A Different Kind of Class Struggle

I was driving home from work at 11:40 pm, and it was bitterly cold and raw outside. Frost, glittering beneath the street lights, was already covering the grass and the pavement. I looked forward to getting home.

Almost to my destination, I noticed a car in the dark parking lot of the city park down the street from our house. The windows were all fogged up. Someone was inside.

“Please let it be lovers,” I thought. But it was midweek, and the weather was hardly conducive to romance. The car wasn’t exactly date-worthy, either.

I went home to my warm house and my loving husband and my well-fed dogs. There was a fire in the fireplace, and warm food waiting for me. Before bed, we luxuriated in the hot tub as the freezing fog surrounded us.

As I took my hot shower and then tucked in beneath my warm comforter, belly full and feeling safe, I couldn’t get that car out of my mind. I drifted off to sleep, thinking about how lucky I am.

The next morning I woke up at 5:20 am, because on that day I work the day shift, not the swing shift as I had the night before. The fog in my head was as thick as the fog outside. I stumbled about, preparing for work, too tired to complain about my usual less than 5 hours of sleep on this day of the week.

I stepped out into the 35 degree wall of grey and wondered about that car. “Please let it be gone,” I thought, as I started the engine and cranked up the heat.

But no. There it was, still at the park. The windows were still fogged, so the occupant was still breathing, at the very least. But man, it was so cold.

How do you face the day, struggle to improve your lot in life, manage to get clean and find food, after a night like that? How do you cope? What do you do next?

What could I have done? Invite this person, this stranger, this (let’s face it) potentially mentally ill drug addict, to stay in our guest room? Is that person’s life worth my own? But what if it was a single mom with a baby who was running away from spousal abuse?

Should I have entered that dark, deserted parking lot and offered that fellow human being money or blankets or food or… something? Anything? And then, what about the next person? And the next?

What should I have done? What would have been enough? What would you do?

I hesitated to write this post. I hate to sound like a bleeding heart liberal. I hate to reveal that I did nothing, as I almost always do. I did nothing but take my white, overly-privileged butt home to my hot tub, where I wallowed in my ineffectual guilt.

The worst part about it is that I guarantee you that that’s what I’ll be doing next week, too. Yes, I’ll throw money at causes. I’ll vote. I’ll blog. But what good does that do for the thousands of people sleeping in their cars or, worse yet, on the streets, in my city each night?

Fog

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College Admissions Scandal? Seriously?

Here’s what I find most scandalous about the college admissions scandal: that people are scandalized by it. I mean, come on. Does the fact that rich people are using their money, fame and influence to get their (sometimes undeserving) children ahead in this world come as a surprise to anyone? Does the fact that colleges and/or their employees are motivated by greed shock you? Honestly?

Do you really think that Donald Trump, whom analysts have determined speaks on a 4th grade level, and has the attention span of a hummingbird on crack, was good college material? Please. He has an economics degree from Wharton and has absolutely no idea how his policies impact the national and global economy. If he were proud of his SAT scores, he wouldn’t be trying so hard to suppress them. Somebody needs to covfefe his diploma.

Both presidents Bush went to Yale. That makes me think rather less of that institution. But it doesn’t exactly astound me.

Nor does it surprise me that so many football hotshots take no advantage of their academic opportunities, and aren’t really expected to. They are the athletic equivalent of cannon fodder. Their existence is only suffered because they fill the overpriced stadium seats. (There are exceptions, of course.)

Do I think it’s right that these rich kids and athletes have an unfair advantage? Of course not. Do I wish the playing field were level for all of us? Yes. Being able to purchase a degree lowers the value of the degrees the rest of us worked so hard to obtain.

But if you think this “scandal” is in any way new, you’re delusional. And yes, things will tighten up in admissions offices, for a time. But I guarantee you that in about 5 years, when we’re focused on something else, the status quo will reassert itself.

Trust me. Richie Rich is always going to land on his privileged feet.

End of cynical rant for the day.

Graduate

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White Privilege Run Amok

We all know it happens. Special privileges for the already privileged. Little blonde Barbie dolls getting a pass for their outrageous behavior. But it’s particularly sickening when it’s caught on tape.

Most people, if they’re pulled over for blasting through a stop sign at 60 mph, are reeking with alcohol, have weed in their vehicle, and come up as twice the legal limit on a breathalyzer test, would have at least enough sense to know that they’ve been caught dead to rights, and need to shut up and take their medicine.

But not Lauren Elizabeth Cutshaw. No. She’s a little ol’ South Carolina white girl, and therefore thinks that butter won’t melt in her mouth. She wails drunkenly in the back of the police car that she went to a really good school, graduated with honors, was a cheerleader, and had never been arrested before. She also said that she’s a pretty girl, and therefore shouldn’t go to jail.

Apparently, she also told the cop that she’s a “very clean, thoroughbred, white girl.” And that’s where I started to taste vomit in my mouth. Because I suppose I could say the same thing about myself, if it ever occurred to me, and lord knows it hasn’t gotten me very far. (Although, probably a little farther than I deserve, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The difference between me and Miss Lauren is that it would never occur to me to say such a thing about myself or anyone else. That unwavering sense of entitlement was never bred into me. But then, it would never occur to me to join a sorority, cash in on my looks, drive while wasted out of my ever-loving mind, or wail pathetically in the back of a cop car.

