Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Privilege of ... Dating?

Back in February I dealt with the way that human beings mature in a piece that is actually one of the most commonly quoted and retweeted that I've ever done.  In essence, I explained ... well, please go ahead and read it.  You'll enjoy the notion.

I did cite the old story about Clemençeau, the French leader, being told that his son had joined the Communist Party.  "If he had not become a Communist by the time he was 20, I would have disowned him", the president said.  "If he is still a Communist at 30 I will disown him then." 

This came to mind over the weekend as I perused the Sunday magazine of the Washington Post (still love those italics), which ironically arrives on Saturday.  The magazine has a regular feature called "Date Lab", where applicants, matching whatever mystical criteria the editors use, are put together on a blind date and then interviewed.  Typically it does not work out, but the concept at least fills two pages each week.

This week, they matched up Rob Neill, a financial security policy guy and Bernie Sanders admirer, and Jori Breslawski, who is working on a Ph.D. in communist theory political science from an institution not noted in the article.  Both are 23, meaning that on the level of the cubbyhole scale (you did read the referenced link, right?), they have far too few cubbyholes to have many rational thoughts.

For example, and I quote from the very first sentence out of the young lady's mouth: "He was cute;  he was just, um, and I hate sounding shallow like this, but I usually go for taller, muscular guys, and he was my height and I'm really short.  I've never dated short guys before.  Like I'm not really even attracted to them."

Like, I hope her Ph.D. thesis doesn't, like, have "like" all through it, or her review panel may not, you know, "like" it.  I also hope they're all taller than she, especially if they regularly read "Date Lab".

But I digress.

Her third statement was fascinating, and again I quote: "We ended up talking ... about white privilege and how a lot of people aren't self-aware enough to really realize the privilege that they have."

Now, let me remind you, because at this point I feel I have to.  This was a date!  This was supposed to be two people figuring out if they have enough of a mutual attraction to want to meet again and consider a relationship, and they're talking about white privilege.  The hormones must really have been racing at that point.  This from a girl who will only date someone who has "height privilege."

White privilege.  Now, it is worth mentioning that there are not a lot of people named "Breslawski" in the USA, and there are fewer than 400 entries in Ancestry.com for that name over the last 150 years in New York State, where the article mentions she hails from (yes, they wrote "hail").  The fewer-than-400 entries represent only about 20 different actual individuals, and the census records tell a story, consistent across the names.

Place of Birth ... "Poland." "Austria." "Po-A" (census speak for a broad Eastern European area).

Occupation ... "Farmer."  "Factory Worker."  "Laborer."

You don't have to watch a lot of episodes of "Who Do You Think You Are" to get the picture; Jori is descended from ethnic Polish immigrants who left Eastern Europe in the 1880-1920 period (as documented by Ancestry's immigrant-ship passenger lists).  They came to the USA, settled in New York (both in Queens and further upstate, in Rochester), and found whatever work the men could do -- none of it white-collar.

Eventually they built modest families, and their offspring eventually led to a single young woman who will eventually, if successful, earn a doctoral degree, albeit in political science.  You would think that Nickolas (1894-1984) and Anna (1896-1993) Breslawski, who came over here around the turn of the 20th Century to find a better life -- or two of the several of that surname who immigrated and are her actual progenitors -- would be very proud to have a descendant earning a doctorate -- again, albeit in political science.

I just wonder if they would feel that, in  the 90+ years of each of their long lives, either of them would ever, even once, have felt like they had a life "privileged" by the color of their skin.  I can see it now, 23-year-old Jori trying to explain it to old Nickolas, who escaped Eastern Europe not because of the color of his skin, but because of feared ethnic cleansing, or religious bigotry, or the risk of starvation -- or all the above.

"You aren't self-aware enough, great-grandfather, to realize the privilege you have being a white man.  Don't you understand how privileged you are?"  Old Nickolas shakes his head, looks up at her from his splintery bench and says this:

"I was privileged to have been able to make a life for myself in this country on the sweat of my back, not because of the color of my skin but the content of my character.  My brothers and sisters and I -- your aunts and uncles -- worked on the farms here; we labored; we sweated in factories so that you wouldn't have to.  They hated us in Poland, and they didn't like us here much either.  But we had arms and legs and a willingness to work because we knew it would be better for you.  And because at least they weren't trying to kill us like in Poland.

"Don't you try to tell me about white privilege, little girl.  Take that phrase out of your speech, because you don't know what you are talking about.  And by the way, short men, like me and the writer of this piece, make better husbands."

Next fall, this girl is going to go to the polls and vote for Hillary Clinton, assuming Mrs. C. is not in jail by then.  She will feel that she's pulling a lever to fight "white privilege" and the sad guilt she feels, for something that neither she nor her ancestors ever were able to take advantage of.  She lives in Washington, so her vote will be lost among the overwhelming leftist vote the District delivers, and that's a good thing.  What is not good is that there's almost no hope of her learning why it's a good thing, until perhaps she is 30.

When, hopefully, she is married to a very short man, who will take good care of her.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.


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