THE BLOG

How Going Undercover Reminded Me to Appreciate My Privilege

02/25/2014 05:20 pm ET | Updated Apr 26, 2014

My 15-year-old son and I just had a very interesting experience volunteering for his annual school auction. As a parent of a two high schoolers, I was surprised at how few people I recognized at a school event for a program my kids have been attending for 13 long years. (I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, as it is the elementary school parents who make up the majority of involved parents.) We were at the event facility from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m. on Friday, and spent a good three hours of that time working as busboys. (The public school support organization kept expenses down by not hiring wait staff.) We carried plates, scraped leftover food into the garbage, and worked up a sweat in the process.

As much as I didn't know the current cohort of grade school parents, they also didn't know me. I think a lot of them assumed I was a simple cater-waiter. I would estimate that a quarter of them were very dismissive to my statement of "If you're done with your plate, I can take it away" which I found to be very telling. They would barely respond to me, and were certainly not helpful in maybe grabbing their neighbor's empty plate to lend a hand. By comparison, others would reach for plates that were out of my reach and then thank me.

I've heard that you can tell a lot about a person from how they treat waiters.

It got me thinking about how, for a supposedly egalitarian society, the United States very much has societal levels that that are both glaring and subtle. The 99 percent vs. 1 percent has received a lot of attention over the past few years, but that 99 percent is split into endless categories. Race, education level, attractiveness and nationality all affect how we are perceived in this world. And as a white, generally attractive and well-educated woman, it's not part of my daily thinking.

Don't get me wrong, as I wasn't upset or angry with the experience. I just considered it to be an interesting point to ponder.

As an experienced labor and delivery nurse, I am used to being a source of important information, with people hanging on my every word. And as a successful blogger, I am used to people respecting and admiring what I do. (As the parent to two teenage boys, I am used to being mocked and ignored, but I take that with a grain of salt.) I'm not used to people barely acknowledging my presence.

Like the show Undercover Boss, where corporate CEOs take on lowly roles within their own company to get a real sense of how their organizations are actually functioning -- let's just call it "Undercover Katy."

How is this related to non-consumerism?

I am privileged.

No, I'm not wealthy, but I was raised in a middle class home where I always knew I would go to college. I live in a safe and community-oriented neighborhood where I can walk to two excellent grocery stores, and I can trust that my stable neighbors can be trusted. Yes, we had to buy a disgusting fixer-upper to make this happen, but we did. And I never give a second thought to the reliability of my transportation.

And I usually take that for granted.

My non-consumerism relies heavily on the community I live in. If I were in more of a low income area, my food shopping options would likely be limited, and our safety would not be a given. I have opportunities that many other Americans do not.

I've run three food stamp challenges over the past few years, and there are always a few readers who respond with judgment about how real food stamp recipients should be living their lives. They choose to ignore how a person's inherent privilege gives them advantages that we're often not even aware of.

So thank you, fellow parents for reminding me to appreciate the privilege that makes my daily life both easy and safe.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

"Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."