things got better and as I grew up on Stonewall street in Memphis, Tennessee we literally moved up in the street through life. Looking back down my memory lane in my mind I see the road I grew up with, roller bladed down, and fell off bikes on. But I also see the progression my parents worked hard to achieve for us to get to each stage. Things I now appreciate as a father with two daughters of my own, things a parent understands as they kiss their kids to bed and go downstairs to pay the bills.
But let’s get back to privilege and the day I realized it. Actually there were two days.
I loved Easter Sunday and I always knew that if we could afford to we would go out and get a new outfit for the biggest celebration in the Orthodox religion. I mean you have Christmas… but EASTER WOW! A lot had to do with the service in an Antiochian Orthodox culture. You got to stay up all night because the service started at like 10 pm! In kid time that was unimaginable because I had a standard bedtime as a child and this was well past it! Even better, there was a procession with candles in the middle of the night which was always fun because one of my friends would always do something stupid with their candle, and then there was a huge feast! After it we would go home and sleep in, only to come back the next day for a cook out around the church!
We were playing soccer after eating our burgers and one of the boys decided we should play soccer. I was wearing my new white shorts and polo shirt, but we didn’t care what clothes you wore back then. We just wanted to play.
The game was going and it got rough, as games always do with boys. One of the kids kept hacking at my leg until I pushed him and his brother immediately stepped up in his defense.
“Tell your brother to stop hacking at my leg,” I yelled, but more screamed because I was young and had a soprano voice still, ugh. It really makes it hard to be aggressive when you have a high pitched voice.
His brother sneers at me in the most evil sneer my memory can conjure. “No one gives a shit about you and your fancy clothes Jason. Go cry somewhere else.”
I was shell shocked and I remember walking off and being very confused. It suddenly occurred to me that I was wearing new clothes and they didn’t have any on because of circumstance. It didn’t occur to me that it was a privilege though because my parents worked hard for our money and I knew that.
As an adult I understand all of that and that is all that matters. But privilege is always a topic on my mind as an adult and I do feel something in my heart when I see someone with a sign by a street. I do often give what I can from my pocket and I try to remember that circumstance is what put me where I am. A small flip of the coin and I might be the one with a sign right now.
I can’t honestly overlook that.
Jason C. Cushman