“And what I say to you, I say to you all: Keep awake.” –Mark 13: 37
This is my Charlie Card. It’s how I get around town. It’s a plastic card on which one can store money and then you can swipe your card and the money pays for you to ride buses and trains in the Metropolitan Boston Area. For $75/month you can get your Charlie Card loaded with a Monthly Pass that will allow you to ride unlimited buses and trains around Boston from the 1st day of the month until the last[insert “ooooo’s” and “aaahhhh’s” here]. Last month, for reasons I won’t go into, I did not get a Monthly Pass, but chose instead to pay as I went, reloading the card when it ran out of credit…which was often. Bus rides are nearly $2.00 a pop, train rides are just above $2.00. As someone who relies on public transportation to get to and from work each day, it was not out of the question to run through about $20.00/week. This is why the monthly pass is a pretty great deal for those of us who use public transit a lot.
Yesterday being the 1st of the month, I promptly reloaded my card with the Monthly Pass that I failed to procure in November. Good Lord, I had missed my Monthly Pass. It’s one of those simple things that, if you have it, it improves your life in countless ways…but the privileges the Monthly Pass grant the person holding it are subtle enough that you’re not even aware you have them…until they are gone (see where I’m going with this?).
When you have a Monthly Pass, you get on any bus or train you want, at any time, without thinking about it twice. When you pay as you go, you are constantly having to keep track of how much money is on your card, If you’re carrying cash you can easily reload the card on any bus or train, but as I often forget to carry cash and I only have a debit card on me, I have to make sure I know when to reload, and take advantage of the reloading stations when they are around. Not every stop has them. And if you’re not diligent about keeping track, you could wind up missing your train while having to frantically reload your card. In those situations, you’re travel time doesn’t just go up exponentially but, seeing as it’s winter time in New England, it can be an uncomfortable wait as well.
With the Monthly Pass there are obviously no fees for transferring, but without the Pass you get charged for transferring from bus to train. When you have a Monthly Pass, you don’t have to plan out your route all too carefully, as there is no cost to switch from one vehicle to another, as many times as you want. Oftentimes, I will actually leave a bus before I need to in order to pick up a train that would be skipping traffic and possibly moving at a faster rate. Sometimes I’ll get off the train at a stop I’ve never been to before, just to look around, and then hop back on the next train. With a Monthly Pass you have freedom of movement and can easily leave one situation for another that works better. When you pay as you go, you map out your travel plans much more carefully, and obviously are more frugal with your card swipes. Again, it’s a situation that often adds a longer travel time, with bigger consequences for a missed bus or delayed train. Especially on rainy days you are less likely to take the risk of leaving the situation you’re in–even if it’s not working particularly well–because of the potential consequences for starting over with a new vehicle.
So as you can see, there are many benefits to having a Monthly Pass.
And this is what we mean when we talk about privilege. Some people are born into this world with the ease, flexibility, and cost-savings benefits of a Monthly Pass. Others are not so fortunate. What is hopefully interesting about this little demonstration is this: the Charlie Card I have has served as both the Privileged Monthly Pass and the underprivileged pay as you go card. Without changing anything about its physical description, it has travelled in both Privileged and underprivileged worlds, and it has taken me along for the ride.
You know who has the Monthly Pass? Primarily white men in suits and overcoats carrying brief cases. You know who primarily use the pay as you go? Everyone else.
And this in itself is not a “problem.” This is simply a way of describing reality, as if I were an anthropologist moving among a people I did not previously know [the following should be read in a British accent for the proper affect], “And now the older white man is holding a plastic card up to the train driver, and he is waved through….next a younger black woman with 1 child walking beside her and another in a stroller holds up her card and…oh, she’s not being waved through, she is stopping to give dollar bills to the train driver…the driver will not accept them, they have to go into a machine…she is struggling with the machine, the bills are coming back out, she tries again…a line is forming outside the train, people look angry with the young woman, and she looks embarrassed…her baby in the stroller is crying…she tries once more to put the money in the machine.”
That’s where this becomes a problem, when those with such privileges and unearned benefits expect everyone else to be just like them, they get frustrated with those who just seem incapable of getting it together…and then the Monthly Pass class comes up with words, names, and assumptions about those people. THAT is the problem.
And in case you think this is merely a Black/White matter…remember, the Charlie Card looked completely the same in both cases, it was just VALUED differently. As long as we speak about a problem in binaries, it’s too easy to confuse the situation by claiming fake dualisms. When NFL stars enter the field with a gesture meant to represent solidarity with Ferguson protestors, it does not mean they are attacking the police. When we take to the streets to protest the use of excessive force by police, we are not condoning violence used against anybody else. When we state plainly that there is a system in place that favors some people over others–usually rich, straight, white, males over low-income, LGBT, women, people of color–absolutely no one is suggesting that the roles be reversed and white men become victims instead. The issue of privilege is not a binary one, it is multi-faceted…because the issue is not really about identity, or one identity against another…the issue is about value. Who do we value, and why?
Take these two Tweets pulled out of the Twitter-verse today as an example. When I read these disgusting words (I only sort of apologize if you can’t read them…it’s important to know what’s being said out there, but reprinting this garbage bothers me), I immediately take issue with their racist language. But the real problem with these tweets is that the people who wrote them clearly VALUE some people over others. The same way I intentionally judge whether I want to spend $75 on a Monthly Pass or not, people who think like these individuals engage in a value-making system from the time they are born until the time they die that (intentionally or not) places VALUE on the lives of human beings…and whether by nature of their place in the world, or their actions, or possibly the color of their skin…according to these view points there are people who deserve to die–they are not valued highly enough to continue living.
If you are a person of faith, then you have the responsibility to reorganize and reframe our world and our dialogue about it so that all people are awarded their proper value: As God’s Beloved Children.
The issue here is not what people look like, it is how people are valued. Everyone should be valued as a beloved child of God, and they should have easy access to systems and resources that treat them as such…but the fact is some people are born with a Monthly Pass, and our society places more value on Monthly Pass holders than those who don’t happen to have one. Some of those people look like me…but a lot of them don’t.
Know your value, and try to value others as you are. Know your worth, and treat others as they are truly worth. Know you are beloved and you are called to BE love for others, no matter the Pass they may or may not possess. And on that daily journey, hold on to Hope.