I caught this radio story the other day and what a showcase of history. For those who don’t click links, it talks about the history of fur as a status symbol and how when black women were able to afford it, it went out of vogue. Not only out of vogue, but pushed back against by a very vocal group of people. The facts and timeline laid out – it sounds more like unfortunate timing, to my ear, but crimes against a person are rarely logic-based.
It struck me, the insistence by a contingent of people that privilege is not real. As if it is such a crime to admit we aren’t privileged.
I am obtuse at times. An event that pops to mind is me complaining about Walmart to students when I was starting my teaching career. I was struck by their love of the store, their parents love. Didn’t they know what an evil corporation Walmart was? Yet, to them, it was a place of affordable merchandise and excessive choice. I could afford to refuse to shop there – they could not.
That’s privilege, not that I realized it at the time.
Fur, too, is privilege. Not the having – though, that is nice – the not-having. It wasn’t so very long ago fur was necessary for survival. Animals were necessary. That’s changed, at least in 1st world countries. The poor, the more rural parts of the world still need it.
My cousin, growing up, trapped. So did my uncle and my Grandfather. My Grandfather taught several boys in his area to trap for extra money. It is not fun work. Going out with my cousin – we were 9 or 10 in a rowboat alone at 5am – was freezing, dangerous work. Just for muskrats. But for us, especially him, it was a way to learn to work hard and turn that work into money. For all the talk of equity and the ills of capitalism, work ethic is and always will be valuable.
I bring this up because it is a piece of the classroom I miss. The debate of the young. This story resonates well with history and language. A real even happening – the demonizing of fur wearing vs the ability to buy fur. Was there a racial component? What a way to open up a dialogue for the children.
For the record, despite my early trappers’ assistant days, I would not buy fur. There are better materials available without harming animals. But that’s my privilege.