The threads of privilege are all over me

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By Donna Eich Brooks

Imagine an almost invisible shining thread. It’s catching the light like dust motes on a summer afternoon. If you could get close enough to focus in, it would cast infinite rainbows, separating the rays and sorting them into their prismatic categories. This tiny filament is more translucent than a spider’s string, but as strong as 20-pound fishing line.

How can something you could have overlooked completely – something you might have unknowingly walked right through on your hike down the path and only had that sense of microscopic feathery hairs clinging to you – something that emits only the tiniest trace of iridescent fairy light, be built to pull things of heft from the murky depths of the pond up to the brilliance of the sun-baked sky?

Now imagine that clear wire attached to your head – not in a painful way, but as lovely support that stretches you right up just enough so that your chin sits up tall and your posture is proud with so little effort. You may have heard a yoga teacher advising you to envision a cord on the top of your head that is pulled ever so gently, just for a little lift. That’s it.

Then imagine it attached to your knees so, like a marionette, you could run and jump with minimal gravity pulling you down. Weightlessness. Support.

Picture it attached to your hands, so that groceries are easily lifted right into your cart. Now see it attached to your feet as you climb up a steep hill. It’s not enough to trip you. It’s not enough to keep you from working. It’s just enough to take some of that load off. And you probably wouldn’t even notice it.

In my life, money and social class have been this thread, this string, this filament, invisibly elevating me. Of course, I spent years never seeing it. I was a hard worker; the shining thread isn’t about that. It doesn’t negate anything I’ve done. I could deny its presence with no trouble.

But this strand is everywhere. It’s tied to job interviews, so my mouth forms all the high-dollar words and my brain can recognize the right unspoken language codes to use. I learned this language early and the string even tied me to other educated family members throughout my life who reinforced my lessons while sporting their own undetectable shiny wires.

We didn’t want the string. We didn’t ask for it. We didn’t rely on it. And I think we thought everyone had it up to a certain point. But in my life – born the daughter of a brilliant physician and a mental health counselor – with my strong middle class upbringing, there has always been this benevolent thing, this gossamer support, a spectral helper.

Gossamer is a poet’s word. Privilege is a loaded word. Ego is a delicate creature.

You can believe in the string or not. I am not ashamed of it. But I want all of us who were once and always supported by these twinkling, ethereal cords to see them. Clearer than porcelain skin. Finer than my grandmother’s crystal pickle dish. Strong enough to pull us from the murky bottom to the sunbaked sky.

And then I want all of us to see those individuals who have no thread. I want us to recognize the beauty of difference and acknowledge the remarkable strength required to walk on this earth without this prismatic suspension.

We have this choice. All of us with this blessed thread could work together to create a web that protects us and works to trap those who float freely. Strings stick with strings. The untethered and unboosted stick with the untethered and unboosted.


We could cut the strings. Not to remove the lift, because it will still be there. Our world is built on it. But we could fashion this glorious net. A shining net that we hold between us all, and we could leave trailing handholds that those floating offline could grab when they are faltering. We could lift them and rejoice when another smiling face feels the relief of being held.

Imagine an almost invisible shining thread. It’s catching the light like dust motes on a summer afternoon. Imagine it pulling us all up from the depths of the murky bottom to the brilliance of the sunbaked sky.

Donna Brooks is a lifelong resident of Alabama. She grew up in Florence and now lives in Birmingham where she is a writer, a songwriter, a retired attorney, a mom, and an observer.

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