Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Accident of Birth

I don't know yet if this post is going to win me any friends, if it is going to alienate the ones that I have, or keep those who are brave enough to call me friend right where they belong - next to me and supporting me, even if/when they don't agree with everything I'm saying.  That goes for family, too.  I'm amazed often at how impactful words can be - and I'm in the business of words!  I laugh when people say that a word is just a word, and it is only ascribed meaning when someone wants to make something out of nothing (e.g., backing up the use of retarded or cracker or the famed N-word).  It is asinine to me that someone should very much deliberately and painfully dismiss the feelings of another person when they are saying to you that words used against them maliciously are hurtful; waiving off the interpretation as biased or colored by unfair historical significance, or just the willful 'Fuck You' that so many people use to respond these days when they're cornered and are unwilling to apologize for something so nonsensical.

I found myself thinking today as I scrolled through Facebook, landing on a post wherein it would be argued that Bill O'Reilly is out of touch with the reality swirling around him, the object of Jon Stewart's prejudicial and well-planned trapping of the uber conservative.  Two little words fueled Stewart and befuddled O'Reilly: White Privilege.

The argument Stewart put forth, and the one which the FOX News golden boy tried to answer was this: White privilege not only exists, but it is the basis upon which the subjugation and continuous discrimination and oppression of blacks (and other minority groups) rests today.  I thought I was going to witness the world's first self-decapitation, waiting with baited breath for Bill O'Reilly to say something completely stupid. I didn't have to wait long.

He claimed that with the non-existence of slavery and the dismantling of Jim Crow, the very fact that Stewart dared mention the concept, the misnomer, even, of white privilege was offensive to his core.  He intimated that there is equal footing in this country, that the most powerful man in the world is black, and that the most powerful woman in the world is also black.

I had to chuckle at that one for a minute.  Okay, so the most powerful man in the world, President Barack Obama, is black.  Hmm...biracial, yes.  The most powerful man in the world?  Certainly not.  The dilution of the Office of the President of the United States is another topic, completely.

Do you know whom Bill O'Reilly counts as the most powerful woman in the world?  Oprah Winfrey.  I know.  I should have told you to sit down for that one.

Stewart and O'Reilly traded facts and pseudo-facts and tidbits about where O'Reilly grew up in the 50s and 60s (finally acquiescing to Stewart's point that blacks weren't even ALLOWED to live in the same area during the same period).  Stewart argued that a history of oppression dealt to the black community, by the hand of the white majority, has created a systemic and defiled existence, particularly in the inner city, which has trapped and theoretically enslaved generation after generation of black Americans, relegating them to substandard existences with little to no hope of breaking the cycle that is all they've ever known.

Part of that makes complete and total sense to me.  It is with rare exception (at least exception that is covered by the national news media) that individuals - let alone families - have been able to successfully navigate the pitfalls and stratospheric dangers of growing up in the hood or the ghetto or whatever you choose to call it, however it is most comfortably labeled.  And then there's part of the O'Reilly argument to which I also subscribe, which I found to be embarrassingly true, and a response which I know won't win me any friends in my own community.  Distilled to a fine point, O'Reilly said that everybody has the opportunity now to make something of their lives, to find what it is that makes them successful, work hard to follow that path before them, and escape whatever cycle in which they feel they are unjustly trapped.

Dammit, I thought to myself.  That son of a bitch has a point.  My very best friend in the world and his family survived a similar fate, and I'm thankful for it.  And then I thought about the universe's most cruel and perverse action: the accident of birth.

As I sit and type this, I'm doing so at the granite bar in the kitchen of a home more expensive than that of either of my parents.  I am 42, black, and I've never been part of anything other than the Middle Class.  I am listening to Horowitz's crisp and emotional "Prelude for Piano No. 16 in G Major, Op. 32/5.  My only child who wants for nothing sits upstairs on his i-Whatever, and my wife is tucked away in our master bedroom relaxing away her workday, preparing for a Saturday morning of distance running and camaraderie with her running buddies.  I am quite sure that I exist somewhere as a statistic, but I'm not wholly sure on who's list, or why.

I have fraternity brothers and friends of both races who are millionaires, or whom will become millionaires thanks in part to family inheritances and trusts.  I have friends of both races, both past and present, who lived in the worst parts of town, never imagining they could have what I have; their fight for survival may have included seeing their friends get killed, or watching helplessly as their families disintegrated under the stress of racial and/or economic bias, not to mention the stench and disharmony that drug abuse brought into their lives.

What if everyone was born into a condition completely alien to the world in which they now inhabit?  I'm wondering what Bill O'Reilly's appreciation of the FOX News superstar's response to white privilege would have been had he watched the same footage buried deep somewhere in the hood, white or black.  Would my own response have been different were I born into a family of millionaires, separated conveniently and quite dramatically, from those who were born into less?

I agree with Bill O'Reilly that there exists now an opportunity for anyone to achieve.  I do not agree with Bill O'Reilly that it is as easy as he thinks it is to escape a horrid and self-abusive cycle from which there is often no reasonable unassisted escape.  I agree with Bill O'Reilly in that hard work is the driver which seeks to separate men from their less-focused brethren.  I do not agree with Bill O'Reilly when he says that it is only through hard work that he, and other successful white men of his age and whom believe the same political ideology, have prospered.

We can do as little about the accident of our birth, as we can about changing the sun into the moon.  What we can control, or at the very least seek to improve upon, though, is this idea of the Human Condition.  I shake my head when I read an article about President Obama, and the comments at the bottom descend quite predictably from the eloquence of the point argued in the article, to the imaginary fact that our president is a Muslim-loving foreigner who got elected under false pretense and is systematically ruining the nation, laying it bare for terrorists and similar jhading miscreants.  Or when an article about overturning discriminatory same-sex marriage  laws turns into a battle of Christians and 'the unwashed' as to the nature and meaning of what Jesus would do, or how Jesus hates gays, and that the 'Gay Agenda', along with the shined up, dressed up simian in the Oval Office, are the first steps to Revelation and the damning of the earth to hell, calling on Doomsday Preppers to stockpile arms and for bigots who protest outside the funerals of America's servicemen and women to scream bull-horned obscenities louder and louder.

Where in that is the Human Condition?  Would your personal beliefs be what they are had not the accident of birth deposited you into a home in the Appalachians in the 50s as opposed to Myers Park or Beverly Hills in the 80s or Bedford-Stuyvesant in the 40s?

I agree with both Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart, separately, for different points they made.  Stewart was dogged in his determination to force his television nemesis to agree, even if for only a moment, that white privilege is, in fact, still a 'thing'.  Bill O'Reilly, hell bent on making it a socio-economic issue as opposed to a racial issue, insisted on getting his point across that nothing is out of reach, for any race, gender, or economically-challenged person given the right amount of courage and hard work to step outside the confines of what they believe to be their assigned position in the universe; their lot in life, if you will.

But what neither of them said - at least in the space of time Facebook allowed me into their worlds, and to dine on their argument - was that both the Human Condition and the accident of birth are at play here, fully conspiring to benefit or damn those of us walking across the planet either from immaculate conception or lack of contraceptives.  It is the Human Condition which can negate the accident of birth, to help in small ways level the playing field - to give true and honest depth to O'Reilly's claim that barriers no longer exist and that absolutely anybody can achieve the level of success about which they dream.

I wonder if the most powerful man and the most powerful woman in the world would agree.