Privilege is a complicated conversation. Getting white folks to understand privilege in general is an uphill battle, as they tend to view it as a personal rather than societal issue.
When confronting family with it, you are entering hazardous territory. You never know how family is going to react to a societal issue especially as it pertains to them.
Redditor meandadami found himself to be that family member. On the popular subReddit “Am I The A**hole?” or “AITA,” he posed a difficult question:
“AITA for giving my son’s college money away?”
Dad started out with his history:
“My wife and I are fortunate that we’ve done reasonably well in our lives. Nothing crazy, but very comfortable. We recognize that we are both very lucky, and very privileged.”
“We have two sons, both good kids. One is a couple of years into college and is the one who thinks I’m an a**hole.”
“We have paid for our son’s college (in the US at a private college, so serious money). We’ve always been relaxed about college, would have been very supportive if he wanted to do a trade or something else, but he wanted to go to college and we supported him.”
Our original poster, or OP’s, son has become passionate and outspoken as of late.
But dad think he has not put his money where his mouth is.
“Recently, like a lot of college age students, he’s become a real idealist and very progressive. Good for him, he is welcome to think whatever he likes.”
“Where it has become an issue is that when he comes home he’s started making increasingly snide remarks about how we don’t pay enough in taxes (he has no idea what we pay or don’t pay), and that our success is due to privilege and was at the expense of other, less fortunate, people.”
“I don’t particularly object to the comments, I enjoy debate, but he doesn’t seem to appreciate the irony that he is benefiting from that privilege and seems content to collect on it while doing little to try and support those he believes need it.”
So OP thought he would teach his son a lesson after a particularly difficult rant.
“This came to a head recently where, following some of his comments, I said I completely agreed with him, and we needed to do more.”
“He seemed really pleased, until I followed it up with saying that to do that we would take 75% of his tuition money and instead donate that to a charity providing scholarships to disadvantaged people.”
“In order to pay for the rest of his tuition he would need to get loans, or pick up extra work/work nights to help fund it.”
Son wasn’t too happy about this.
“He. Was. Pissed. I tried to be very explicit that this was not to try and punish him, or get him to change his views, but that it was hypocritical of him to look down on our privilege while ignoring his own, and that he needed to be prepared to also accept a cost for trying to address that inequality.”
So OP wants to know if he was doing the right thing.
“He thinks I’m 100% an a**hole, my wife thinks I’m maybe 50% an a**hole.”
Redditors weighed in by declaring:
- NTA – Not The A**hole
- YTA – You’re The A**hole
- ESH – Everyone Sucks Here
- NAH – No A**holes Here
There was some disagreement among Redditors about how OP had handled the situation.
“‘What percentage of your privilege in this regard are you willing to give up to help the less fortunate?’ is a hell of a nice way both to make him recognize the joy of having that choice as well as a personal cost to ideals. It’s all gravy giving someone else a hard time, it’s another to spend ‘his’ money that way.”
“As someone who had to get his own scholarships and is still paying off loans it sounds like a fun psych experiment.”~CuriosiT38
“Going against the grain here and saying YTA:”
“You are threatening to substantially change your son’s circumstances in retaliation for him challenging you.”
“You aren’t donating 75% of your money. You are donating 75% of the money previously allocated for him because you control it.”
“What percentage of your total wealth is that 75% of his tuition? 10%? 5%? Less?”
“Your son is arguing that as a wealthy family, you owe something back to your community. You are saying ‘ok, I’ll take a lot from you to give to them’ you aren’t saying ‘Okay we can all sacrifice a little to help others.'”
“If you wanted to make an actual teachable point, you should say ‘Son, your mom and I are prepared to donate up to X% of our income this year, but we will only do it if you also donate X% of your tuition this year. You’ll need to make up the difference.’ Then you can all put your money where you words are.”
“Until the ‘sacrifice’ is equitable, you are just retaliating against him for having a viewpoint you don’t share.”~H_is_for_Human
“YTA. OP is deflecting, but at no point he’s accepting that his son actually has very valid points. So instead of doing some self-reflection on how to better contribute to the community, he’s punishing his son for challenging his comfortable life.”
“OP, kids at this age can be obnoxious, but it’s the first time they are thinking for themselves and broadening their minds. In a few years, he’ll get a high paying job and forget his ideals in the name of capital. Let him be! You should encourage idealism, because if our young’s don’t do it, who will?”~Maru3792648
“YTA. Contrary to what some others have said, what you’re threatening to do isn’t ‘good parenting’ or ‘teaching him to own up’ or whatever; it’s a flex on your part to remind him in the strongest possible terms that while you’re tolerant of his attempting to build his own identity as a young adult, you ultimately control his immediate (and, realistically, long-term) future.”
“Young people learn new ideas at university, and they’ll often dive into them head-first without thinking their way through them. As a university professor, I can’t tell you how many young people come into my classes not knowing about a thing, then learning about it, then becoming super passionate about it – all in the course of a month or two.”
“That’s normal. Your son seems to be doing the same thing.”
“You say that you enjoy the debate, but it’s pretty clear from your post that you only like it so long as your dominant position is never challenged. What you’re doing here isn’t, in my view, about your son’s beliefs at all, but rather about your need to maintain that dominant position.”
