Learning about privilege was both crippling and liberating. The texts I read were not suited for a transracial adoptee such as myself. I felt colonized and colonizer, a victim and a guilty conspirator. I could shop where I wanted and appropriate what I pleased within the confines of bell hooks’ predatory capitalism and aware but apart from Patricia Hill-Collins’ sexual politics, but there was a silence when it came to my experience. I could not understand what it is like to be Black, just as I no longer know what it feels like to be mistaken for a man. These are lives that elude me as I grow more sure of who I am today.
My knowledge of privilege wrung me out until I was dry of anything but guilt. Every choice became a loaded us-versus-them. My indulgences and relative ease became excruciatingly burdensome under the weight of the knowledge of the forced deprivation of others. I was haunted. But to be fair, I was haunted even before.
My life did not seem right. It did not seem right that I could be moved around the world with nothing but the faintest whisper of the people who bore me. So I broke the word “family” until it was nothing but “relationships” and I substituted “people” for “people who care.” You can see it was not the theorists and their texts who first sent me running wild, desperate to see myself.
For whatever damage theory did, it lifted me up infinitely. It heard and resolved some pains in my heart that were so deep I had taken them as part of my character. And for those things too personal to reach, theory left me with tools and challenged me to make resolutions. But I’ve seen the damage guilt and entitlement and a ravenous need for acceptance and validation in theory can do in the hot-tempered, hollow-eyed professors and adjuncts I wooed and rebuffed in desert classrooms. Any tool of any use can wound as easily as it builds. How different I would have been had it not been for these siren-like lighthouses so full of unfulfilled need? Perhaps I would be no different at all, able as I was to identify in them what had already resided in me.