430 Readings | 0 Ratings

My Opinion on What’s Been Going On Lately

I want to preface this by saying that this is only my opinion, and that quite honestly I could be wrong. I’ve put a lot of thought into my feelings about all of this, but I’ve never claimed to be the smartest person alive or some sort of idiot savant. I get stuff wrong all the time, as all of you know. I could go into great length about the mistakes I’ve made, particularly the recent ones you’re all aware of, and were I a more humble person I probably would. In fact, let’s be honest, I should just go ahead and do that. But I also just want to state my opinion on all this as simply as I can, so I’m not going to do that in this space and would just hope that that concession sort of sits invisibly in the margins of what I’m saying here. Of course, in saying that I realize I am also implying, or maybe explicitly permitting, a reading of what I’m saying that begs an apology in advance for not just any intellectual infelicity that adheres to the opinion that follows, but also for the lack of humility I’ve shown at other times in being wrong about something, or in being right about it but in a way that lacked the basic decency I aim to exhibit in the public sphere. (Or, in being only partially right about something but failing to acknowledge those aspects of my thinking which were not quite right.) Or, to be frank, “not right at all”–as even when I say “not quite right” I am reflexively using a baroque adjective to cover a sensitivity about my past errors. So I ask that you keep those errors in mind, as well as the fact that I’ve clearly said here that I don’t actually think I’m such hot shit intellectually. Please don’t judge me on this last score, by the way, by the schools I attended or the formality with which I write; those things get brought up often when someone thinks I’m being superior in some way and, honestly, while I am duly sensitive to how my background sometimes looks to others, I really am not trying to hang this opinion on some stupid pedigree I don’t even care about in the first instance. Princeton is a good school, sure, but it doesn’t define me. Pedigree is not substance, and as I try never to confuse the two I can only hope readers will extend me the same courtesy.

With all that said, I just want to say also that I am aware that I offer this opinion from a very particular subject position, that being a straight white male living on the East Coast and enjoying a certain level of economic security based off the fact that I’m employed full-time. While the opinions I’ve developed on all this stuff that’s been going on lately were largely developed when I was living in the Midwest and not making very much money at all (about $11,000/year while working five jobs, if you must know), I realize that I was born and raised on the East Coast (albeit in rural New England, and not New York City) and that my educational background, as mentioned above, suggests someone who should always have felt somewhat confident about finding full-time employment at a livable wage even if, to be honest with you, I felt anxiety on that score for years. I didn’t think a business as large as the one I work for would ever hire me, to be honest. But–and the fact remains–I do have a full-time job and I freely admit that that skews how I see things, because there’s a certain amount of emotional and perhaps even intellectual security that comes from having a full-time salary, even if that salary (while more than enough to live on) is hardly making me and my wife anything like rich. I mean, I’m middle-class according to government data, maybe even lower middle-class, but I do understand that the fact that my upbringing was upper middle-class really appends that designation to my socioeconomic status permanently going forward. And in more than a few respects, it should. For instance, I admittedly received once- or twice-a-year two-week bridge loans from my grandparents in the late aughts, though to be clear those loans were only in the hundreds or, at most, the very very low four-figures, and the loans were always paid back in less than a month. One time it may have been more than a month, but I don’t control when my student loan checks come in. What student does? Certainly, I don’t live a lavish lifestyle: I don’t own many clothes; my car is twelve years old; I’ve been on only a few vacations in my life; and my hobbies are (in the grand scheme) relatively inexpensive ones and, really, besides eating out on occasion, my only abiding indulgence. That said, I admit to having enough money to have a few hobbies, and I realize that that right there marks me, quite correctly, as having a certain amount of privilege even if I now say (not inaccurately) that my wife and I are presently living a middle-class (e.g. small apartment with two very old cars and six-figure debt) sort of existence.