“If you were really into having debates with your son, you’d challenge him with hypotheticals; you’d challenge him to go out into the world and act in service of his ideals, but you wouldn’t threaten to pull the plug on his education, or threaten him with a decade or two of debt (no matter how favorable the interest).”
“If your son doesn’t appreciate the irony, as you put it, then it’s your job as the older person to help him see it. If you simply pull the plug on his funding, you’re not doing that.”
“You can show him that your income is ethical, or that a person with privilege can use it to help others in ways that are often much more efficient than simply giving a bit to a charity here and there.”
“Let me put it a bit more bluntly: Good parenting would be recognizing that your son’s ideas might be problematic, and helping them to gain perspective or appreciate nuance; bad parenting would be to tell them ‘oh yeah? You don’t like how you think I do things? Well see that toilet over there? Here’s me stuffing your future into it. Who’s privileged now, biatch?'”
“Teach your child, don’t ‘teach him a lesson.’ It’s lazy, petty parenting, and if you truly want to help your son grow – and if you’d like to keep a positive relationship with him in the future – you’d rethink it.”~Something_CleverHere
The nuance between good parenting and petty parenting is an important one here that Reddit cannot find common ground upon.
“NTA. Hold on while I zip up my flame retardant suit … your son’s beliefs were based on theory not reality. You implemented the reality of his theories and he discovered he didn’t want to be personally subject to his beliefs.”
“Apparently charity and redistribution of wealth should only apply to others.”~milee30
“YTA. You can say whatever you want, but the fact is that you’re definitely doing this to punish him and get him to change his views. There are way less extreme ways to point out your son’s hypocrisy.”
“Also, I’m guessing that your son is a proponent of affordable education. If you paid more taxes, his college would be much cheaper, if not free. As it is, you’re just cutting him loose and f***ing him over.”~leebeebee
“YTA. I was waiting for the moment where you revealed he killed your cat or something but from the sound of it he’s just annoying.”
“That money was already earmarked for his tuition, so in your books it’s already gone. You’re having a substantial negative impact on his life, while having zero impact on your own.”
“Despite what you say, it’s absolutely a gotcha meant to punish him for his view.”
“It’s like the old joke about the conservative dad and the liberal daughter, where she disagrees with him until he tries to take things from her personally and give them to people she dislikes. It works as a joke but doesn’t work well for actually having a functional relationship with your child.”~MrCapitalismWildRide
“NTA – He wants to talk about equality and privilege like a progressive, but doesn’t actually want to do anything to fix the problems in society unless it has no effect on him. He should welcome the ability to give to the less fortunate whilst also striving to achieve himself.”~LEGOPASTA2
There is also another nuance here: is this simply a power play on OP’s part?
“Like a few other people here, YTA. When you offered to give away his college tuition it doesn’t affect you at all.”
“You’re not actually agreeing with him and deciding to do the right thing or even creating a teachable moment. You’re just punishing him for his beliefs.”
“Chances are your son, like me, is a firm believer in free education, so this punishment still isn’t teaching him anything other than that you are a jerk and pushing him even further into his beliefs.”~DepressedDyslexic
“YTA. Just have a conversation with your kid instead of playing power games with him, and taking away money all of a sudden without any warning.”
“You’re lying when you say it’s not to punish him, because it absolutely is. You could have sat him down and talked about how he is benefiting massively from the privilege of having rich parents, and asked him to stop mouthing off.”
“Going back on a financial commitment you made to your kid because he pissed you off is ridiculous. Don’t be this petty.”~ConsistentCheesecake
“YTA. This seems more like a gotcha than an actual attempt to engage with your son and what he was trying to discuss with you.”
“Why instead of taking the money away from him why didn’t you try and ask him to pick a cause he was passionate about and to either volunteer for a group or organization? Lots of colleges have organizations focused around the environment, food banks, etc.”
“Yes, he is privileged and he’s coming to be aware of that and so are you because you’re the one with all the power here. It’s fine to call him out on his hypocrisy but this just seems spiteful.”~Janeaustenisgreat
OP offered a somewhat unsatisfying update:
“So this has proven to be a lot more controversial than expected. I appreciate the responses, way too hard to try and address any decent number of them.”
“Looks like my wife was right and I’m about 50% an a**hole. She’ll love that. To clear up a couple of things – we would co-sign loans, likely no more than 25% for 2 years of college (I think I mentioned in a comment there’s no chance we’re going to leave him hanging for 75%).”
“There’s zero chance of him going to a loan shark or having to change colleges, or anything even resembling that. He’ll come out of it less than $50k in debt, which will not take him too long to pay off (he’s wanting to go into the same field I’m in, so I’m very familiar with starting pay, what sort of progression he could expect etc.).”
“We’re also in no way ‘rich,’ I would hate to say middle class because about 80% of Americans think they’re middle class, so maybe upper middle class.”
“He has boundless opportunities in front of him and this won’t have any real impact on that – some of the comments about cutting him off way off base, regardless of what happens here he is and will continue to be extraordinarily privileged.”
“I also appreciate the comments around the importance of this being a conversation with him and something that ultimately grows both of us, I wholeheartedly agree.”
Whether or not OP intends to follow through, he now has a greater perspective on what his actions actually look like to an objective outsider.
Hopefully he will take those into consideration as he plows forward with his conversations around privilege.