For a while now I’ve heard about something called white male privilege. As a white male who has never felt especially privileged, I never quite understood what the term was trying to refer to.
I think I first heard about it when one of my favorite science fiction authors at the time, John Scalzi, wrote about it on his blog back in 2012. He wrote:
Dudes. Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?
Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.
I dare you to read the entire article.
Up until this time, I liked John Scalzi. Up until I read that post, I read every book he wrote. This was before I realized what a massive social justice warrior he was. At the time, I didn’t even know what a social justice warrior was. I only knew that unlike the words in his novels, the words on his blog bothered me. The words on his blog made me feel insulted.
Does any of the following sound privileged?
I may have been born white and male, but I assure you I am not privileged. When I was 19, I joined the military, the United States Air Force to be exact. Not because I had an unquenchable thirst for patriotism and aviation, but because I felt I had no other choice. I couldn’t find meaningful employment anywhere in Southern California, where I was born and raised.
The only jobs I could find were dead-end minimum wage jobs. I was even turned down for a job as a janitor at a convalescent home. I think that’s when you know you lack privilege when you cannot get hired to mop up old person pee.
My parents weren’t big on education. My father was kicked out of high school and earned a G.E.D. in the Marine Corps. My father thought college was a waste of time and money and at first refused to even allow me to attend classes at the nearby community college while I lived under his roof. I was supposed to just go out and get a job. He finally relented and I was allowed to start taking community college classes after the second semester under the stipulation that I also worked.
I couldn’t afford to go to a real college. Let’s just say my work in high school wasn’t the type that earned scholarships. I failed to qualify for any type of grant or student financial assistance. I do remember trying to fill out the paperwork for student assistance and it asked about my parent’s finances. When I asked my father about it, how much he made a year, he told me it was none of my business.
Does this sound at all like privilege? Having parents who not only refused to help you go to college but refused to even help fill out the financial aid paperwork?
So I joined the Air Force. They promised I would learn a skill in electronics that I then could turn around and use in civilian life. They even promised they would help me go to college in my time off so that I could earn an Associates degree.
After basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, I was bused to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississipi. Both basic training and tech school were hard for me. Nothing was handed to me because I was a white male. I had to work my ass off in tech school because going in I knew absolutely nothing about electronics.
I attended tech school with guys who grew up playing around with electronics, building batteries out of potatoes and stupid things like that. With most of the guys I was in class with, electronics was their hobby before joining the Air Force. It was their passion.
It certainly wasn’t mine.
When we went over Ohm’s Law, it was treated as a refresher. I was the only one in my class who didn’t already know what Ohm’s law was. Worse, I didn’t really understand it even after it was explained to me a number of times.
Electronics was not something I took to naturally. Why the Air Force decided to assign me to an electronics career field is a mystery to me. I know when I took the aptitude test to see what I was good at and what I was not good at, I scored lowest in electronics.
After barely passing basic electronics, I was sent off to electronic warfare systems technology training across the base. Electronic warfare is also called electronic countermeasures or ECM for short.
It has to do with the detection and countering of anti-aircraft radar. Essentially, it was the equipment that stopped aircraft from getting shot down. I was going to work on the electronic warfare or ECM equipment used on combat aircraft. At the time, it had one of the longest tech schools in the Air Force, 11 months.
Electronic warfare has zero civilian applications.
Work on jet engines in the Air Force and it’s completely possible to get a job with South West or American Airlines doing the same thing you did in the military. That’s not true with working on electronic warfare equipment.
People may dislike South West, but not enough to fire a Soviet-built ground-to-air missile at one of their planes.
In March of 1994, I got out of the Air Force armed with an Associates degree in avionics, specializing in a branch of avionics with no civilian application. I had already reenlisted once, but because the cold war was over and Bill and Hillary Clinton were the president, the military was being drawn down and budgets were being cut. I was offered money to get out early from my second enlistment.
To make matters even worse, my wife of eight months totally blindsided me the month before by announcing she wanted a divorce. I didn’t even know we had problems, let alone she wanted a divorce. Deciding to get out of the Air Force had a lot to do with getting married eight months prior. I was stationed at Griffiss Air Force Base, located in Upstate New York. She had a great job with a local company.
I didn’t have a job. My wife just left me. You might think, under those circumstances, my family in California would want me to return home. The complete opposite was true. My mother warned me about coming back to California unless I first had a job. She even recommended I try to reenlist in the Air Force. Granted, the Air Force could be stupid sometimes, but when they pay you to get out early, they don’t then turn around and allow you to reenlist.
