My story of privileged vs underprivileged is simple at it’s core: I was blind until I was exposed.
Underprivileged in Elementary
I spent elementary school at a small Catholic elementary school, not because I was Catholic but because at the time my brother (6 years older) entered school, this was a better academic option than public schools. I went through my 6 years in primary education bullied by some staff and fellow students. The way I remember it is that I was not Catholic and therefore was going to hell and why would anyone want to be friends with that? I was not able to do readings in mass or participate in first communion ceremonies but was required to know my first communion prayers and attend a blessing for my soul while others were doing reconciliation. It seems extreme, I know. But I distinctly remember inviting friends over to play, their parents meeting my parents, and having to be “school” friends only. In other words, since we were not Catholic, they were not allowed to come over to my house to play. Of course, not everyone was of this mindset, but it was very disappointing as a child to be socially limited by other’s misjudgments. I developed great distrust in others, especially girls. I was constantly worried about having friends and not being “left out.”
Privileged in Middle School
In seventh grade my small perception of the world changed drastically when I made the move to the local public middle school. At the time, this school was 75% free and reduced lunch, 60% minority, and performing very poorly (it is now a turnover magnet school). Within the first few weeks of school, I noticed people not paying for lunch. It was weird to me, so many people the lunch lady loved that much!?! How could this be?! One day I had the courage to finally ask a classmate, “Why don’t you pay for lunch?” She simply replied, “Because I can’t.” This was crazy to me. I literally had never thought about anyone not having $2 to pay for a piece of pizza and an orange juice. My mom would take me to the mall and we would get pedicures together but this person couldn’t pay for lunch? I spent the rest of the day in silent observation of my classmates. My head was pinning with questions of how they bought their school supplies and possible reasons why their moms never picked them up from school. The idea of “Underprivileged” slapped me in the face that day, and I will never forget it.
I am the first to admit, I still do not know what it feels like to not have $2 for lunch. I didn’t worry about having friends as much as my friends having what they needed. My new classmates had so much else to worry about they didn’t care whether I was the same religion or would facilitate religious rebellion. Their parents were thankful for a play date and a nice birthday party. I respected these friends despite my lack of understanding of their lives. In the end, I would never trade my “mediocre” middle school education for anything else because I believe I got the social education I needed: exposure.