Shades of privilege are still white privilege

Nobody asks me if I am looking for someone when I am in my own front yard

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Sort of on topic. When I was in South America, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me washing clothes by hand by the train tracks.

I live in a middle-class suburb of mostly white people. My neighbor a few houses up is black. He is an engineer. His mother is a professor. He grew up in not only more affluent but also more sophisticated surroundings than I did. You would probably say he has more privilege than I do, or that he had more privilege growing up than I did.

For instance. I did not know until I read the book, The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students, by Anthony Abraham Jack, that I didn’t really know what office hours were.

I read that book this year.

I finished college in 1985.

Mr T, whose father was a college professor, was flabbergasted. “Why didn’t you just ask?” he asked.

Because I didn’t know that I didn’t know.

I thought office hours were the hours that the professor worked. Yeah, I had no idea what a professor did. I didn’t know that office hours were when professors  were available for students to ask questions.

Why would I ask a professor for help? That wasn’t the professor’s job! It was my job to figure things out. The professor lectured. I took notes. I had the textbook. If I couldn’t figure it out, well, I guess I was too stupid to be there, then.

When I would see a professor in his or her office and it wasn’t office hours, I was always very confused. Why were they even there?

When I read The Privileged Poor, I discovered that not only were office hours time set aside for students but also that some students knew enough that they would use that time to just hang out with the professors.

Which is how you get to know your professors.

Which is how you get the good recommendations for grad school and internships.

Which – I had no idea.

  1. As I said, I didn’t even know what office hours were.
  2. I didn’t know I didn’t know.
  3. Even if I had known, I would never have just gone to hang out with a professor. NEVER. They were old. They were adults. How would I even dare impose on their time like that? What would I even have said? What would we have talked about?

This is something rich kids know how to do. This is something Anthony Abraham Jack talks about in his book: that kids raised in privilege know these things because their parents teach them. They know how to develop relationships with adults so they can gain the benefits that come from those relationships later.

I asked a professor for a recommendation a year after I was out of college. I had been very involved in my residential college (kind of like the Harry Potter house) and the professor who was in charge of our residential college knew me, I thought.

He refused to write me a recommendation, telling me he didn’t remember me.

My bad. I didn’t know how it worked. I thought that showing up and doing the job was enough. It’s not.

You find similar ideas in the book, Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams, by Alfred Lubrano. Lubrano talks about how white collar kids are taught to shake hands and talk to adults and how to negotiate professional office norms.

These things are a mystery to people who don’t grow up in white collar backgrounds. We don’t even know we don’t know. We just know that something always feels wrong – like there’s a game being played and we don’t know what the rules are.

Off-topic story

Lubrano also, in my favorite example, cites how professors’ kids work differently from blue-collar kids.

Mr T’s dad was a professor, mine was an aircraft mechanic. Both of our fathers went to college and were the first ones in their families to go, but my dad had more of a blue collar, practical view of life. His job was life or death, so he was focused and pragmatic. Mr T’s dad taught English, which, although worthy, doesn’t cause death if it’s not done properly.

Mr T and I each absorbed our respective father’s approach and I saw that in this example from the book.

Lubrano talks about an experiment where a group of professors’ kids and a group of blue-collar workers’ kids were each given a task.

The group of professors’ children argued about the best theoretical way to approach the task.

The group of blue-collar worker’ kids calmly defined the objective, chose a leader, figured out a plan, and completed the task. While the professors’ kids were still arguing.

This is how Mr T and I work. He wants to discuss in great detail the theory of everything and I just want to complete the task.

For example. We were on our way to the airport and traffic was backed up to get onto the highway.

He started complaining about the traffic and asking, “But how can there be traffic on a SATURDAY?”

I got onto my phone to find an alternative route. “Just go this way,” I told him.

He ignored me as he continued to question the presence of traffic ON A SATURDAY.

Back to the topic at hand, which is varying levels of privilege within whiteness

So those middle-class and rich kids learn how to negotiate this world. They know what office hours are. They are comfortable calling adults by their first names, something I had to be told to do in my first job out of college.

Yes. I was working for an insurance company and I was calling all the adults “Mister” and “Miz” whatever because THEY WERE OLD PEOPLE AND I KNEW THE RULES.

