The meme “Check Your Privilege” has been making the rounds on the Internet, but the phrase has been around quite a few years. (You might have even taken the latest Buzzfeed quiz to see just how “privileged” you are, so for those who have, you know what I’m talking about.)
Using the “Check Your Privilege” concept, privilege is sometimes given to you at birth by virtue of your race (Caucasian) or gender (male). It can be conferred upon you by socioeconomic status as you grow up (upper Middle class). It can be provided to you by simply being in the right place at the right time (American citizen by birth).
Privilege is not evil. It’s not something that should be looked upon with derision. It’s an acknowledgment that others might not have had it as easy as you, and that there is no reason to look down or blow people off because they aren’t as privileged – or make light of the struggle of others.
Or claim to know “how it feels”, because you can’t. I am a Caucasian female, born in the U.S., with a graduate degree. I will never purport to identify with the life story of an Indian female, born in the U.K., with a graduate degree. We may both be women with some intelligence, but our cultures and citizenship will create different stories and how the world views us.
There are hierarchies of privilege; ways to categorize people: a Caucasian, Christian, upper-class, U.S. born heterosexual male is more privileged than a woman having the same characteristics. A bi-racial, non-Christian, lower class, homosexual male would not be considered as privileged.
It can become uncomfortable because the more privileged you are, the “easier” your life can be (and note I say can). Society is usually kinder and more, shall we say, accommodating, to those who are more privileged than those who haven’t had the same advantages. Privilege is about being on par with the rest of society, being viewed as normal. And where it puts you in the world.
The concept of “checking your privilege” is often used when discussing race or gender issues. (This is a fabulous article about privilege, if you’re so inclined to learn more.) Checking privilege can make those who are “more privileged” feel uncomfortable and defensive. It brings to the surface that there are others who are less privileged.
And here’s the thing: we are all privileged in some way… down to the fact that if you can read this, you are privileged enough to have access to the Internet…and you can read.
I’ve been thinking a lot about “diabetes privilege” these days, because of a particular blog post written by Elizabeth Snouffer. She was responding to the New York Times article about the cost of diabetes (and the response to it) by pointing accusatorially at those who have diabetes privilege and advocates for those who do not have the same diabetes privilege.
I am diabetes privileged.
- I am Type 1 (which somehow, according to a few individuals, makes me “better” than Type 2 – I’m not bothering to link any of these individuals, because I find that concept sickening).
- I am Caucasian from European descent, which puts me at less of a risk for certain complications that the African-American, Latino, and American Indian communities.
- I came from a family that ensured I had access to healthy meals (even when I didn’t eat them), quality healthcare, and all of the medications and durable medical equipment that I needed.
- I live in a first-world country, can keep my insulin and blood glucose testing equipment cool, and have insurance that while expensive, permits me to use the latest technology. John and I have made financial and career choices based on the health insurance we have, but for the last several years, I have been able to afford my care.
- I am intelligent enough to seek out resources and ask for help when I need it for my diabetes.
Because I “checked my diabetes privilege”, I am acutely aware of the inequities within the United States (and the rest of the world) and how privileged I am.
I don’t walk miles to a clinic to see if I’ll get the same bottle of insulin as last month to bury in a clay pot to keep it cool. I don’t listen to people who tell me that I just have “a touch of the sugars” and to eat a second helping of potatoes. I don’t fight a cultural bend towards high carbohydrate meals or a lack of support within my own cultural community. I don’t wait for months to see a doctor who doesn’t ask the important questions and won’t take the time to teach me about this disease. I am not mocked for having the “wrong” type of diabetes, falsely accused of bringing this on myself.
I’m not gloating about my diabetes privilege. Much like discussions about race and gender and sexual orientation, diabetes privilege can be uncomfortable. If you checked your own diabetes privilege, how comfortable are you feeling right now?
What I do with my diabetes privilege is not uncomfortable: I advocate for myself and others.
I talk about my disease, share my experiences with anyone who will listen, raise my voice for better accuracy of blood glucose test strips, support programs that help those in underdeveloped countries, and work with other advocates to build a supportive, vibrant community.
If you don’t do any of these things, that is perfectly acceptable. That’s your privilege. I don’t judge you and neither should anyone else for how you live with diabetes.
We are all diabetes privileged.
Insulin didn’t exist in an injectable form one hundred years ago. A death sentence waited after horrible, painful suffering. There are still those who die from lack of diagnosis in the world and that is painful to even think about. But this is a half-glass full (or a half-vial full) situation – for those who are diagnosed, there is a treatment. (Yes, there is no cure. I said we are all diabetes privileged, not simply privileged.)
There has never been a better time to have diabetes. Strange to think that, but it’s true. The research and pharmaceutical options are exciting to explore. Resources are being developed and programs being designed to help us live longer, with less complications, and there are many working on access to all of these.
You may rail loudly about the high cost of drugs and technology. You may complain about the lack of access and resources.You may complain about the insurance companies and the government.
Those companies that supply us with our drugs and technology? None of them are charities. They provide goods and services to a (unfortunately) captive population. Research and development costs money. Clinical trials to ensure efficacy cost money. I abhor the fact that keeping me alive takes money out of my family’s pockets and I’m sure that you do, too. I don’t have a solution or an answer.
In the meantime, you can choose to complain without doing anything: complain about the high cost of insulin or test strips, complain about how your meter isn’t accurate, how you can’t get a pump and your doctor is stupid (Oh, yes, I have read these complaints this weekend… all of them.) – or… you can take a moment to learn how you can help yourself and others.
How can I become MORE diabetes privileged?
- Learn more about your type of diabetes and what causes it.
- Learn more about other types of diabetes and what causes it.
- Pick a topic that you struggle with in your daily diabetes management: treating hypoglycemia, ketones and sick day management, glycemic index, healthy choices for eating, ways to start an exercise program when you can’t get off the couch (because you don’t like to exercise), ways to get moving when you have mobility issues, complications and how to prevent them (If you need resources, contact me. I’ll hook you up.)- the topics are endless.
- Hate your medical team? Think they’re stupid? Why? If it’s because they tell you to do something and you think it’s wrong for you, then question it and get a concrete answer. If you choose not to follow their advice because you think it’s stupid, then you have an option: find another doctor or follow the advice and show them the results at your next appointment. Prove them wrong – and then work with them to make it right. And learn how to ask the right questions and have a good relationship with your medical team.
- Pissed off about the cost of your supplies and insulin and how you can’t afford what you need? Learn why costs are what they are in the United States .(And here’s a hint: It’s not because of the Affordable Care Act. That’s a cop out answer, people.) Learn the ins and outs of your insurance policy and find out what cost-saving measures you can use. There are organizations that will work with you – and even the pharmaceutical and device companies can help. (I will cover this in more detail this week… compiling a large list that can help you.)
- Complain about accuracy of your meter and strips? Get over to Strip Safely and learn what YOU can do. Stop complaining and start making a difference – and every single voice matters.
- Become involved with your local ADA or JDRF. Learn more about Insulin for Life or Life of A Child or any of the other great organizations that help in underprivileged countries or in the United States when disaster hits.
You can make a choice – do nothing or do something: it’s your diabetes privilege.