I’m going to say also that I am “white,” and that I own my whiteness as a source of tremendous privilege. The only reason I put “white” in quotes here is that I’m also Jewish, and as anyone who grew up in rural New England in the 1980s knows, a Jew in that sort of setting can be assured–as I certainly was, for years–of hearing anti-Semitic jokes and catcalls on a near daily basis from even those you’d like to consider friends. In Western Massachusetts in the 1980s, everyone wanted to do everything they could to remind you that you were (or “are”, to speak anachronistically) non-white, as in a generally Christian nation if you come from a 2% minority that is (however wrongly) identified as a “racial and ethnic group” by your middle- and junior-high school peers, you are going to be considered and treated as “nonwhite” by just about everyone. And that doesn’t even count the daily body-shaming–as, like so many Jews, I’m of Eastern European descent, or really Asian (in the technical sense) because my blood is primarily Russian, so I am hairy and I mean all over. I have hair in places that cause a young person to never be willing to take his shirt off, and even to feel uncomfortable wearing tee shirts, and when you add to that the fact that I am an anxious sweater, am overweight, am short, am near-sighted, get skin tags in visible places, am non-clinically agoraphobic, and have rolled shoulders, you can be certain that quite apart from never having thought of myself as “white” until that category was imposed upon me in the late 1990s (and I still get outraged if ever I am called an “Anglo”, which you can understand historically) it is also the case that when I am among strangers my sense of my body as somehow alien, less-than, and “impermissible” to the general public is pretty much an every-second sort of thing. I mean to say that I have never felt “bodily” comfort in public, not in all my forty-four years, and watching Disney programs with my stepdaughter in which “Hannah Montana” and her (white Christian “Anglo”) friends express shock and disgust at the hairy back of their Eastern European English teacher has done nothing at all to alleviate my sense that my body is grotesque to everybody except my wife and (maybe) my four sisters. The point is that I pass for white, and I acknowledge that, and moreover I acknowledge that whatever my relationship with my body I am sure that many people have looked at me (admittedly very “Jewy” looking–a fat bulbous nose, weak chin, cup ears, asymmetrical features, and so on, not to mention the Jewiest name of all time–and also sweaty, overweight, short, bespectacled, and the rest of it) and thought, “He’s still white-skinned, so in a sense there’s a staggering amount of power in that body.” There’s no question that I benefit from white privilege and that the degree to which that’s true is staggering. It’s something I’m aware of daily, or rather am made aware of, as I can’t help but once or twice a day think to myself when something happens, “Yeah, but wait a minute, isn’t that different?” And it definitely is different.

Just to be certain it doesn’t seem as though I’m whitewashing anything, no pun intended, I’m also straight, which means until recently I had rights my brothers and sisters who are gay or lesbian (or, for instance, queer, questioning, intersex, questioning, bisexual, transsexual, transgendered, sexi-posi) did not have. And as a man–well, don’t get me started. The privileges of masculinity, even when and where one has never thought of oneself as being at all masculine, are extraordinary. I think that when a male is speaking you do have too, on some level, take it with a grain of salt. A lot of times I will be listening to some guy speaking about whatever and I’ll suddenly be like, “Oh, but wait a minute, right?” I think it’s important that we all do that in those sorts of situations, and I say that as someone who is definitely male even if not, as I was mentioning earlier, a particularly confident or conventionally masculine one. You could definitely ask my wife, or previous girlfriends, about how I was when I was living in California after I graduated from Pomona: devoutly jealous, perpetually emotional, always self-doubting, never really thinking I was good enough to be looked at “in myself,” if you follow me. If it weren’t such a risible stereotype of the feminine, I could easily have accepted what all those girlfriends said at one point or another, which is that I “was the woman” in those relationships. To which I say, no, I was definitely the man, for the reasons I’ve mentioned above. There were even times I intended to object to that sort of classification on the grounds of its sexism and then I caught myself and thought, “Oh, but wait a minute!” The point being that this sort of masculine privilege is just everywhere and completely poisonous. So in stating this opinion the whole “penis” thing is a big–an actually significant–flashing light atop the words I’m going to speak that says, “Consider the source!” And you should do that here as in any similar situation: consider the source. Because in many respects this one in particular is really less credible than most. So, there’s that, and I’m owning it.

Actually, can I just say one other thing? I want to emphasize that I don’t think my opinion can, should, or does carry any special weight as we discuss these particular issues. I’m just one person, and this is a big and diverse community in which we really need everyone to be able to express their ideas freely and feel as though they will at least have a moment to be heard. Obviously being heard is not the same as being agreed with or having one’s opinions acted upon, and certainly being heard doesn’t mean that those who’ve traditionally gotten most of the stage should get the same amount of stage-space as others, I really just mean that it’s important that we not shut anyone down before they’ve had a chance (in whatever fora is appropriate and feasible under the circumstances, be it social media or a public gathering or in a published essay or what have you) to make their voice heard. The strength of this community is in its diversity, we all believe that I think, and so while no individual opinion should carry special weight just because of the status of the person it attaches to–unless the question at hand is one in which special expertise or a particular base of knowledge can be brought to bear, but I’m not really sure that’s the sort of situation we’re dealing with here, is it?–it’s critical that we look for voices from all sectors of the community when we’re discussing something as serious as what we’re discussing here. And to be clear, when I say “sectors” I don’t in any sense mean to suggest that there are monolithic opinions that have developed on this topic in certain quarters, because I think we can agree, under these circumstances, that that would be insulting to everyone involved. The fact is that there are “sectors” of the community inasmuch as certain broad worldviews–or, not worldviews, but perspectives, whether or not they develop into worldviews–that can be identified in a conversation like this one. For instance, and obviously applicable here, is the sort of experiences a person has had in the past, and the things that have happened, or what has been said and heard (or not said or not heard), and of course one’s identity (broadly defined) when positioned in the gaze of things–all of this is in the mix, and quite demonstrably. So I think these are some really important and necessary–I wouldn’t say “limitations,” but I don’t know that “convalescences” would overstate it, either–that adhere to this opinion.

Posted 09/28/15
Commenting has been disabled for this piece.