“It’s about respect!”
My eyes pleaded, I struggled with my words. My then-girlfriend and I are wrapped up together on the couch, remaining in constant touch as I talked about the things I feared most from her. Every muscle in my shoulders feels out of place.
“I don’t understand what you mean when you say that.” That’s her polite reply but her stiff posture and measured tone is obvious; I’ve insulted her.
It’s not really about respect. Respect is easily won, we may all fear losing the respect of loved ones and strangers but very rarely is that fear realized unless our life has taken a dark turn. I am given the requisite amount of respect. To think aloud that my girlfriend doesn’t respect me or that she’d allow others to disrespect me is a deep and scary insult to her. And probably manipulative on my part.
It’s not really about respect, it’s about understanding. Except it isn’t about understanding either. She understands every word I tell her; she listens, she soothes and she smiles. You could not write a better set of instructions to follow. It’s not about understanding because the words that I am saying are easy to understand, but I cannot express the fear and insecurity that has gripped me and left me inarticulate.
I’m afraid, my love. This thing has shaken me to my core.
I don’t have the words to say it. We untangle and re-tangle ourselves. We kiss. We get up to brush our teeth. We calm. We tangle ourselves once more, now naked in bed. Our closeness feeds a warmth deep in my chest. Its glow and comfort and scent is like coming home to a familiar porch light. Dad’s staying up late, waiting for me to get home safe. My brothers have forgotten to put away their video games. Mum’s asleep on the couch, a newspaper gradually sliding out of her hands with each breath. As soon as I get inside, I can switch off the porch light and maybe heat up a plate of food.
I watch this light now, it’s a hundred miles away. I squeeze her tight and try to get a little closer.
Studds and I recorded a podcast episode where we try to figure out what privilege is and what it means to us. I was really afraid to release the episode because this idea is still totally new to me and I didn’t feel equipped to represent it correctly.
Here’s the first point I’m going to bring up: nobody is going to be perfect at talking about privilege. We live in a world full of marginalized groups and individuals. Nobody understands every point of view. This is some bleeding edge stuff that hasn’t entered the public consciousness and still has a lot of jagged edges.
What is privilege? Don’t get too hung up on the word itself. I believe this concept is the set of advantages that are given to you, without you having done anything to earn it and often without you even knowing. The popular example is that being white, straight and male means you’re going through life on the lowest difficulty setting (more on this later).
What would I like you to do? For now, very little. Just sit down and click some of these links. Be prepared to feel uncomfortable and disagree with me on everything I say. You might think I’m insane and too “politically correct” and that I’m a self-hating liberal.
Personal reassurances: I don’t think you’re racist/sexist. I know not all white people are like this. I know not all men are like this. I don’t want to silence you. Just because you were born into privilege doesn’t mean your life was without difficulty or risk. I know these advantages and disadvantages do not apply universally. I love you for reading this and thinking about it. I am not a victim or a saint, I benefit from a ton of advantages and I’ve made a lot of stupid assumptions about those that are less-privileged.
Ok, deep breath. Here we go.
Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.
- Barry Switzer
Ann Richards, former Governer of Texas, borrowed this quote to make fun of George H. W. Bush. She’s implying that President Bush thinks he earned all the amazing advantages that he was born into. (It’s a baseball analogy.)
Anyway, here’s a list of links:
Alright, here’s something easy to start you off with. It’s obviously not a scientific argument but Louis has a point. If you had to choose, being a white American is much more comfortable than any other color American. He’s a funny guy.
This one should appeal to the video game nerds. It’s one of the first metaphors that helped me scratch the surface of what this was.
TEDx talk! Everybody still loves TED talks, right? Here’s a great one about setting up a rigged game of Monopoly. Conclusion: The winners believed they earned their victory even though the game was totally rigged in their favor.
A blog post with a bunch of links, giving examples of the advantages that a white American may enjoy throughout their life.
A checklist of the everyday things that you can take for granted. I think this list was written a while ago and mainly centered around the African American experience but you get the idea.
This is a necessary article. It explains how all the men in your life can be nice and friendly and egalitarian and beautiful while, at the same time, benefit from a sexist culture. We have to accept that sexism exists in our world, whether or not we chose it.
A 30-minute lecture that again uses Monopoly to describe the system of privilege at work. This was one of the first videos on privilege that I ever watched and I thought it was fascinating despite its very dry presentation. It’s pretty academic. You might have an easier time watching this one because it’s an old white guy wearing a suit teaching you smart things. (I’m kidding! Relax.)
A collection of user-submitted conversations and observations. The site explains that “microaggressions are the subtle ways in which body and verbal language convey oppressive ideology about power or privilege against marginalized identities”.
Make sure to read the FAQ too. A collection of user-submitted stories about their experiences as a person of color. I found a lot of comfort in this site because, growing up as an Asian kid in Australia, I felt profoundly uncomfortable about my family and my heritage even though nobody had ever said anything overtly racist or violent towards me.
If you don’t know, Merlin Mann has a strange name and he’s also a writer, podcaster and presenter. Like a lot of people, I came across his work when he was writing about productivity and Mac apps and then he kinda fell off the radar and I didn’t come across his work again until I found his various podcasts. There’s so much to say about why he’s awesome but it’s difficult to summarize. Here’s some entry points.
Cranking | 43 Folders
Here’s an example of some of his best writing. A very personal post, written at a time when he was trying to write a book about what he calls “Inbox Zero”. (The meaning of this term has since taken a life of its own.)
Scared Shitless | 43 Folders
A terrifying and brilliant presentation he did at Webstock 2011 in New Zealand. Again, presenting something that’s very emotional and very personal to a group of nerds that are here to talk about technologies and apps. I only saw this recently but I’m sure it’s one of those things I’ll reference often.
Storming Mortal 012 – Lonely sandwich magic and a place for the soul with Merlin Mann
A recent interview of Merlin, it gives a good overview on his current and past projects. Also gives some insight into why he prefers podcasting, what he thinks makes a podcast successful and his thoughts on self-help “solutions”.
Back to Work #153: Anxiety’s a Goat
A recent episode of Merlin’s regular podcast with Dan Benjamin. These guys like to shuck and jive and talk a lot about comic books but they also touch upon some really great struggles of modern life. I felt so much empathy when listening to them talk about their anxieties and it opened my mind to a lot more ideas. I probably need to listen to it again just to really get it.
“Can I ask you guys a question?” – Excerpt from You Look Nice Today
This is a short clip from Merlin’s almost-retired podcast with two of his hilarious friends, Scott Simpson and Adam Lisagor. This podcast was so funny, also in ways that I can’t explain. It just makes you nostalgic for late nights spent with your best friends.
And of course, he’s one half of Roderick on the Line; the show that’s been saving my sanity for the past 6 months or so. I don’t want to worship Merlin Mann too much but he’s been a great inspiration for me in mindfulness and looking at my priorities in life.
In case you don’t follow me on Twitter, I am working on a podcast with my old friend, Studds. We call each other up and have a 45-minute chat about nothing at all. It’s really a lot of fun. Check it out. The Internet is Broken – a podcast.
We have our first three episodes now. Recording is currently taking a break but we’ll resume our weekly schedule very soon.