One day, a VP took me aside and said kindly, “We’re on a first-name basis here.” Even though he was my father’s age. Which meant he was old. At least 48.

Rich kids know this stuff. They know how to talk to people and they have the connections.

Here’s an interesting aside. Do you know what the key success factor is for entrepreneurs?

Guess.

Rich parents. Rich parents and/or connections to other rich people. (From inc.com)

What really sets entrepreneurs apart from everyone else? It’s not their resourcefulness, imagination, ability to foresee trends, or their belief in their own ideas, according to a recent piece on Quartz. It’s the mouthful of silver spoon they were born with. “The most common trait among entrepreneurs is access to financial capital,” the piece notes, citing a wide range of research.

Are you wondering, “Why is she telling me all this? Isn’t this kind of like saying, ‘Did you know the sun rises in the east?’ Doesn’t everyone know that rich kids have it easier?”

I am saying all this because I do have a point.

And the point is that even though my neighbor was raised in a sophisticated home, with a mother who was a college professor (I don’t know what his dad does), even though my neighbor grew up in an affluent suburb, even though my neighbor undoubtedly knew what office hours were before he went to college, even though my neighbor knew how to talk to adults comfortably and didn’t have to be told in his first job out of college to call his co-workers by their first name, even though my neighbor is an engineer who works at a respected employer, even though my neighbor is married with two little kids, even though he is a stable citizen,

his black skin is all some people see:

Our house was egged soon after we moved in. Standing in my front yard, I’ve been asked by “Helpersons” if I was looking for something. My family is ignored by parents we see almost daily at our kids’ schools. And I recognize the difference between genuine and forced smiles.

My house has not been egged.

Nobody has ever asked me if I was looking for something when I have been standing in my own yard.

And I, too, know what a forced smile looks like. And the only person who has given me one in the recent past is Mr T’s mother.

The only difference between my neighbor and me to strangers is that his skin is black and mine is white.

That is what white privilege is.

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Being bored but not bored enough in the time of COVID-19

I thought I was bored enough to watch stupid movies but I was wrong

IMG_20200224_124932
A beautiful woman in Spain who probably would not have fallen for the crap from some rich tech guy.

In the beginning, I couldn’t watch TV or movies or read books at all.

All I could do was watch the deathmeter on the Johns Hopkins site and read the news and try to convince my mom that no she should not go out not even to church not even to the grocery store.

Now I am getting numb to death. It’s Memorial Day weekend as I write this and we are about to hit 100,000 deaths in the US. The president of this country is playing the violin happily as we are about to hit 100,000 deaths.

And I?

I am numb.

I don’t watch the deathmeter anymore.

I stay inside.

I read the paper.

I apply for jobs when I see actual jobs posted.

Mr T is surprised that I continue to be disappointed that I am not asked to interview. That I actually expect something to happen when I apply for work.

Maybe he’s right.

Maybe I need to lower my expectations to nothing.

Maybe applying for a job during a pandemic is nothing more than a weird kind of performance art.

I could just tilt at windmills instead.

IMG_20200221_181651

I don’t have any windmill photos, but this is a photo of Spain so there you go.

And the library has started curbside pickup, so I have been getting movies to watch.

NO WE DO NOT HAVE NETFLIX. NO JOBS NO NETFLIX OK?

And – what we have learned is that I have become too lazy to look up IMDB ratings and now trust previews and DO NOT DO THAT.

PREVIEWS LIE.

I am cranky because I just wasted an hour on The Age of Adaline, which would have been an hour and a half, but if you click the fast forward button once, you can watch the movie a little bit fast and don’t have to put up with all the slow talking.

I am not even going to get into how Adaline got into her state of not aging. Mr T wanted me to explain it to him and I told him it was not relevant – that he needed to just accept it as the premise. But he insisted and I told him and he said, “But that’s STUPID!” and I said, “I told you so” and that was that.

Take it as given that she does not age.

And then think of all you could do with that premise: a woman who has lived more than 100 years but whose body is still 29?

Sadly, the writers didn’t do much with it except show that Adaline outlives all of her dogs, which actually did make me very sad, as Mr T and I regularly become quite sad thinking of the day when our cats will leave us.

