May 2, 2018

what white privilege looks like

My son and his friends are immersed in a life of memes.  I was alarmed that they were accessing Reddit, until I realized that they were hanging out in meme graphic and food porn subReddits and have no interest in other aspects (at least for now).

Last week, he texted me a picture of a Venus fly trap swallowing an antelope.  "It's a meme," he said.  Next a picture of the Holy Bible, King James Version, propped up for sale at a book store with a "signed copy" sticker on the front.  That one made me laugh.

They also joke heavily about social injustices.  "Why are you homeless?  Why don't you just get a house?"  "If you're hungry, just go eat something, Jesus, what's wrong with you?"  Things of that nature.  Ironically, this demonstrates their understanding of social problems and the complexity of any solutions that might present themselves.  These are our future leaders and voters and thinkers.  Already, they get it, or at least a glimpse.  Moving forward, I have to believe that they'll comprehend what I saw this morning, when it's their turn to witness it.

I had to show up first thing this morning at our local laboratory in town, where they do blood draws for various tests, but mostly drug testing.  I got there early on purpose, hoping to beat the rush and get to work on time, but there were already seven people at the door, waiting for the lab to open.  I parked and got out of my car, instinctively locking it, and took my place in the queue.  I pulled out my phone and loaded a game to pass the time.  This, too, was heavily conditioned behavior, and it did not occur to me at the time what it looked like.  Everyone else was sitting around without a smartphone.  One man commented on how it was wrong to play games on phones because his daddy taught him that.  I looked up and smiled briefly to let him know I had heard him, and then returned to my game.

I was one of two white people.  I was the only person dressed for work.

A nurse unlocked the door and we filed through in roughly the order in which we'd been queued up.  The line first formed at a machine that scanned either a driver's license or a QR code for purposes of checking in.  The first three people in line went and sat down in the lobby.  The next two stepped aside to talk to a lady with a clipboard.  Somebody told the next man to just have a seat.  He was the one who doesn't play games.  He was talking to himself.  He was white.

I stepped up and scanned the QR code that had been e-mailed to me last night because I have Internet access and a smartphone and a knowledge of how those things work.  I was immediately checked in.  I sat down in the lobby, cognizant enough now of the social disparity to be decent and put away my phone and simply sit.  I sat less than thirty seconds before I was called to the window.  There had been seven people in front of me, but I was the first one called.

I stood at the counter while paperwork was processed.  They had all of the information I had entered the night before online, so it was a seamless process.  They took payment through my Flex account card, which I have because I have gainful employment with ample benefits.  The receptionist typed things and I answered her questions, and in between the questions, I listened to the people working with the lady with the clipboard.  No, ma'am, I don't have an ID card.  I don't have a car to go get one.  Mine expired.  I don't have the ten dollars for it.  I do got a bill here from the electric company with my address on it.  No, ma'am, I can't read it, can you read it for me?  It got her name on it but I live there, too.  No, ma'am, I can't prove that.  She ain't got a phone so we can't ask her.  The officer just told me to come on down here and bring that with me.

Four of the seven were there for required probation testing, two for a drug rehab program, and one for a job in a cafeteria she applied for and was hopeful she would get, if it was God's will and He poured His blessing on her.  She talked excitedly about it to everyone in the lobby.

I was there for a rare blood serum level test for a medication that I take.  I take it because I have access to regular medical care.  I do not have to receive my medical care at the Health Department's downtown clinic in an impoverished neighborhood, reached by four routes of the city bus line.

What did it look like when I helped myself to a healthy dose of hand sanitizer while standing at the counter?

As soon as I was processed, I offered to sit back down and wait, and another nurse said, "You don't have to, you can come on back."  I felt eyes at my back as I followed her through the propped-open door.  She did the blood draw.  She was kind.  She didn't have the greatest touch with a needle, but the stick was brief.  I rolled my sleeve back down and thanked her.

I left the facility without any worry about how the results would come back, how they would affect my probation or chances at a job.  Mine was simply top-notch medical care.  I got into my car, and my car started the first time I turned the key.  I hurried out of the parking lot.  I was late for work.  I wanted to be on time, but if I wasn't, I wouldn't be in danger of being fired.  I have a good job.

I know eventually, every person in that lobby was processed and taken back and given their blood stick.  They received the same services I did.  But I was eighth in line, and I was called back first.

Ninety, a hundred, a thousand tiny injustices.  I felt terrible and guilty and crushed by the weight of the work laid at the feet of humanity and the resignation required, knowing humanity is very unlikely to pick it up and set about doing it.  My kid and his friends and their memes and jokes ... does all of that mean they see this for what it truly is?  Will they subscribe to the bootstrap theory after ridiculing it?  Will they do the work?

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