My parents paid my downpayment and I’m not sorry
Like many other people in my position, I was unaware of my privilege until my 20s, when I started realising that other people didn’t have the same life as me. My parents are upper-middle class, second-generation Australians. Both of my grandfathers immigrated from Europe - one from Ireland, the other from Italy. I think this is important because they both came from poor families, and in just one generation, both sides of my family experienced significant class mobility.
We spoke more in depth about this topic in episode 4 of our podcast, The Weekly Cheek
When I moved away from my hometown to go to university, my parents bought an apartment close to the campus, which I moved into. I was paying discounted rent, and I had the security many of my friends lacked. My sister later moved in too. After a couple of years, I felt ready to move, and was looking for studios and small apartments to rent on the other side of town. When I mentioned this to my mum, she said “why don’t you buy a place?” And I said “wha… what?” I was working part time and still at uni, about 18 months away from graduating. I had about $7 000 saved - not quite enough for a 20% downpayment in a capital city.
About six months later, I was closing on a townhouse about six kilometres from the city, in an up and coming suburb. It was an absolute deal, but I did need a little more than my $7 000 to make the purchase. Because I wasn’t working full time and didn’t have significant enough savings, my parents paid a considerable chunk as a downpayment, close to one third of the property value. My parents wanted to give me the opportunity to pay my own mortgage instead of someone else’s. For a few moments I wanted to refuse, and do it on my own, because I am a Type A Millennial Oldest Child™, until I realised that I was being quite ridiculous.
Most people are surprised when I say I own a home, and I’m always quick to disclose the funds I received from my parents. I haven’t received anything else from my parents since the downpayment, I’ve paid my mortgage and all the bills on my own, with exception of the times I’ve had renting roommates, and I now split everything 50/50 with my boyfriend. But I know it’s important to be honest about how I got here. A lot of my peers could also afford the ongoing costs I now pay on my home: electricity, rates, power, internet, mortgage, insurance, and body corporate fees. But I had the privilege of actually getting a home loan without saving almost an entire year’s salary.
I think my privilege encompasses more than just the obvious race, class, sexuality, and gender identities we often associate with discussions like this one. I am mental healthy and very resilient, and this is incredibly relevant to the point I’m about to bring up. I’m a firm believer that we shouldn’t apologise for our privilege, rather use it. Let’s back it up for a sec, and clarify that the most important thing is to acknowledge it. I spent the few years after realising I have privilege feeling bad about it, apologising, even wishing it wasn’t there sometimes (and how privileged is that? I cringe looking back.). But what did I actually do with that time? Nothing productive, that’s for sure. Feeling bad about the benefits I’ve had from experiencing a well-balanced, healthy, and happy childhood where I had everything I needed didn’t result in anything.
Instead of putting time and energy into apologising, writing disclaimers before anything I uploaded, not speaking up about unjust situations I hadn’t experienced, I could have been doing something. It’s my belief that it’s up to the people who have privilege to make change, speak up, and converse openly. I feel I have a responsibility to be open about how I afforded my home, how much help I received, and how I went about a home loan. It’s not helpful for anyone I speak to to feel as though they’ve failed because they haven’t purchased a home by the age I have. And that’s just one very small example. As someone who is resilient and isn’t often worried about how I’m perceived by others (and TBH sometimes I thrive on causing a little controversy), I think it’s only right that I push for progress when I have the opportunity. I also think it’s only right that I am transparent, that I don’t leave things like my financial situation a mystery.
People with privilege have the responsibility to use it. Use it to speak up when you see something that isn’t right. Use it to facilitate change in the workplace. The most privileged people are usually the people with the time, money, and resources to change the world. We are the people who can offer a platform to those who don’t often get one. Don’t apologise for your privilege. Acknowledge it and use it.