This morning I woke up hopping mad. Admittedly it was in part because we are experimenting with letting the dogs sleep in the bedroom with us and Lenny has decided that 6 a.m. is a magical hour. As far as I am concerned there's nothing magical about anything that happens before 8.
Two are about adoption, one is about sex preference, one is right-wing bigotry, and one link is to a woman speaking the truth about welfare. But what they (in all but one, the criticized, NOT the blogger) all have in common is the fallacy of the status quo. The fallacy runs like this: I am white, heterosexual, middle-class, married or about to be, and a Christian. My way of life is right. I chose my way of life. I got here by being righteous. If you are outside this paradigm, you are outside of the will of God and must be punished/changed/ostracized/marginalized. If you are pregnant out of wedlock, on welfare, gay, live in a third world country or, well, dress funny, you deserve my rebuke/pity/help/rejection/infantilization.
Here's the problem. Being white, middle-class, heterosexual, married or about to be, Christian, etc. are all accidents of birth. OK, so maybe you were born in the ghetto and have pulled yourself up or whatnot. Yes, maybe you worked hard, but you also had opportunities that were matters of chance or accident or grace that most of your peers didn't. You were born liking girls or boys or both. Your parents and community have encouraged marriage and have provided opportunities for you to meet compatible partners. From the cradle you have learned about Jesus. Or don't say it's an accident; but my God! don't pretend like you have any inkling about the vast, infinite, unknowable wisdom of God. You were not chosen to be heterosexual because God loved you more. You just are.
The infuriating sense of entitlement I see on a daily basis in my peers, my students, and people I read and read about is the result of confusing accomplishment with circumstances of birth. Entitlement is about thinking you deserve something (a baby, health insurance) based on something that has little to do, at the end of the day, with your actions or personal moral fortitude. The assertion of entitlement usually comes when your privilege is threatened. Opposition to gay marriage and gay adoption has nothing whatsoever to do with the weakening of marriage (puleeeeese) or harming children. It is about upsetting the carefully orchestrated hierarchy of race, class, religion, and sexual preference that puts some of us (me) in the privileged class and some of us on the outside of law and dinner parties.
Jim Goad is in many ways a whackjob but one thing he says is right-on: everybody's got a n*gger. In our fucked-up culture, everyone has someone to look down upon in order to remain smug in whatever privilege one has had the grace or luck to possess. Maybe it's birthmothers, or the locals in your college town, or welfare recipients. And you know what? I've got one too. It's the dolt. I absolutely despise stupid people. What I forget is that beside the fact that there are about a thousand different kinds of intelligences, I had so much trouble reading when I moved from Illinois to Pennsylvania that I needed tutoring to catch up, or that I was in the 'dumb' math group in fourth grade and probably still should be, or that when I was a cashier for a short three weeks my drawer didn't come out right one single day. I was lucky enough to have a remedial reading specialist! as a mother, a personality that somehow repulsed my peers but delighted teachers, and the background and education that allowed me to get a better-paying job than that cashier's position at Rossi's. My intelligence–which is a very particular kind of book-smarts, very carefully nurtured by a particular environment–has nothing to do with my righteousness. It entitles me to nothing. And I am not better. I have to work hard on this, all the time. Almost as hard as I do on not hating rich people. I don't do a very good job but I do know that the first step is owning up to your privilege and all the arrogance that goes with it.
When you can admit that who you are is largely an accident of birth and circumstances so complex you will never be able to untangle them, you realize that you are always a mere breath away from being "outdoors" (read The Bluest Eye). Think you are too good for welfare? Think again. The death of a spouse, a fire, an illness, an accident…you are always one or two steps away.* Don't forget that. And if you do go on welfare, it isn't a failure. It just is. You are not suddenly morally inferior. You're fucked, but you're not sub-human. So while you're not on welfare, don't regard someone who is as sub-human. And if you think you don't, listen to yourself talk about welfare recipents. Examine what you really think.
*Molly, this isn't about our conversation this weekend. Attic Man pointed out that you might think it is so I wanted to let you know that I know you get it. 🙂