Privilege

October 17, 2016

Chicago, Illinois

It’s been a busy week again. I seem to pack my days and evenings up with work and play. This includes art shows, music venues, mealshares (I promise I’ll explain that soon), and whatever else gets me out of the apartment. I ended up being a bit tired this weekend, and stayed in watching Netflix for a few hours. The clouds helped to convince me that it would be an okay idea. The only thing that I wrote was a mildly irritated email to the property management about the car in the parking lot with the alarm that STILL continues to go off by itself.  Despite the assurances I received by way of reply today, I’m currently listening to the intermittent yet constant beeping of the horn. Trying to take it in stride.

I just finished cooking a spaghetti squash that my roommate got at an organic farming co-op yesterday. My first time ever trying it. I made a homemade sauce while it was roasting in the oven. As soon as it cools a bit, then begins the fun part of using a fork to scrape the flesh into noodle-like strands. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

All of this being busy with life and its many distractions has not included doing much of anything that forwards my plans to move to Thailand in about 11 weeks. I haven’t started organizing my things to sell, haven’t applied for a visa, nor have I even finished submitting my application for the class that I keep telling people that I will begin in January in Chiang Mai. Before the pre-admission interview over Skype, I need to have a decent understanding of verb tenses. Now, being that English is my mother tongue, and I have been a voracious reader for all of my life, I have a pretty good ability to construct a sentence with the proper verbiage, but explaining the rules and identifying a perfect present tense verb is something that I haven’t been asked to do in over 30 years.  And because procrastination is one of my middle names, preparation and study has been pushed to the side.

I was discussing this plight of mine with a dear friend in Bangkok using a messaging app earlier today, and I mentioned that I’ve not been studying like someone who really wants to pass with flying colors. I told her that I could be accomplished at so many things, but I don’t put in the effort. That it’s really only because I am a white male that I’m not homeless. And it’s the truth, I think.  Because of growing up in a religion that took a dim view of university education, college was not really going to be an option for me. Hence, I didn’t really bother to push myself in high school, and I ended up dropping out to do a correspondence course. Of course, the same lackadaisical attitude followed, and the correspondence course did not get completed. I ended up taking the G.E.D. and passing with pretty good marks. However, a General Education Development certificate is really NOT the equivalent of a high school diploma. While it may technically mean that one has the knowledge and skills of someone who walked with a cap and gown on graduation day, it basically screams loudly that this person didn’t have what it took to actually stick it out and complete the work.

My employment history has mirrored this lack of ambition in many ways. Like Mike Myers’ character, Wayne Campbell (Wayne’s World, 1992), I have an extensive collection of name tags. Always good at impressing the hiring manager with my people skills and clean-cut appearance, I never really had difficulty getting a job. And I would actually do well at the job at first. I could follow rules, learn the tasks pretty quickly, and then plateau.  Rarely did I take the steps necessary to get to the next level. I would get bored or disillusioned with the job, then quit to work somewhere else that looked more promising. The upside is, I’ve done so many different things, that I have the confidence that I can learn to operate almost anything. The downside is that I have no joy in my work, because I’m not really moving forward. My M.O. seems to be: get new job, gain a bit of proficiency, settle into dull routine, quit, repeat.  (If you are a prospective employer, please stop and forget everything that you’ve read so far)

Despite having a resume that looks as long as a career criminal’s rap sheet, my salary has continued to climb at a rate higher than inflation. For some reason, I am able to get away with being mediocre. And this is where being melanin-challenged and having external sex organs comes into play. I have never once been unemployed for any length of time. Employers see a white guy who knows enough to wear a clean shirt to an interview, and that seems to be all it takes much of the time. I smile disarmingly and am self-deprecating during whatever formal interview takes place, and it’s “can you start next Monday?” Meanwhile, there are probably many others who are smarter, more qualified, and have more initiative, but get passed over because of unfair and closed-minded views of minorities and females. I’ll talk more about my current workplace at another time (cannot wait to tell those stories!), but I’ll share one little gem that came out of my bigoted boss’ mouth. When asked by the very capable, but overworked office manager to please look at hiring someone else to at least take care of answering the phones and doing filing so she could concentrate on the other more vital tasks, he demurred by saying, “two women can’t be in the same office. It just doesn’t work.” His 1960s era attitude about everything caused him to assume not only that answering phones and filing is women’s work, but that females are incapable of getting along with each other in an employment setting. But Don Draper he’s not.

Last week, on a Delta Airlines flight from Detroit to Minneapolis, when a passenger suddenly collapsed and was unresponsive, a call went out for any doctors aboard to assist. A black, female physician began to unbuckle her seat belt and waved to the flight attendant so she could render aid. She was dismissed with, “oh, no, sweetie, put your hand down” and that they were looking for an “actual” physician. When she attempted to explain that she was an “actual” physician, the flight attendants began to ask for her credentials, why she had been in Detroit, and other demeaning questions. All the while, the stricken man was not being helped. A moment later, a white man approached the flight attendant and identified himself as a doctor. Without a hesitation, he was directed to the unconscious passenger. Why? Because he fit the mental image of a doctor in the flight attendant’s mind.

My friend in Bangkok said that I’ll do very well in the interview, that they would not turn me down. That the same white male privilege is going to follow me to Thailand as well. Her son, who has a Master’s degree in education, speaks perfect English like an American native (because he is one), got turned down at a job interview to be an English teacher because he looks Asian. She said Thai parents want to see a white guy teaching their children English, even if he doesn’t have proper credentials.

How many times have I unfairly gotten a position or a place in line over someone else because they didn’t look like me? Where would I be if I were Black, Latino, or Asian? With my lack of education credentials and ambition, I most likely WOULD be homeless. Because the opportunities would never be given to me. But, because I had the luck to win the white boy lottery at conception, I am insulated from the discrimination that many others have to face. And for most of my life, I have taken it for granted. Now that I’m really aware of it, I find it embarrassing. I certainly don’t deserve this privilege. I’ve done nothing to earn it. So now the challenge for me is to find ways to use this to the benefit of others without appearing to be condescending. My fervent hope is that I can manage that, and find the ambition to do it well.

I’d appreciate any thoughts my readers may have on this.

PS: The spaghetti squash turned out terrific. I can’t believe I’ve never had that before.

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