Saturday, May 31, 2014

Understanding White, Male "Privilege"

Recently I had a bit of bad timing when I had to head out on the road for work. I knew I wouldn't have enough money to get home, but couldn't afford to turn down the job, so I set off, planning on some money that should have deposited before I finished the assignments.

Long story short, the money didn't come through in time, and I spent 6 nights "road camping", 4 of those in two separate WalMart parking lots, one at a highway rest stop, and one at a friend's house. This extended downtime was a valuable experience, and, among other things, gave me time to think.

I thought about the term du jour "white privilege" that is used to describe the differences between the races ("male privilege" is used as well). I didn't like the term, and I thought about how I could hardly be considered "privileged" when I was living out of my van with no money to get home. And then I thought of a winter not long back when a nice healthy cough passed through our family at absolutely the worst time, the middle of winter as we'd moved into our home and hadn't had the opportunity to find the seals and drafts...with absolutely no money to spare. I didn't feel privileged on either occasion.

And, as I point out, I'm certainly more privileged than ghetto kids in Detroit, but less privileged than Will and Jada Pinkett Smith's kids.

The problem is, that is not what proponents of the "White privilege" or "male privilege" theory are talking about,. and, frankly, that's a big part of the problem. We're employing a word in the English language in a sense that is technically correct, but that is not the primary usage of the term. When most people think "privilege", they do so in a material sense. They think about it in terms of what a child is born with, of the things they have that give them a step up, and a headstart on life. They think of politicians who are "born on third base thinking they hit a triple". And they don't identify with them.

Nor should they. They certainly don't have the same experience.

The problem is, "privilege" is a rather limiting term, a rather divisive one that does not fully express the reality.

Going back to the Will Smith illustration: if you take him out of the Hollywood environment, let him go a few months without a haircut and a couple of weeks without a shave, if you put on thrift store clothes, his privilege goes away. People don't see Will Smith anymore, they suddenly see his race first. If you take a white Hollywood A lister, do the same thing and put the two together in a rough neighborhood, you will quickly see the difference in how they are treated.

In the same way we have "first world problems" (stressing when the car won't start, for instance), we also have "white person problems". In my instance, the fact that I had family at home, had constant communication with them and knew that ultimately it was just a matter of getting a paycheck and depositing it before I could head home was a powerful indicator of advantages that I have that, while not universal to the experience of a white American, do exist in higher percentages than among minority populations.

As a bit of a hippy, I've certainly had my share of harassment from the cops. I was pulled over and had my car searched while on the way to a job for speeding; my car was searched for no other reason than because I was driving a van with out of state plates and they somehow felt my appearance fit a profile. But my five or six such lifetime experiences don't equal out to the daily, continual experience that a lot of minorities have.

I've left the male privilege issue on the shelf for a reason: because while I don't usually see white privilege in my day to day experience, I DO see male privilege almost every day. When I come home at night, I am statistically far less likely to be mugged, raped, or kidnapped and sold into human sex trafficking (sadly, slavery is a far too overlooked problem today). When I go to the mechanic, I don't get the "dumbed down" experience, and I don't get overcharged by someone who feels they can take advantage of my ignorance. Nobody assumes that I am technically ignorant, and they don't assume I can't open a jar. In short, I'm treated as any adult should be.

So while I will continue to argue against the terminology of "white privilege" and "male privilege", the reality of what those who coined the term are expressing remains. Perhaps they should listen to the very real concerns of some of us and try to find a term that is less divisive. I am not certain what that term is, but I am certain we can find it. And hopefully, use it to reach across the aisle by people who shut out the argument when the latest politically correct term is employed.

Winning in the court of public opinion requires an ability to communicate effectively with your opponent, and I'm not seeing that from many who advance this rather relevant argument. Let's try to listen to what your opponents are saying, not trying to assume what they are not.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Why I Can't Support the #NotOneMore campaign

I really hate to speak in these moments. I genuinely do. As a parent, I cannot help but feel endless sympathy for Richard Martinez. He lost a son, and the grief he feels as a parent is something that neither I, nor any politician, have the right to minimize.

But the #NotOneMore campaign, as well intentioned as it is, is in my opinion, horribly misguided. No, I am not going to insult you, or the memory of Christopher Michaels-Martinez, by using the overworn platitude "guns don't kill people; people kill people". No, my response is a little less different.

First, I believe that pointing exclusively to the gun culture is a horrible mistake. Not only are we a frighteningly violent culture, but the final words of the shooter, whose memory I will not dignify by repeating his name (it is the victims, and their families that we should remember, not the shooter), indicated a disturbing level of misogyny and disconnect with reality to say without question that there were far more issues at play. And it is the culture in which Rodger grew up that we should be addressing; a culture of entitlement in which he saw himself as being more important than those around him,. and thus deserving of the sexual favors of the women he encountered. It was narcissism at its finest.

If the #NotOneMore campaign succeeds in every single one of its aims tomorrow, guess what? There will be one more. And another. And another. Cain only needed a rock to take down his brother.

The solution lies not in the hallowed halls of Congress, or in the offices of political lobbyists. They will fail you always, as even the most fiery idealog recognizes the need to compromise. The solution lies in us, in the sense of community that we have long abandoned as we've turned electronic media into our babysitter, our teacher, our minister, our minstrel, and our mentor. We need to step away from the glow of the TVs, tablets, and smart phones, and into the presence of our children, our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors. We need to reconnect with each other and rediscover the value of relationships that is better, is deeper, than the hollow synthesis we find in our multitude of devices. We won't stop every Elliot Rodger out there, but we may stop one. And we may help one father to go to sleep at night knowing that his child is alive.

Richard Martinez is not wrong in what he is doing. He is a father. And he is reaching out in the only way he knows how. But lying lobbyists don't care about that; they care about what Martinez can do for them. And they'll sweet talk him until the cows come home.

Want to respect the memory of Christopher Michaels-Martinez? Pay attention. Be a better neighbor. And realize that we are, each and every one of us, our brother's keeper.