But more than sad at the lost opportunity for exploring this great premise, I am ticked off at how badly – and yet how predictably – the writers handled The Cute Meet.

Which was so clearly written by men.

(Thank goodness though because if there’s one thing that’s missing in cinema it’s a man’s point of view, especially in a story about a woman.)

Adaline meets Ellis. He asks her out, asks for her phone number, etc, etc.

She tells him no.

End of story, right?

No means no.

Nonetheless he persisted.

He shows up at her work – the San Francisco library or archives or something – with a huge donation.

And says he will make this donation only if he can be photographed giving it to her.

She says no, it’s not her job and besides, she does not like to be photographed.

End of story, right?

No means no.

Nonetheless he persisted.

Then he says, OK, he will still make this huge tech millionaire donation if she will go out with him.

She says no.

End of story, right?

No means no.

Nonetheless he persisted.

Her co-workers are no help.

She says yes.

And I am yelling at the TV DO NOT GO OUT WITH HIM THIS IS EXTORTION.

This is when I pause the movie to look up the writers and of course they are men. They are men writing out the male fantasy of if they had a ton of money they too would force someone who looks like Blake Lively who is indeed stunningly beautiful to go out with them.

(Oh yeah – and later of course they write that she is a huge baseball fan who knows all the players and their stats – because this is a men’s movie written by men.)

And then some things happen and then they do go out and then he shows up at her apartment and she asks, “HOW DID YOU FIND OUT WHERE I LIVE?”

And he tells her that the library told him to which I am yelling, OH NO THEY DIDN’T! NOT IN REAL LIFE! HAVE THESE SCRIPTWRITERS NEVER HAD A REAL JOB WITH AN HR DEPARTMENT?

Adaline is freaking out because THIS GUY IS STALKING HER.

And he’s all, “But dude I’m a tech gajillionaire don’t I get to have whatever I want? I donated a ton of money to the library and now I own them!”

She tells him to leave her alone – she’s moving.

And I think FINALLY GIRLFRIEND YOU GOT A BACKBONE.

But. No.

Her daughter tells her she needs to be open to love blah blah blah and I’m thinking, “But he’s STALKING her!”

And Adaline is all, Well he was good in bed even though he played jazz music.

And so she goes to his work the next day and begs some guy to call him down so she can apologize and I just want to slap her silly through the screen because Adaline?

You could do better.

You could do better than a man who extorts you into going out with him and who uses his power to get your personal information that your employer never should have given out about you.

And I don’t even think he’s that good looking.

And she has her own money.

He’s shown a clear disregard for her wishes.

Why is she doing this?

She could have anyone.

But she picks the pushy jerk who thinks he should get what he wants because – because he’s rich?

I am telling you true life shows us that rich guys who think they should have what they want just because they are rich is not a good thing.

 

White privilege – it might not be what you think it is

1954_Nov_29,__Lloyd,_packing_to_leave__boot_camp
I didn’t even know until recently that the GI Bill, which is how my dad was able to go to college, was not available to black veterans. I did not know what a sundown town was. I did not know that in some places, including my own neighborhood, it was illegal to sell a home to a black person.

I used to get really bothered when people would talk about this so-called “white privilege.” I would huff to myself that being white had never brought any privilege to me, thankyouverymuch. That I was not the beneficiary of the internships and the connections and the jobs and all the things that I have heard about but have never experienced.

I even used to think these benefits were fiction until I started seeing them happening for my friends’ kids: The nice summer job at the cool company. The phone call to the admissions officer at the college. But I still took this as a rich people thing, not a white people thing.

Nobody had ever done that kind of thing for me, but then my parents did not have wealthy friends. I have never gotten a job through connections. I have never been admitted to a college because my parents are friends with the admissions officer. My whiteness has never benefited me in any way.

I thought.

And then I started thinking about things I have noticed that don’t seem quite right.

When I lived in Austin in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I saw white fraternity men get charged with crimes that would have put black and Mexican men from the east side of town in prison. There was at least one hazing incident that resulted in a death. The fraternity men who hazed the dead guy were charged but they did not go to prison. They went free.

