Let me talk about the word “entitled” for a bit. It is a word that gets thrown around a lot when people talk about poor, oppressed, marginalized, and homeless persons who are attempting to get their needs met in a lot of ways. I googled the word and here is what I found:
1. believing oneself to be inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.
"his pompous, entitled attitude"
After reading that definition I thought it would be helpful to also have the definition for the word “inherent.”
1. existing in something as a permanent, essential, or characteristic attribute.
"any form of mountaineering has its inherent dangers"
vested in (someone) as a right or privilege.
"the president's inherent foreign affairs power"
In reading these I am led to the conclusion that a person who feels entitled believes that there is something that has been granted to them either by birth or investment that makes them deserving of special privileges.
Do people who are homeless, oppressed, or marginalized in other ways have special privileges that have been endowed on them by society? Or are they just struggling to gain a place of equity when they appear to be demanding of the attention of service providers?
I like this image that shows the difference between equality and equity –
If the person on our right asked the person on the left for their box would you refer to them as feeling “entitled?” If the person demanded the box, would you call them “entitled?” If you say yes, then I would ask you to consider what privileges you have that you hold on to so tightly that you can’t recognize that someone actually needs to be able to see over the fence and that your privilege is keeping them from doing so.
When we refer to people as feeling “entitled” we are often stating that our status quo is more important than others feeling like they live in an equitable society.
As the holidays start to come around, you will see a number of marginalized people struggling to get as much as they can from the various non-profits, charitable organizations and churches that provide gifts and food throughout the season. It may seem that they feel “entitled” to everything they can get. Maybe, just maybe, though, they feel that this generous outpouring from the community is the best time to stock up because they are certain that they will be without the things they need in the coming year. Maybe, just maybe, they are seeing the same advertisements and depictions of prosperous families that we do and are trying to create something that resembles what they think the rest of the world has.
If you have a home to go to, a bed of your own to sleep in, a regular paycheck, the ability to purchase gifts for your own children instead of taking whatever has been picked out for you by others, the knowledge that your table will have not only enough food for everyone but enough for leftovers, and there are people in your life who support you, then you are seen as the lucky ones. You are seen as someone who has been entitled with privileges of which others only dream. When you refer to a marginalized person, someone who is living on the edges of society in a shelter or below the poverty line, as feeling “entitled” you are forgetting that they would love to have those things to which you feel entitled. However, they have been led to believe that they are not deserving of those things because every time they reach for the box so they can see over the fence, the fence gets higher and their box gets lower.
Remember, language is a powerful thing and if you find yourself referring to marginalized and oppressed people in negative terms, you become a part of the problem, not the solution.