Letter from the Editor: When it comes to privilege, it’s more than the thought that matters

One of the burning issues in this era of social justice is the notion of “privilege”. But what does it really mean when someone says, “Check your lien”?

Many of us spent time in the past week celebrating Thanksgiving. It’s a natural time to jot down and even list the things we are thankful for, be it home, health, or family.

Some of these things are benefits of undeserved privilege. People may react negatively to the concept of privilege if they see it as a blame or label that is racist, sexist, elitist, or lacking in generosity of spirit. White straight men have the privilege of not being viewed with suspicion or fear of being sexually assaulted if they jog. Women don’t. Black men don’t. Is there anyone to blame for being born a straight white male? No, but let’s not pretend it doesn’t confer inherent benefits when it does.

I’ve given this concept a lot of thought after journalist Aimee Green’s recent story about a vaccination effort tied to Catlin Gabel, a private school where annual tuition can run up to around $ 35,000. The article elicited a strong reaction.

Some people saw this as the height of privilege: an elite school with ties to a private doctor arranging for vaccinations for its students while parents elsewhere rushed for rare appointments.

But others readers rushed to the defense of the school and the doctor who administered the injections.

“Catlin Gabel can’t win,” one reader wrote. “When they take the initiative to get students vaccinated, progressives don’t like it and The Oregonian supports them.”

Another wrote: “I am outraged by the Oregonian’s criticism of Dr. Maureen Mays’ efforts to help immunize as many of our children as possible. She should be applauded for her efforts.

To recap, in the first week of vaccine availability, a clinic in Catlin Gabel, with the help of a volunteer doctor, was able to get at least 70% of Catlin K-6 students vaccinated. Gabel, against less than 6%. of children in this age group statewide. The school opened its online dating schedule to its own families three days before inviting students from a nearby public school, West Tualatin View.

I thought Green’s article was eminently fair to Dr Mays, the volunteer doctor, who worked tirelessly for months to get the vaccines out. The doctor had contacted two public school districts before asking Catlin where she had vaccinated teenagers earlier. She had no role in how vaccine availability was communicated.

So where does the privilege come from? Remember, this is not about blaming anyone; it is about recognizing intrinsic structural inequalities.

Public schools have reportedly declined the offer; Catlin agreed. It is fundamentally true that small private schools can be nimble and have fewer bureaucratic hurdles to overcome to set up such a clinic. Catlin knew the doctor well, having previously run a clinic at the school, which she turned to as she was near her home.

Portland Public Schools, meanwhile, focused on setting up clinics in several underprivileged schools, such as Faubion Elementary School in northeast Portland, a very poor school with around one-third white. , a third of black and a third of Latinos.

The invitation to the Catlin families and later the parents of West Tualatin View arrived in an email directing them to an online planning tool. Not all parents own computers or have constant access to a reliable Internet. Families in the poorest areas are five times less likely to have broadband access than wealthier households, according to a recent study by the Center for Public Integrity.

Not all parents have the privilege of holding jobs that allow them time off to transport their children to a clinic. A social worker, upset by Catlin’s situation, described the challenges of her workload: “Families who are often disadvantaged because a parent has to stay home full time to care for their child with disabilities. very difficult needs ”due to intellectual disability.

Even if they could drop everything to get to a clinic, parents might not have a car or other reliable transportation or be able to afford gas.

Many families at Catlin start off with privileges others don’t. For example, most of the people who can afford Catlin’s tuition fees already have a relationship with a primary care physician. That alone gives them easier access to vaccines and information.

They can also have the luxury of time, the time to call pharmacy after pharmacy to find appointments. The social worker wrote: “Many families I support genuinely worry about meeting their basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, sleep (many parents I work with sleep very little).

“I am a mother of two children aged 5 to 11,” said Green, senior reporter for The Oregonian / OregonLive. “I saw with my own eyes that appointments were scarce and I went to great lengths to secure them during the first days of deployment. I spent several hours on the internet and on hold on the phone. I know others who have done it too.

She added, “Ultimately I started working on this story because what happened at Catlin Gabel raised questions about health equity. I asked myself, is this how the system is supposed to work? “

Green’s article details the ways Dr Mays has helped since the vaccines were made available. I don’t believe Mays or even Catlin Gabel did anything wrong. “I am publicly educated, from kindergarten to medical school, and I am very proud of it,” she told me. “To suggest that I, a Quaker, a 4th generation Liberal, am an elitist is laughable. “

Mays told me that since January she had given more than 4,000 injections “to the elderly, to the young, to those in group homes, to the severely disabled.” She devoted her time and supplies, such as bandages, disinfectant, etc.

Catlin Cabel, for her part, notes that 40% of the people served at the clinic were not from the private school, including the walk-in visits as the word spread. They didn’t make it public more widely, a school spokesperson said, for fear of being overwhelmed. Green wishes the principals gave an interview. Instead, a spokesperson responded to questions via email.

Fairness does not mean that everything has to be equal. It means recognizing and overcoming complex societal barriers and ensuring that those affected have access to them despite those barriers.

And, yes, I’m writing this as an educated white person with the privilege of writing for a journal. I miss a lot because of my blind spots.

But it’s easy to imagine a very different outcome if fairness had been at the center of every decision along the way.

The coverage of the Oregonian / OregonLive was not meant to shame or blame. In the hands of a less thoughtful journalist, the whole situation could have been presented in a much harsher light. I think Green presented a nuanced view.

Our mission is to shed light on the news in our community – on the reality of what happened. And what happened left many parents of modest means frustrated with the good path this particular set of circumstances offered to affluent and, yes, privileged families.

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