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Overton: White, male, and lucky

BY JON OVERTON | DECEMBER 20, 2013 5:00 AM

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It’s that festive time of year when everyone feels obligated to list off all the wonderful stuff they’re grateful for, often in the most cliché and uninteresting way possible.

Personally, I’m thankful that I’m a white middle-class male at a dandy four-year university. Why? Because the way society is set up, I’ve got it so much easier than minorities, women, the poor, people with less education, etc. I don’t like that that’s how it goes. I didn’t control the situation I was born into, and I feel guilty about it.

Sure, I try to work hard, but it’s not as though I deserve the automatic privileges I get. I’m not next in line for the British Crown, nor am I the child of millionaires, so plenty of people are way better off than me.

Nevertheless, all of these attributes — my gender, my race, my class, and my education — give me substantially more status and security compared with a lot of other people.

Because I have parents who are willing to help cover some of my expenses, I don’t have to work late nights to pay for my education. Because I live in a decent neighborhood, I don’t have to worry very much about getting robbed. (Print readers, the next few parts are well-supported by numerous social-science studies that I link to online so if you want my sources, go there.)

Were I a woman, I’d probably spend much more time perfecting my appearance to attract the opposite sex and turning myself into a sex object to be socially accepted. Sure, sometimes I’m irked when I see an ad featuring some jock with rippling abs surrounded by Photoshopped supermodels. But that’s nothing compared to the extreme sexualization women experience starting shortly after they exit the womb.

Women also have to grapple with the infamous motherhood penalty, which has been shown to lead to lower wages and makes moms less likely to be hired or promoted.

You also have to act differently if you’re a woman. As a man in a professional setting, it’s socially acceptable for me to get angry. Men are actually rewarded for getting angry. But if a woman does it, she’s an evil witch in the eyes of both genders.

Then there’s race. To this day, poor minority children, especially blacks and Latinos, tend to live in the poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods, complete with terrible public schools, pollution, and few if any decent jobs. From birth, anyone born into these situations is at a huge disadvantage. These places are called poverty traps for a reason.

I, on the other hand grew up in a de facto suburb of a working-class town, got into my school’s unofficial college track, and (big surprise) got into a good four-year university. I’m essentially on track to maintain my privilege.

My “people” have been running the world for centuries. We are the in-group. We have the power. We are in control. If you want to advance your place in society, you typically have to go through us. And that’s great for people like me. But it sure does suck for everyone else.

So this holiday season, remember just how our great American society arbitrarily discriminates on the basis of race, gender, and social class. If you came out on top, count yourself lucky.


In today's issue:





 
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