Displacement can be a minor inconvenience or a death sentence.
I’m incredibly, almost unbelievably lucky. Right now, I’m a climate refugee, but all signs point to that being a temporary condition. At least this time. It makes me far more fortunate than millions of other people around the world in the same boat (or, for far too many climate migrants, lack-of-boat). Driven from my home by an off-the-charts wildfire crisis, I’ve got no guarantees that I’ll be able to go home soon, or about what shape my home will be in when I get there, but I’m still highly aware of my personal privilege. I’m quite likely to still have a home to return to eventually, and I’m confident of my ability to get there.
This is what evacuee privilege looks like.
If I’m being honest, it makes me feel wildly grateful and it also makes me feel enormously guilty, in turns. Often both at once.
Wealth stunts empathy, which is why economically disadvantaged individuals give a much larger share of their limited incomes to charity than those with money to burn do. The poor are always more generous than the rich because they experience the empathy that comes with knowing what real hardship is like from personal experience. A decade ago I was living well below the poverty line, at the bottom of the economic ladder where rising crises drown people first. Then a fabulous partner came into my life. She would still have been an immense blessing for me if she arrived with nothing, but conveniently she also brought with her a gorgeous home and other resources, plunging me into a totally unfamiliar universe of relative financial security. Suddenly and delightfully, I didn’t have to simmer in a low grade panic about potentially imminent homelessness, or wonder whether I’d be able to muster more than one meal in any given day. We remain far from opulence, yet it seems strange and miraculous to me to be … doing okay.
The persistent anxiety that comes from years of precarity is hard to shake off. The memory of marginalized life has staying power, so now I get to experience a kind of impostor syndrome: how do I suddenly merit the good fortune of some relative safety? I need to remind myself that crippling dread isn’t necessary over every expenditure. My empathy for others in crisis can be…