How was I supposed to find a job in Southern California while I was living Upstate New York? I was truly alone. I was still living in the apartment close to my soon to be ex-wife’s job, but 32 miles away from Griffiss Air Force Base. My ex-wife moved in with her mother.
This was before the Internet became a thing. I was trying to find a job by physically mailing paper copies of my resume to prospective employers in California. I remember spending a lot of money on stamps, envelopes, and making copies of my resume at Kinkos.
Mailing my resume to companies and headhunter firms didn’t get me any potential job opportunities in California. It turned out there are so many people living in Southern California, employers there are able to find qualified job candidates without going through their mail.
My hard work with the U.S. Postal Service and Kinkos was not for naught. Mailing hundreds of copies of my resume did get me a job offer in Maryland, somewhere I had not even tried to find a job. Having spent close to three months looking for meaningful employment in the land of my birth without any success, I accepted the offer in Maryland when it was made. I figured I’d work in Maryland for a while and continue to try to find a job in California.
It’s now 24 years later and I’m still in Maryland. I met the woman I’m now happily married to shortly after moving here “temporarily.”
In time, I finally realized that if my family wanted me to return to California, they would have wanted me to return after completing my stint in the Air Force. They wouldn’t have discouraged me from returning.
I found out much later that nobody in my family wanted me to return to California because they were collectively afraid I would end up perpetually unemployed and sleeping on someone’s couch. They were also ashamed I was getting a divorce. My parent’s religion forbade divorce. I was brought up to believe divorced people were second-class citizens.
In the 24 years since moving to Maryland. I cannot count how many times I’ve gone back to California to visit my family. What I can do is count how many times a member of my family has come to Maryland to visit me: zero.
Nobody in my family has ever come to Maryland to visit me. Even when I was in intensive care for nine days and almost died, did a member of my family even try to come to see me.
Even as a “privileged” white male, my life often sucks
Since leaving the Air Force, I’ve had a string of jobs I didn’t like. Usually, the more they had to do with electronics, the more I hated them. I’ve worked on photofinishing equipment, both for Walmart Photo and for Fujicolor USA when they acquired Walmart Photo. It’s why I came to Maryland. I then took a position with Greytag, a company that manufactured photofinishing equipment. I traveled around the United State repairing Gretag equipment.
I’ve worked on electrostatic printers in a large printing plant. I worked for NCR repairing cash registers at Walmart, Food Lion, and other retailers. I worked up in Pennsylvania as a bench technician at a company that made three-phase motor controllers.
When I got laid off from that job, I spent a few months on Pennsylvania unemployment and thought a lot about what I wanted to do next. I took a job at First Data working as a call center eCommerce support agent. Finally, a job that didn’t have anything to do with electronics. Call center work is many things, but a privilege is not one of them.
At this point, I was heavily into WordPress. I enjoyed messing around with themes and plugins, teaching myself PHP, CSS, and HTML along the way. This self-taught knowledge allowed me to get the eCommerce support position with First Data.
After working for First Data for over seven years, I left and started my own web development business. While at First Data, I talked to a lot of people on the phone who identified themselves as web developers. I knew from speaking to them that I could do what they do.
When I was still working for First Data, in my off time I created a WordPress plugin that connected WordPress to First Data’s eCommerce gateway, Payeezy. It created a form that a cardholder filled out to make a payment or a donation. The plugin is hosted on WordPress.
I began modifying the basic plugin for clients on a case by case basis. I’ve since created three more WordPress plugins that I sell on my business website. I also take on custom work. Not only do I integrate WordPress with Payeezy, I also integrate Wix with Payeezy. I think I’m the only one offering that service.
When I’m not doing any of that, I drive for both Uber and Lyft. All combined I make a decent income. I wouldn’t say I’m privileged.
I imagine back in 1818 or 1918, white males had it pretty good. The thing is, it’s 2018. Time travels in only one direction. Men don’t wear top hats or use pocket watches anymore. Things change. Contrary to what some people might believe, things are not handed to white males because they are white males. I’ve had to fight and claw for everything I have. I assure you nothing was ever handed to me.
Tell me how privileged I am when I’m driving for Uber with someone who smells bad in the backseat. Tell me how privileged I am when someone spills some of their breakfast in the backseat of my car and they don’t bother to tell me about it or even try to clean it up.
To assume I’m privileged because I was born white and a male is not only racist and sexist, it’s completely wrong. It’s a gross generalization based solely on skin color and biological sex. Anyone who believes white male privilege exists today is dumb. Anyone who uses it to make judgments about people had better be prepared to be wrong most of the time.
Also published on Medium.