The rejection letters are piling up, my motivation to persist in what appears to be a futile endeavour is at an all-time low. You can only expend so much energy for zero result before the idea of expending ever increasing amounts of energy at an increased rate begins to look less like diligence and more like time wasting. It’s been said:
Winners never quit and quitters never win. But those who never win and never quit are idiots.
I was complaining about this to a colleague this week who told me ever so lovingly and socially aware…ly that I have a roof and a part time job already and I have food. I should really check my privilege.
What should have happened next is this:
I glared at her right in her socially conscious eyes, lowered my voice to that dangerous level my friends could tell you about, and paused while I waited for the strings section to start. Just quietly at first, but with the sort of tremulous crescendo that tells you someone’s about to say something very significant (Thanks Aaron Sorkin).
“Check my privilege? I know exactly where my privilege is. How could I miss it? It’s been shoved down my throat every day since I was eight. Every time I’ve achieved something, only to be told it’s not worth as much as the girls’ achievements because of gender equality. Every time I’ve striven as hard as I can to meet the standard expected of me, only to see the standard lowered to assist those who come after me, because of equal opportunities. Every time I’ve filled out the diversity section of a job application, knowing full well that my “privilege” is placing me at a marked disadvantage (Piano part comes in here).
“I’m aware that my demographic does not face the same challenges as other ethnic, social or minority groups. My challenges are very different and I accept that. But I didn’t choose to be part of my demographic any more than anyone else did. I had access to a safe upbringing and a quality education that others might not have had access to, it’s true. But I got that opportunity because my parents worked damned hard and gave up a lot of stuff for me and my sister. If being white placed my parents at an economic advantage, I don’t think they got the memo (inspirational French horn solo). Respectfully, they might have done a lot better for themselves in Darwin if they were Greek or Chinese. There were plenty of other white boys at my school who went on to achieve nothing at all, so don’t tell me the things I do don’t count because I’m male, middle-class and white.
"And if you call me Anglo-anything I’m going to punch you right in your racially insensitive throat. I’m Australian. I have never been to England and am not allowed to even if I wanted to, which I don’t. I despise England, its culture, its cricket team and everything it stands for as a country (Floor toms. Oh yeah, this is awesome). If you have a problem with my past, then fine, but if you call me Anglo again you're about to have a problem with my present.
"And I’m not even saying things have to change to help me out. I’m saying that when I raise a problem I’m having, don’t just ignore me because "people like me shouldn’t have problems". If I complain about a service that isn’t working, don’t expect me to leave you alone and fill out a form on the internet and then ignore me again. And if I tell you that I’m struggling, don’t send me into counselling to teach me that everything is fine and I’m just thinking wrong. (Bright trumpets and the sound of crowds cheering in the background! Cop that!)
"I didn’t choose any of this. I was born male, white and clever. I’m pretty sure you weren’t born self-righteous, judgmental and rude. Check your attitude, bitch! (booming brass finale, roll end credits)”.
What actually happened next is this:
“I suppose you’re right.”
And I walked away and calmly got on with my day, because the same privileged upbringing that she so resents in me has taught me to be polite and not yell at people in the street. And I left my symphony orchestra at home today.
Look, I’m not saying she doesn’t have a point. But it’s one thing to help the “under-privileged” with extra concessions. It’s quite another to tell me that nothing I do, say or experience is worth a damn because I’m a white man. And don’t tell me no-one is saying that. I’m well aware of that. But I’m also sure I’m not the only white man who feels like he’s supposed to apologise for who he is every time he needs something and has had enough. Is it any wonder mental illness and suicide rates among men are out of control in our country? Fortunately, my privileged background, upbringing and education have made me strong enough and smart enough not to hurt myself or anyone else, but that's not the case for everyone.
Next time you ask me to check my privilege, consider well what might happen if I did.
Garry with 2 Rs