Michelle Obama ASKS for more on the road
Michelle Obama tells a fascinating story in her book, Becoming.
Barack had just started campaigning. While he had a team to support him, she bootstrapped her way through it. She wrote her own speeches, did her own hair and makeup and took volunteers up on their offer for transport.
It was all going very well. Until it wasn’t.
One day, she finds herself being summoned to the media center, where a host of the experts were critiquing her for being off-brand.
She documents a pivotal conversation with Barack. She says… I’m going to take a step back. Barack asks her to reconsider.
And so… she thinks about it.
I will be on your team – BUT it is so important for me to have media training, to have people to write my speeches and I need transportation. And then, guess what?
She got it!
Privilege is WHAT you know
When I first read this anecdote in her book more than three years ago – I was shocked and amazed. The entire book is an incredible tale documenting almost a super-human sense of resilience, ambition and spirit. Of all the marvelous things Michelle writes about – THIS story stands out to me. Why?
Women are conditioned to be pleasing. Not to ask too much. Be scrappy. Michelle was bootstrapping it. She found herself recognizing that she could do this job without making a problem for everyone.
It is so important for me to note that she doesn’t come to these conclusions in her book. So – this is completely my inference. When I read the story, I wondered a lot about how entitlement and privilege intersect in her reality. How did the fact that she was socialized in a female body impact what she felt entitled to ask for?
Speaking from experience, I know how when you come from under-privileged backgrounds… well, you are used to boot-scrapping and taking one for the team. And those who have access to more resources have an awareness of what they can ask for. And Lord, do they ask often for more and they ask often.
To Disarm A Bomb UnderWater
I’m speaking to a new friend, a British man in his fifties. He’s worried about his youngest son because the boy had an accident. He hurt his hand on a broken vodka bottle. The young boy who is still in university loves free-rock climbing.
Now, with his hand injured – he doesn’t quite know what he will do. The boy calls his father and says – I think I would like to be a part of an underwater bomb disposal squad.
Within hours, my friend is on the phone with an old acquaintance who knows someone who knows someone who might be able to open the doors for underwater bomb disposing.
A potential interview for the boy is being arranged as we speak.
Privilege is WHO you know
I had sheer admiration for how my friend loved his son. It seemed to me that he would do anything to take care of him and ensure he had emotional and professional happiness.
I also felt shocked and in awe. I had no idea that underwater bomb disposal – was even a thing! I didn’t even know that was an option available to most of us.
It s so difficult for me to get connected to the right people for even the jobs that I’m overqualified for. Some doors are firmly shut in my face. I’m prying at the threshold.
Trying to get a little grip. And here – this is a perfect example, of someone being able to call up their father and get an ‘in’ purely on a whim.
From what his father has told me, his son appears to be an exuberant, charming and capable boy. I wish him the best. And, still, I can’t quite believe that this is how it works for some people.
The Woman Who Came To Bali
We are sitting in a beautiful wooden shala. There are candles around us and the sound of a river in the distance. I’m sitting in a circle of women. A women’s circle in Ubud, Bali. We are taking it in turns to speak holding a little doll in our hands. The doll is now passed onto a woman with a round full belly.
She is beaming. Her skin is gleaming. Humidity and hormones? She has an actual crown on flowers on her long glossy hair. Is this incarnate of the Goddess of Fertility?
“I’m here in Bali to really enjoy my pregnancy,” she tells us as she fondly caresses her belly.
“I flew in from New York last week. I JUST want to enjoy this special moment for me.”
Everyone smiles, we move on.
Privilege is what you can afford
I’m shocked by the gleaming beaming pregnant woman.
I’m 29-years-old and I have never heard of someone taking a holiday to enjoy their pregnancy. Later, I learn this isn’t as big a deal as I make it. But at that moment, I was shocked. My mouth agape. My whole body into a gesture of: “Huh?!”
On further reflection – I realized that I have only ever seen women working till the last day of their pregnancy. Pregnancy was a time of excitement, sure – but mostly it was exhaustion. That is how I remember most women in my life. And this flower-crowned-beaming-Goddess demeanor was really confusing me.
Understanding privilege can be inspiring and maddening
Oh… this is what people do?
The privileged and wealthy have access to emotional, physical and mental resources, connections. It is eye-opening.
The more I move through the world, the more I realize that SOME people have so much support.
- Support to have a baby.
- Support to launch a new business or ask for a new job.
- Support to navigate grief and to ask for a new job
In some ways – it is inspiring to learn about this. I learn the many different ways I can ask for more and try to improve my life. Like Michelle Obama, I begin to realize that I can ask for my support team of therapists, healers and coaches. I don’t have to bootstrap it. I can lean into community and paid professionals to help me achieve my higher purpose.
And I’m still MAD AF. The more time I spend with privileged people, the more I feel red-hot fury and resentment when I realize just how much access they have. I can’t quite wrap my mind around how their network of friends and family help get them new clients and art shows. I can’t believe just how many of them get support from their parents well into their twenties and thirties. This righteous resentment is justified and makes people very uncomfortable.
It is an ugly look on me.
Why don’t they become entrepreneurs?
I’m in a Fiat Ambassador taxi in Mumbai in 2016.
The entire backseat is covered in a single beige sponge fabric secured by a see-through plastic sheet. The traffic is flowing surprisingly well – for Mumbai. We are headed to Asia Heart Hospital – where my father will get heart surgery in a few days.
As our car comes to a stop at a traffic light – I look out of my window. I’ve been visiting Mumbai on and off for the last twenty years. And still, I’m a little taken aback when I see an entire family living on the street. The eldest man of the family is sitting on a wooden box – a make-shift chair. His face is covered with lather and a barber is shaving him…ON the streets!
I’m amazed and disheartened at the prevalence of slums and homelessness in Mumbai. My father explains how some of the people who end up living on the streets in Mumbai – actually are from villages. They came to Mumbai with hopes for a better life.
“Why don’t they stay in the villages? If they can’t make money through agriculture… why not become entrepreneurs?” I ask my father with earnestness.
Almost as soon as I said it, I regretted it.
My father’s mustache twitched as his lips spread into a forced smile. I know his facial cues too well now. I know I’ve said something tone-deaf.
“What entrepreneurship, Buttha? What are you talking about?”
I’m THAT 26-years-old coming from abroad with castigations and aspersions about poverty in India. After my indignation at the over-privileged, here I am having my Marie-Antoinette moment in the back of a shiny black Fiat Ambassador.
Privilege feels awful to be acknowledged
Here is the sad honest truth.
It takes effort to recognize your privileges. When we start to bring our critical thinking to the class barriers separating our society – it brings up uncomfortable feelings.
And still, we MUST be honest about all of the stepping stones we’ve had to get to where we are.
If we don’t recognize our privilege – we hoard it for ourselves. Our hearts become hardened as we tell people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Our minds get simplistic as we say things like ‘just become an entrepreneur’.
Can we sit through the excruciating discomfort of recognizing all the things we had access and entitlement to? Can we wake up and become more transparent with ourselves and those around us?
Can we leverage this and SHARE with others? Can we care for a greater circle of people than ourselves and our children? Can we use ourselves for the collective good and not just individual gain?