Magazine | September 12, 2016, Issue

Professions of Privilege

Some people wake up in the morning and think, “Ah, the promise of coffee and a Danish. A new day awaits!” Some hear the alarm and think, “Capitalism has made us slaves to the alarm clock. I’d better write a story about how we should ban alarm clocks.” The latter type probably writes at Slate or Salon or Slaton or Salote, where everyone looks at the world through a murky window smeared with the tears of perpetually peeved progressives. Take L. V. Anderson, who wrote a piece titled “Stop Tweeting Your #Firstsevenjobs: It’s just a way to disguise your privilege.”

To explain: People on Twitter were listing their first seven jobs. Just as a lark. Something to do. It would be harmless, except nothing is harmless. Everything is awful.

It’s helpful when people get scoldy about your Privilege, because it means you can safely disregard anything they say after that. They aren’t listening to what you think you’re saying. They’re translating your words through a matrix that amplifies their willful incomprehension. If you say, “Sorry I’m late, traffic was tough,” they hear, “My economic status permits me to have an individual means of transportation whose expense drains resources away from transit systems that would benefit the poor, and allows me to imagine that my difficulties on the highway are comparable to those of people who must rely on the bus.” As you can imagine, these people are insufferable, but at least the rest of us have the compensation of assuming they are personally unhappy.

The problem, according to Anderson, is this: People listed their jobs but didn’t rip them open to expose the glistening, alabaster-white privilege contained within. You should’ve run them past a professional Privilege Dowser, who can find unearned advantages anywhere. Like this:

“Well, when I was ten, I was a paper boy, and — ”

Your family could afford a bike, and newspaper-reading communities are generally more affluent. So that’s two strikes against you.

“Then I was a bag boy at the Piggly Wiggly down the street.”

Down the street? Isn’t that special. Most poor people live in food deserts, where mothers crawl across empty expanses of asphalt towards a shimming mirage of a head of lettuce. And by using “boy,” do you realize how gendered your vita looks? Did you consider the historic underrepresentation of queer butch teens in the grocery industry? Are you aware of the marginalization of women in the bagging sector, because men were supposedly good at spatial arrangement, and running the register was “women’s work”?

“Uh — it was a summer job. I was also a lifeguard — ”

Riiight, and there’s nothing problematic about a white male sitting high up on a wood throne looking over a harem, but do go on.

“Okay, well, in college — yes, that sounds pretty privileged, but it was an ag-school branch of the state system, pretty much a cow college.”

A system designed to perpetuate industrial farming and livestock management, reducing crop diversity with Monsanto-patented GMOs and bovine growth hormones, but do go on.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t have financial assistance, and I didn’t want to take out loans, so I took five years to get my B.A., and I worked mostly as a waiter at a Vietnamese restaurant.”

And you didn’t find that troubling.

“No, why? The owner was a cool dude. Came here in ’75.”

It didn’t trouble you that the owner fled a country ruined by American militarism and imperialism, and that you not only suffered no consequences for the Vietnam war but actually profited from it.

“My uncle served in Vietnam and lost an eye.”

The one-eyed uncle is king in a land of people blinded by Dow Chemical munitions. Go on. After college?

“Well, I worked at a parking ramp for a year and tended bar. I wanted to use my accounting-major skills but times were tight, and I ended up managing the bar, then going over to this other restaurant the owner had, and I guess that’s where I really fell in love with the food-service business. So my last job out of the seven is ‘restaurant-chain owner,’ because one day I realized we were selling a lot of chicken burgers and thought that might be an idea for a new kind of restaurant.”

You should be aware of the conditions of commercial-poultry operations. The abuse of undocumented workers. The environmental impact of using millions of gallons of chlorinated water to chill the dead meat. The Islamophobia that prohibits some line workers from observing the requirements of their faith. As with all your other jobs, you don’t see these things, because you’re blinded by your own advantages.

“I’m sorry. Should I not have been a person where I was? Is that the problem? What are your seven jobs?”

Happy you asked. Formed the first Progressive Caucus in high school, and was editor of the newsletter. Ran the incinerator at a Women’s Health Center. Designed websites for the Socialist People’s Worker Party. Handled social media for the Socialist People’s Worker Party Party, a monthly event that incorporated hip-hop and anarcho-thrash/punk bands. Did Web design for Guber, a start-up peanut-delivery system — it’s like Uber, except for goobers. Now I write a column for Slate about people who anger me because I can just see my dad at the dinner table, saying, “Any of your friends have real jobs?”

“Okay. Cool. Say, that’s only six jobs. You know, Chik’n Burg’r will be hiring soon, and it would be a privilege to have you as an employee.”

Shut. Up.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.

In This Issue

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Poetry

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