Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How do you explain thirst to a fish?

This post is a little more off the beaten track, and deals with issues of a touchy, somewhat political nature.  As such, if you prefer not to read it, I totally understand.  It's just something that has been bothering me, and I wanted to put my thoughts on the subject down on paper.  So, here goes.

There is a lot of talk about entitlement and privilege these days.  DISCLAIMER:  I belong to what is arguably the most majority group in America.  I am male, cis, white, and I was raised solidly middle class.  My only deviation is in my religious preference, and even that is a personal choice, not something that I couldn't choose.

What I am seeing these days is that a lot of people in my situation don't seem to grasp exactly what privilege IS.  I have heard people say, "No one gave me anything, I always worked for what I had." or "I don't get all this free stuff/special status/preferential treatment  like the [insert minority group] do."

The problem I see is this.  People who get a cultural privilege perk often don't even notice they are getting it.  In their mind, it isn't a privilege, it is just the customary order of things.  They grow up, head to school, enter the workplace unaware of the many subtle ways belonging to a majority works in their favor.

Thus the title of this essay.  A fish cannot conceive of thirst.  It is a foreign concept to its worldview.  I am like the fish, in that I can never viscerally know what it is like to be viewed as a hostile person in my own country, but I can try to intellectually understand.

I did once get a small taste of the feeling.  I was stationed in Saudi Arabia in the late Nineties.  While I was there I was tasked as a driver to the S2 and the commander.  I got to go out a lot more into the civilian areas of Saudi than many soldiers did.  Whenever I was in the city of Riyadh, I always had the feeling of eyes on my back.  A lot of the passers by would stare at me like I was the incarnation of Satan himself.  My skin and my dress picked me out as a foreigner, a kafeeri.  I had no business being in Saudi Arabia, in their mind.

Putting aside the whys and wherefores of what we were doing there, and the fact that I had the US Army at my back, it really was uncomfortable.  Although I wouldn't say I was in real danger, it felt as though a low-grade pressure of hate beat against me constantly.  I also felt that the smallest thing could accidentally  start a huge problem, and that I had to walk carefully through the crowds, careful not to make any sudden movements of quick hand gestures.  Living that way was exhausting.  Yet, there are minority groups in America that live their entire lives in that frame of mind, without hope of reprieve, in their own country.

I have tried to frame the issue as not 'privilege', which seems to not work as a descriptor, but rather as 'mulligans'.  For those unfamiliar with the word, it is a golf term for taking a shot over with no penalty.  When you are in the majority, the system gives you a lot of mulligans.  Lord knows I have gotten a few myself.  Ask yourself this:  Have you ever been pulled over for a driving infraction?  Maybe one of your tail lights was out, or you were speeding a bit.  The cop comes to the window, and you become your politest self.  At this point, he makes some decisions.  If he scans the car and you and decides that you are an upstanding citizen then he lets you go with a warning.  If you trigger one of his wary modes, he might ask you to step outside the car.

Now I have been pulled over a half-dozen times.  Any of those stops could have led to further complications if the cop had wanted to make an issue of things.  When I was younger I could have easily been thrown in jail for any of a dozen minor legal infractions.  Then what?  Would my anger make me act out?  Would I feel as if the State was against me?  Quite possibly.  Would I have been led by this initial incarceration further along the path of the career felon?  Perhaps.

What I am trying to get at here, in my own fumbling way is that without the mulligans I received my life could have turned out quite differently.  With the ever-present feeling of being hated, or at the least mistrusted, adding to this, I could have ended up a much more angry and violent person.  Without the automatic +25% trust factor my gender and hue give me I might not have gotten the opportunities that I have.

Anyway,  a random thought on the concept.

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