Friday, February 7, 2014


In some of the work that I do, I coach those whose first language is not American English and who are consequently grappling not only with the assimilation and development of disciplinary knowledge but the nuances and inanities of a speech not their own.  In doing so, I am reminded of one of the ways in which I occupy a position of privilege in the United States: I am a native speaker of the dominant language--indeed, of something very much like the "ideal" form of that language--and trained in its history, its literature, and ways to teach it.  I am a door-warden for it, although at a postern rather than at the grand, main gate-house, and I try to let people in.  I am aware that I am obliged by my privilege to work to the benefit of others, directly in my teaching and indirectly in the work that I do on The Work.

I have not always felt such an ethical imperative.  Indeed, I recall several times in my earlier life as a snot-nosed, bratty little shit when I openly and flatly stated that my position of privilege entitled me to benefits rather than obliging me to service.  Because I was smart and capable, people ought to serve me instead of me being expected to benefit them--is not the world supposed to work such that the lesser obey the greater, and did not my talents and skills place me among the greater rather than the lesser?  (I did note that I was a bratty little shit, did I not?)  Why should I put myself to work for people whom I knew held me in low regard, using for them the talents the jealousy of which had motivated them to hold me in that regard?  Should I not instead keep for myself the benefits of my abilities, denying them to others if they did not approach me with the appropriate reverence?  Or such were the things I thought and said when I was a bratty little shit--and I consequently deserved the knuckle-drubbings I received, the censure and the ridicule.

I like to think that I have grown since, and not simply physically.  I like to think that I am no longer a bratty little shit (perhaps a witty big shit?), no longer so hung up on my gifts that I view them as entitling me to...something, for unlike many who grow more selfish and more self-interested as they age, losing youthful idealism for "mature" "practicality," I have become convinced as I have grown older that my abilities are best spent in the betterment of others.  (This is not to say that I would not like a bigger paycheck, of course.  Some of those others are my wife and forthcoming child, and while my gifts themselves do not entitle me to things, the work I do with them deserves compensation.  Or should I work for free and spend myself to nothing in the process?)  And if it still smacks of privilege that I should think of myself in such ways...I know not what to do.  I am not able to divest myself of that privilege; it is extended to me and denied too many others whether we will it or not, and for things over which we have too little control.  (Think on it; I am an Anglo-Saxon-descended heterosexual cis-gendered man of the middle class.  Did I move to change any of that, or to try to, I would immediately be branded as an unacceptable -ist.  And I should not have to give up my identity any more than any other ought to.  It is not less right for me to be Anglo than for a Hispanic to be Hispanic.  It is not less right for me to be heterosexual than for a homosexual to be homosexual, a bisexual to be bisexual, an asexual to be asexual, or another gender-queer person whom I lack the words to describe to be as that person is.  It is not less right for me to be cis-gendered than for a trans-person to be trans-gendered.  And it is not more right for me, either.)  I will admit that it may not be the best solution, but let it be at least less bad of me to have privilege in that I ply it to help those who seek help and offer it to those who have yet to seek it actively themselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment