Q: What does it mean to have “privilege” or a “privileged upbringing”? Is this just having parents with money, or is there something else involved?
A: Privilege is best understood as ‘a culture of success’. You may understand and expect this culture to help you out in life. There’s no guarantee that it will or that you will understand it properly, but chances are better than zero.
So growing up with money that you didn’t earn is not going to help you earn money. So just because you are a consumer doesn’t make you a producer. Just because your parents have a talent doesn’t mean you will have talent as well.
Here’s the best way to understand the difference. You could call the culture of success a pattern. Therefore the culture of failure is an anti-pattern. For example. People expect doctors not to be excitable but calm. If your doctor is nervous and jittery, he won’t be a success. People expect bankers to be conservative with money. A banker who wears a 40k gold chain is an anti-pattern. People expect rock stars to be rebellious. A rock star who dresses like a banker will lose her audience.
Adopting the culture of success helps you see who does and does not flaunt an anti-pattern. In many ways Elon Musk flaunts the anti-pattern of an engineer. He certainly has revolutionized his industries, so like I said, adopting the culture doesn’t guarantee success. Millions of engineers work for companies like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. They switch employers all the time - it’s the same culture in aerospace, many of whom hold secret clearances. You have a ‘privilege’ if you know how to get a secret clearance in aerospace - but you’re simply conforming to the expectations of aerospace culture of success. If you don’t do so, you shouldn’t expect to get secret clearance.
If you grow up in a household where you have different manners and cultural behaviors than the people who run businesses, you can still be successful in business, but your chances are better if you understand and conform to the ‘unwritten rules’. Or maybe you’ll troll around for ‘life hacks’. It’s all the same thing, you wish your parents would have taught you X, Y and Z when you were a kid. Now you have to break your bad habit and learn a new skill and turn it into your habit. That’s difficult. If your habit is to take extra money that falls into your hands and bet it on football games or trips to Vegas, chances are that you’re not the kind of person who runs a good business and always meets payroll. If you grew up respecting gangsters with fat gold ropes, then you’re going to probably have a longer road to success as something other than a gangster.
There’s also the ‘black hole’ problem, which is that you don’t even know what your bad habits are. You think maybe your boss is being discriminatory against you because you always act like you know better. But you had untrustworthy parents and it was necessary for your survival to always second-guess them. So you think you’re being smart at work, but the boss thinks you’re just being insubordinate. You think every dog is vicious because where you grew up they were, so you don’t trust dogs or the people who own them.
There are very hard limits on what money can buy. It cannot buy trust. It cannot buy the habits of a culture. You can’t just put money in a plate or bribe a priest and then call yourself Catholic. You have to adopt the pattern. You can’t shadowbox your way into the UFC. You have to learn the moves and train. If your parents, smoke, drink or curse casually at home, maybe you think that’s how everyone behaves - and plus you only watch and enjoy movies where people do those things, otherwise you think it’s not realistic. So you think your habits are ‘keeping it real’ and then you’re surprised when people don’t treat you with respect in fancy restaurants, even when you’re spending all that money. People don’t just instantaneously change their attitude when you throw money in their faces. Well, maybe some people do - that’s their bad habit.
Here in Los Angeles, we have a lot of Mexicans who come from poor farming families. Maybe their parents have nothing more than an 8th grade education and don’t speak English. Well if those were my parents, I would think I’m doing very well if I speak English and graduate from high school. But not compared to kids whose parents are college educated and work in professions. On the other hand, if I run a trade business, like landscaping and I employ 12 workers and have 3 trucks full of tools and equipment, I have the pattern for that kind of success that a lawyer’s kid will probably never know. They’ll be lining up for the service I provide.
The biggest mistake people make is that they don’t take the effort to develop new disciplines and new skills because they think the game is fixed. These people simply don’t understand how labor markets work - again a failure to study a pattern of success. No you may never be an economist, but you should listen to economists. No you may never be a mathematician, but you should learn algebra. No you may never be a dentist, but your should brush your teeth. You may never teach English, but you should read books.
You should understand that there is a politics of talking about ‘privilege’ that lulls people into complacency so that they will believe their success depends on the destruction of ‘privilege’. That’s a trap. Everyone with desire and discipline can learn a culture of success. Just get after it yourself.