According to Linked In, this deluded woman is a Real Estate Advisor for a high-end real estate agency. I think it would be interesting to check back in about a year to see how well she’s doing now that her white privilege card has been revoked. Poor dear. She’ll only have the content of her character to cash in on at that point, and from what little I’ve seen, I’m not particularly impressed with that.

Lauren-Elizabeth-Cutshaw1
In the flesh.

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That Race Thing

Recently I attended an all day seminar at work regarding race and racism. That’s one of the many beautiful things about living on the left coast. I doubt it would even occur to my former employers in Florida to allow us to have such training, let alone make it an annual event.

I learned much that day. For instance, on a scientific level, race doesn’t even exist. If you look at our DNA, only one out of every thousand nucleotides is different, from human to human. In fact, Penguins and fruit flies have more genetic differences within their own species than we humans do. (I didn’t learn this in the training, but I’ve read somewhere that our DNA is has 40 percent in common with that of a banana! Think about that the next time you eat a banana…)

The trainers showed us a fascinating video in which they did an experiment with a high school class. They sequenced a portion of each student’s DNA. Before the results came back, they were asked who they assumed they had the most genetic similarities to. Naturally, the African Americans assumed they would have more in common with each other, and the Whites gravitated toward the Whites, the Asians with the Asians, the Hispanics with the Hispanics, and so on. But here’s the interesting thing. That turned out not to be true at all. The commonalities and disparities were actually amazingly random.

The skin color thing is a function of the sun. Humans in more overcast climes developed lighter skin over time so that they could absorb every ounce of vitamin D that they could. Otherwise they would not have survived to pass on their genes. It’s just a melanin thing, as simple as that.

Race is something constructed by society to further political and economic goals. Thomas Jefferson, the same guy who wrote that all men are created equal, also wrote, in Notes on the State of Virginia, that “Blacks are inferior to whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” That was, in essence, his way of justifying his ownership of 225 slaves. But there is no scientific evidence of these inferiorities whatsoever. The only reason blacks became slaves in our society was that the white indentured servants who used to do our scut work before slavery could too easily run away and blend in with the general population. Whereas if your skin was a different color, you had nowhere to hide. Slavery was a much more sustainable outrage than indentured servitude.

We often talk about America being a melting pot. I was taught to believe that that meant we are diverse, and we’ve all blended together to become Americans. I used to be so proud of that! But actually, the melting pot concept was more about the desire for all Americans to be able to assimilate and be exactly the same. It was all about only allowing white Christians to sit at the table. I’m repulsed by how twisted I got this. I’d much rather that we be a hardy stew.

One last thought for those of you who still think others are inferior because they have not reached your level of success. It’s easy for us W.A.S.P.s to forget that everyone else has to start 30 yards deep in their own end zone. They don’t have the leg-up that we were born with and never earned. This picture is one of the hand outs from the training. Print it out. Mark off all the privileges you have. Then mark off any additional ones you feel you don’t have that people will assume you have. (For example, I’m not a Christian, but people would think that I was.)

Once you’ve marked off all that privilege, think about who has to be oppressed for you to have each one. It’s a sobering realization. Now, tell me again how all men are created equal?

IMG_3057

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An Open Letter to White Supremacists

First, let me give you my “bonafides”. According to Ancestry DNA, I’m about as white as a human being can be. That always has, and probably always will give me a leg up in society. I won’t even try to deny it. I also won’t deny that I’ve done little or nothing to earn this leg up. I was born into it, and oh, do I ever take advantage of it.

I can go weeks, months, even years not having to think about pesky racial issues if I so choose. I can live in a white bubble and have absolutely no contact with any minority for days on end. I don’t have to watch “them” on TV, or listen to “them” on the radio if I don’t want to. I can simply close my eyes and clutch my pearls. If I so desire, I can shop exclusively at white-owned stores without putting forth much effort at all. I probably do without even realizing it. I have the luxury of not having to care one way or the other.

People assume I’m law-abiding and honest. People assume I’m non-violent. People assume that I’m supposed to be wherever I happen to be, any time of the day or night. I’m a harmless fat old white woman. I’m as likely to get shot as I am to be struck by lightning. Most people don’t even look at me. I can become invisible. I often feel invisible. It’s lonely, but it has its advantages.

No, I’m not rich. I’m barely middle class, and I’ve only clawed my way up to this precarious and ever-shrinking perch in the past 3 years. I know what it’s like to be down there in that bucket of crabs, where everyone is scrabbling to get out, and just when you think you’ve made it, the other crabs pull you back down. I was there for 50 years. It’s frustrating. It’s heartbreaking. I understand that despair.

But here’s where you and I part company: I don’t assume that all the crabs that have been pulling me down are non-white. I don’t even bother to blame the other crabs regardless of their color. If you’re caught in a crowded, desperate bucket, it’s only natural to want to get your crabby butt out of there. It’s not the other crabs, guys. It’s the freakin’ bucket. There shouldn’t be a bucket.

