Privilege Blind

September 8, 2016

An abbreviated version of this post originally appeared in the September issue of The Southwest Community Connection with a response from the original author who apologized for her insensitivity but still didn’t acknowledge that the shoes in question were more likely stolen than “found”.

Recently, I was appalled by a privilege-blind piece in a Southwest Portland local monthly newspaper. The purpose of the column itself is benign enough: a recent transplant to the City of Roses explores local small businesses and grades them on “customer service, customer satisfaction and a pleasurable customer experience” using what she calls a “sincerity scale.”

But in the August issue of The Southwest Community Connection, she wrote about her experience with a local shoe repair shop. She explained why she needed to visit the shop with a story about swing dancing in which she states, “My husband always has trouble finding shoes of any kind that fit right and are comfortable. One day, he picked up a pair of shoes he found sitting on a wall outside of a church and brought them home.”

Nowhere in the story does she question why those shoes might have been placed on the wall outside of a church. She only worries about whether or not they were “worn by anyone with any icky foot crud.”

Portland has one of the largest homeless populations in the U.S. Many of the local churches have stepped up by offering food, clothing, and sometimes even shelter to those in need. Those shoes that “looked brand new” probably were intended for someone who needed shoes to wear, who might not own an intact pair.

Essentially, the husband stole a pair of shoes from a church so he could have a comfy pair for dancing, not even caring enough to question why they had been left where he could nab them.

The blind privilege of well off (they live in Multnomah Village, an upscale area of the city), white people so unconcerned about others they don’t even question why a new pair of shoes might be visible on private property (the wall presumably belongs to the church); don’t consider whether someone might have need of those shoes; or even if someone misplaced their shoes and they were left on the wall for the legitimate owner to find them, just astounds me.

The man could have noted the shoe brand and size so he could purchase his own pair. He could have offered to give the church a donation in exchange for the pair of shoes that would allow another pair to be acquired for someone in need. But he just pilfered them and his wife took them to a shoe repair shop to have them altered for dancing.

The only reason she told the tale was to praise the service provided by the shoe shop.
It’s not just the fact that her husband absconded with shoes that didn’t belong to him and she bragged about it. But the fact that neither of them stopped to consider why those shoes were there, who they belonged to, or whether or not someone needed them for something less trivial than dancing is the epitome of blindness to privilege.