Just last week, I read a story in Texas Monthly about a school shooting in 1978. A white kid shot and killed his teacher. The kid did not go to prison. He is free today. I am pretty sure that if he had been black or Mexican, he would still be in prison. (The question of what to do with juvenile offenders is not what I want to talk about here – just the disparity in how people of different colors are treated.)

And then I thought about when I traveled back from Chile to the US. After I finished my Peace Corps stint, I came home over land, traveling through Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico.

In every single one of those countries, I didn’t think twice about walking into a fancy hotel to use the bathroom.

Nobody questioned me.

Even when I was a raggedy Peace Corps volunteer, I was a white, blue-eyed, blonde raggedy person.

Nobody questions a white, blue-eyed, blonde woman, even when she is hauling a backpack and hasn’t had a haircut in a while.

Nobody.

We can walk into any fancy hotel and nobody will bat an eye.

And that’s when I realized that’s what white privilege is. It means that I don’t worry about someone being suspicious of me because of the color of my skin. It means that I have never once thought, “I wonder if I can walk into this hotel to use the bathroom without someone hassling me.”

Wait. I have thought about it and my answer to myself has always been, “Of course I can! Nobody is going to question me, especially in Latin America, where the color hierarchy is so clear!”

But this rule holds in the US and in Europe as well. Nobody challenges a blue-eyed blonde white woman. Nobody.

And that is privilege.

I know that’s a simple example, but you get the idea. Because of my skin color, I do not face challenges that other people face. It means I don’t worry that someone will follow me in a store because they think I am about to shoplift. It means I don’t worry that my resume will be overlooked because my name doesn’t sound “white.” It means I don’t worry every time my black child goes to the store for Skittles. It means I don’t keep a teddy bear in the back seat of my car so that if I do get pulled over, the cop will somehow associate me with “family man” instead of “criminal.”  It means I don’t ever get The Look – that people are not surprised when they see me doing something that requires intelligence, competence, and education. It means that I don’t, like my former boss, Herman, who is black, get shocked looks when people meet me in person after talking to me on the phone. It means I don’t have to teach my children special rules for how to interact with the police.

In the past 75 years, having white skin has meant I could join a union, buy a house in whatever neighborhood I wanted, get an FHA loan, get the GI Bill, attend whichever school I wanted, stay in any hotel, eat at any restaurant, get a lighter sentence for a crime, have a better chance of surviving childbirth (this one is still true), get more pain medication from physicians, be expelled from school less, and have fewer chances of being killed by the police.

Having white skin doesn’t mean my life is easy or that things are given to me or that I have never had a hard time finding a job. But it does mean that my skin color is not making things harder.

 

 

 

 

Justified anger and injustice in the time of COVID-19 and forever

George Floyd had a knee on his neck for probably three times as long as it will take you to read this

kneeling

I am in a sad, angry mood because I am writing this a few days after George Floyd was murdered and I can’t think about anything else except how this man did not deserve – no man – no human – deserves this – did not deserve to have an agent of the country of which he was a citizen kneel on his neck for nine minutes – NINE MINUTES – while he pleaded for his life.

How do you even do that? How do you kneel on someone’s neck while he tells you he cannot breathe?

How do you do that? How do you not move your knee? How do you continue with an action that you know is causing someone pain? And then refuse to render aid?

I am angry. I am furious. I am sad. I am lost. I am convinced that if we did not have the current president that George Floyd would be alive. The current president has given license to certain people to rip off the masks they had been hiding behind and show their horrible, hateful racist selves.

I cry for my country. I fear for our democracy – that this man is in the White House. And that despite the evidence of the past few years, there are people who continue to support him. Despite his ugliness and pettiness and meanness and lack of honor and integrity, people will vote for him.

I know not everyone who voted for the president is racist. I know not everyone who voted for him wants this. And they have a chance to adjust in November. I hope they do. I hope they look at what has been going on and say, “This cannot stand.” I hope enough people are horrified at this new information that they say, “ENOUGH.”

But this is where we have been going. This is where things have been.

This is what I came here to write, before Mr Floyd was murdered. Last week, we were discussing online something the president said – a quotation in a story in the Washington Post.