That bucket was made by rich white people.  It’s the corporations and the politicians and the institutions that are your biggest threat. It’s the military-industrial complex that is using you as cannon fodder and replaceable cogs in the machine.

Railing at your crab-mates is a mere distraction. Glorifying Confederates, who lost for good reason, and Nazis, who lost for good reason, makes you look like fools. Being violent because you’re angry does not further your cause. It will never bring you respect or support or dignity. It won’t get you out of the bucket. Fascism has never benefited the masses, and like it or not, we are part of the masses.

I know it sucks that we’ll never have a delightful and stress-free retirement. I know it’s scary that things are getting more crowded and therefore more competitive. It’s high time you realize that automation is a much bigger threat to your job than other humans are. And most of those machines, by the way, are owned by white people.

If you honestly think for one minute that your crab-mates are out to destroy you or your way of life, ask yourself this: why are all of us striving for the same things? We all want a decent, safe, secure life. A way to feed our children. A roof over our heads. Peace. We have a lot more in common than you seem to think.

Don’t you get it? We are all in this together. And together we are stronger. The very fact that we are a mass is the one thing we have that those bucket manufacturers do not.

The reason you have the day off today is thanks to the labor movement, a movement of the masses. We can do great things if we stand shoulder to shoulder rather than turning our back on each other, or even worse, locking ourselves into mortal combat with each other while the bucket manufacturers gleefully watch from a distance.

Turning on each other is the last thing, the absolute last thing, we should be doing. Don’t be a pawn.

crabs

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“I’m Bored!!!”

I was just the right age to be tortured by the Watergate hearings. I was 8 years old in 1973 and those hearings pre-empted daytime television for weeks. At that age, it felt like years. I had no idea that a gripping piece of political history was unfolding before my eyes. I thought I would lose my mind, since television was one of my primary forms of after school entertainment back then. I remember wailing, “I’m bored!!!” to my mother, and she’d reply wearily, “Read a book.” Usually I’d just sit on my swing and cry. I was such a brat.

I have no idea where I got the idea that I should be entertained at all times. It’s insane, when you think about it. Saying you’re bored is like saying you are entitled to constant pleasure. I don’t know anyone who enjoys that level of privilege. Even the super-rich have to suffer through board meetings and long flights to Australia. Boredom visits us all.

I suspect that Generation Z will have an even harder time coping with boredom, because they have so many different ways to avoid it. If they’re treated to presidential investigations (fingers crossed, here), well, there’s always Netflix. I would have killed to binge watch something, anything, I Love Lucy, whatever, back in 1973.

Nowadays I’m kind of grateful for boredom. Please, God, give me a routine, predictable day with no surprises. Because the older you get, the more you experience those moments of “un-boredom” that are exciting little tastes of hell. The death of loved ones. Waiting for medical test results. Those times when your kid drops off the radar. Political shenanigans. Work SNAFUs. That strange noise in the back yard when you’re home alone.

You’re not bored at those moments, believe you me! Not even a little bit! That’s when you realize that boredom is actually a luxury.

So boredom can visit me any time it wants. I’m always grateful for an excuse to take a nap. And yeah, okay, my mother was right. You can never read too many books.

Watergate hearings
Zzzzzzzzzzz…

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Age Hath Its Privileges

Many years ago, I was standing with my niece and nephew in their Missouri kitchen. As we talked, I got the orange juice out of the refrigerator to pour myself a glass. Just then my brother-in-law walked in and snapped, “Who left the refrigerator door open???”

The tension level in that room was palpable. My niece and nephew fell nervously silent. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I did.” Then I finished pouring my juice and calmly put it back in the refrigerator and closed the door. He turned and left the room.

I thought, “What’s the matter, Buddy-roo, can’t you pick on someone your own size?”

I found this doubly amusing because this was a man who thought nothing of leaving the lights blazing continually throughout the house, and he was worked up about the energy consumption of an open refrigerator for the 5 seconds it took me to do my thing. But it was kind of sad that he “had to” let it drop because the perpetrator was full-grown me. If it had been one of the kids, he’d have probably caused a massive stink.

It seems you have the least amount of patience for the ones you love. Perhaps because deep down you know you can get away with bad behavior with them. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the opposite of the way it should be.

When you find yourself being harsh with someone, you might want to ask yourself if you would react the same way if that person were an 80 year old total stranger. If not, perhaps you should re-think your tone. If you are capable of reacting with more respect, you should do so.

Similarly, I’ve worked with people who are absolute bullies to their subordinates, but are obsequious to their superiors. That makes it even more shameful, in my opinion, because they clearly know how to be polite; they just choose not to be when they can get away with it. Given the choice, I prefer people who are equal opportunity offenders.

Bullies are a pet peeve of mine. If I see you taking advantage of someone who happens to be more vulnerable, I will take you down every time. This often puts me in awkward situations, but the buck has to stop somewhere. Why not here?

bully

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