Wednesday, December 14, 2011
He Had White Horses
The good folks at Balloon Juice and plenty of others have taken Gene Marks to task for his white privileged, paternalistically-ignorant perspective on the real plight of poor black kids, so I can just say they speak for me on that. However, one little part he wrote in his stupid Forbes article also stuck out like a typo on a Tea Partier sign:
I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed...It takes brains. It takes hard work. It takes a little luck. And a little help from others.
I'll ignore the obvious retorts about just how rigidly stratified and socially-immobile our country really is. Let us be charitable and acknowledge that, yes, everyone has a "chance". How small a chance most people have is not my bone of contention.
Something else had been bothering me for quite some time about that passage, but I couldn't quite articulate it until I read some excellent work about a completely different topic:
The notion that the way you dress influences your chance of being raped is just one of the ways that we delude ourselves into believing that rape happens toother women – women who aren’t as smart or cautious. According to the “just-world hypothesis,” we search for mistakes that the victim made so that we can maintain our belief that there is order and predictability in our universe.
I needed that bit about the just-world hypothesis to complement Marks' reference to qualities and behaviors necessary for success for everything to gel in my head. You see, recently I got into an argument on Facebook with a friend of a friend of a friend (a friend twice-removed?) about the nature of success and characteristics of successful people.
He was a rightwinger upset about the whole idea of raising taxes on the rich to pay for lazypeoplecollectinggovernmentchecksIgotwhereIamthroughhardworkblahblahblah. I observed that I had a successful career myself before I made some lifestyle choices, and acknowledged that I certainly needed some brains/work to do so, but from where I sit it all comes down to luck, timing and talent. In that order.
He was aghast. How could I be so deluded as to think this?
Well, I was lucky to have been born a white male in a society where white male privilege is a big leg up. I was lucky I had hardworking middle-class parents who and our small town had good schools. I was lucky I was an only child and my parents could afford to send me to an excellent liberals arts college.
I was also lucky that during the early-90s recession a great company was looking for somebody who could draw on computers, I was able to convince them that my experience doing graphics work on publications in school was worth taking a chance on me, and that there were other opportunities for growth that I could take advantage of. I don't deny that had I lacked some skills and gumption, said opportunities would still have materialized in the same manner. But all the talent in the world is useless if you don't have a way to put it to use.
A little luck? A little help from others? That's what really tripped me up in Marks' piece.
Then when I read Tracy Clark-Flory's take on tips to avoiding rape, it really echoed something I'd said to this winger guy. I know it's comforting to think that luck and help from people is a small part--at most--of your success. If you are smart and work hard, you'll make it big, and nothing can take that away from you. You can feel secure where you are, and you might just look down on those who haven't gotten there yet.
But if luck is a large component, then even if you're the most awesomest person in the whole wide world, bad shit can happen to you. And you might end up using WIC or SNAP and UI or SSI or somesuch. Just like those stupid lazy moochers.
Lerner hypothesized that the belief in a just world is crucially important for people to maintain for their own well-being. However, people are confronted daily with evidence that the world is not just: people suffer without apparent cause. Lerner explained that people use strategies to eliminate threats to their belief in a just world...Non-rational strategies include denial or withdrawal, and reinterpretation of the event.
There are a few modes of reinterpretation that could make an event fit the belief in a just world...In the case of observing the injustice of the suffering of innocent others, one major way to rearrange the cognition of an event is to interpret the victim of suffering as deserving of that suffering. Specifically, observers can blame victims for their suffering on the basis of their behaviors and/or their characteristics.
Whether we're talking about well-intentioned people blaming rape victims, or 1-Percenters dismissing #OWS as lazy, dirty hippies, or a white op-ed writer implying poor black kids don't work hard, it all comes down to an inherent psychological component we all need in large part to maintain our sanity in a topsy-turvy world. That's what makes it so difficult to talk about this stuff, I think, even if you have on your all the facts and great Lakoffian framing at your disposal.
I guess it's gonna take a lot of luck to convince some people they're really on our side...
December 14, 2011 | Permalink
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Fear is primal. I think it gave birth to most religions. Now it spews political nonsense.
Posted by: mnkid | Dec 15, 2011 8:13:29 AM
Yep. A just world is something people want to exist NAOW. As in "already, without any work to make it just."
Posted by: Echidne | Dec 30, 2011 1:48:26 AM