I don’t even remember which stupid thing it was – there are so, so many stupid things and they all run together and I can’t even keep track. If I tried to keep track of every single stupid thing that the president of the United States said, I would not have time to do anything else, including eating, sleeping, or even breathing. It’s a full time job for probably 4,000 people.

Yes, he is that stupid.

Anyhow, John B told me, “your a idiot if you believe everything you hear.”

I answered that I usually find the Washington Post to be a reliable source (especially when they are giving me a direct quotation).

That’s when John B posted this sizzling riposte to me (with a very cute little girl): “Texan – are you stupid or something?”

To which I answered (truthfully), “Nope. I’m not.”

And I thought that was going to be the end of it because – well, I’m not stupid.

I say that with the same assurance that I say I am not tall and I am not thin and I don’t have brown eyes and I am not a good tennis player. I know what I am and I know what I am not.

I am not stupid. I’m not.

Before I get to John B’s brilliant response, let me talk a little more about what’s been going on with facebook and me lately.

I usually don’t talk about politics online.

But in the past few months, I have come out.

This is where I have taken my stand. I have seen such idiocy that I have had to say something. I used to worry about making other people mad.

I. Don’t. Care. Anymore.

They should worry about making me mad.

I wrote about something in March and a former friend started to get obnoxious. When I challenged him, he said ugly things to me – insinuating that I have spent the past decades mocking him.

I was so confused. Honestly, I never even thought about him. He is the husband of a friend of mine.

Then he said something ugly to one of my friends.

Wait. I found the initial post.

Samantha

Ex friend: Such a hateful comment. What’s wrong with liberals?

Me:  Oh I am perfectly happy to call out a president who wants to prioritize the stock market over lives.

Kelly: THAT’s Hateful?! OMG! Have you listened to every damn thing that’s come out of the president’s mouth? “Nazis are nice people.”

Liz: Since when has Texan been a liberal? 😂

Ex friend: I was directing that to Samatha Bee. But you are an uber liberal. You have all the trappings – condescending, negative, … You own it:)

Me: Seriously? You’ve known me for decades and that’s your opinion of me?

Kelly: Unfriend and block. That is ridiculous to say about a friend!

Ex friend: you are changing the subject. Because I say Bee is hateful that’s an endorsement of the president? You’re reaction shows your colors. I’m not a fan of trump and do my share of cringing but I don’t wish his death.

Ex friend: Kelly, someone disagrees with you and you unfriend and block? Are you easily triggered? 

Me: You are calling me names. What’s going on? I do not mind calm discussion about issues on my page, but I do not expect name calling and ad-hominem attacks from my friends.

Kelly: Ex friend, I did not get personal with you, but you ask am I easily triggered, after you personally insult Texan? I’m not easily triggered, thank you for being so kind as to ask. Neither would I be willing to have friends who don’t apologize for being obnoxious. Also, it’s your not you’re reaction.

Ex friend: Texan, I don’t know what you are mad about? Liberal? I did not say socialist. Condescending? negative? i thought that’s what you were going for with the Bernice and Leopardo comments. And you witty posts about conversations with Mr T. You act like your from Wisconsin. You’re better than that. I’m surprised. But your friend Kelly needs to worry about herself. You’re a big, powerful, capable woman. You don’t need a defender.

That’s when I unfriended him.

I am done. I am done with shit from men. I am done with people who cannot be decent and civil and who cannot accept a different point of view.

And also – I am so confused. If I were going for condescending and negative, I would have copy edited his posts. And if he hated me so much, then why has he even been reading my posts? I have been a guest in his home. His wife was one of my best friends in high school. This is just weird.

But – I am done. Done. I am not insulted that he called me liberal. I am insulted that he doesn’t get my humor and that he attacked my friends.

(And for the record, I used to vote for conservative candidates until the current president. Now I am done. I couldn’t bring myself to vote for him. So I don’t know where that leaves me politically but for now, it’s anyone but him. ANYONE.)

Back to the current conversation with John B. He asked if I was stupid.

Dumber

I told him I was not.

He answered: yes. Your

And then, you will see in the image above, he gave himself a laughy face for the comment. Because he thought he was so funny.

Then he realized that oops – he had it wrong. So he corrected it.

To “youre.”

So. QED.

dumber2