Inequality for No One

“The Mexicans here, they’re better than the ones in California. They’re polite here. I like our Mexicans: they work hard and don’t make me think about them.”

This was small talk, office talk. It always surprises me how quickly people get comfortable enough with me that they gush out their own prejudices, as if they think/assume I have similar sympathies. I had no idea what to say in reply to something that was no longer small talk, so I mumbled that I was suddenly hungry and was going to the lunch room, immediately. “Our Mexicans” was the only phrase in my head. It kept clanging around in there.

The conversation took place in our shared office cubicle in a factory in Iowa; four of us occupied the space and one joined me in the walk to the cafeteria.

“‘Our Mexicans?'” I repeated. “That’s a concept?” He said he was surprised, too. I suggested that maybe when we returned to the cubicle, I would ask her opinion about Iowa vs. California Jews or other groups of people. I did not.

(In the years since, I have heard “our black people” spoken. By an African-American man. Regional prejudice trumped the more traditional kind, and it got the expected laugh from the white people in the room.)

The speaker who had stunned me was a woman who had moved with her family from California to Iowa—on purpose—to escape from California’s California-ness (read: liberal politics and “awful regulations” on cars and guns) and prevent her young daughters from growing up in the Golden State. No jobs had turned up in Nebraska, which was her and her husband’s first choice, so Iowa it was. Both states are 97%-98% white in population.

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Every woman I know, including the one from California, has reported that she has experienced sexual harassment. Every woman walks through a different day than any man does: she is gauged and judged for her appearance. Young and old, woman are called tarts or teases, or a phrase like “she must have been a looker when she was younger” is used. I dated a woman who had been raped, except she was puzzled when I called it that; in her description she said the guy had “come on strong” and that she should have said “no” more forcefully. “Did you say ‘No’?” I asked. She had, and he had penetrated her. That is rape.

Several women friends have described unpleasant encounters in which anonymous men have exposed themselves; one woman found a man rubbing his open-zippered self against her on a crowded subway, another was given a private show while she was seated on a crowded bus.

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It is not a nature vs. nurture matter that many people seem to think in this progression of loyalties: Self > family > tribe/extended family > neighborhood > region > population type (color or creed) > interest group > nation. I am conscious that I have not included income, but maybe “interest group” covers that. Humans are tribal, but this is not something we are born with; it is taught. We teach each other to find and use power over others, or to act like we have it.

My family inculcated in my sister and me a sense that we all were pretty lucky, blessed even, to be middle-class and white in America of the 1960s and ’70s. And that luck, simple luck, is not something to brag about or wield like a privilege.

Oh, but I am a member of a minority, you see, many of them. I am the product of a “mixed” marriage, Jewish and Baptist. I am disabled, living with a rare neuromuscular disease. Perhaps some breaks can be given to me. Give me some breaks, universe! This thinking is attractive, insidiously so. I deserve something, something more than I have. Say it with me.

I am a part of the uncomplaining majority, which makes me a minority. Reward me now.

It is indeed insidious, and in my lifetime it has become sickeningly popular. Call it the appeal of the self-declared minority, or the privilege of being underprivileged. The majority, the lucky blessed majority, has appropriated the language, and what it thinks is the mindset, of being underprivileged or even a victim. The powerful majority population decided that enough has been asked of it over time and has started to regard each activist minority population demanding mere equality as another squeaky wheel that gets oil. If finding a way to be the squeaky wheel means getting more privileges and benefits, well, how could they be against being the squeaky wheel? It can be one more way to more power.

Justice and fairness are not equal, but they are just and fair. We should do all we can—I should do all I can—to increase those two things.

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Today is Blog Action Day. It is estimated that there are more than 250 million blogs published around the world and spread among many hosting companies, many of which are publicly traded. That is a lot of voices, and if they could be united for one day about something other than the universal appeal of cats, they could direct attention in some productive areas. Public attention is not as productive as action and changing minds, but it is better than no action at all.

Blog Action Day is an annual event that was started in 2007. A topic of activist concern is selected and announced in advance. This year’s topic is “inequality.”

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 16 asks, “Did you know today is Blog Action Day? Join bloggers from around the world and write a post about what inequality means to you. Have you ever encountered it in your daily life?

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