As Privilege Erodes, Bigotry Flourishes

Because I am often critical of President Obama when I write, whether here or elsewhere, I sometimes get friend requests from right wing people on Facebook.  In general, I ignore those requests (although, now that I’m trying to write more and to promote what I write on social media, I’ve become much more open to friend requests).  In one case, however, the friend request came from someone in Ocean City, MD, where I lived a few decades ago.  I thought that, although I didn’t recognize the name or the face, marriage and time may have made those factors illegible to me.  So, I accepted.

It turns out that she was a friend of a friend so she occasionally saw the sorts of things I write on Facebook.  She soon unfriended me.  There’s a curious quirk around how “friending” works in Facebook:  I still see what she writes and posts although, presumably, my stuff never shows up on her newsfeed.  I haven’t bothered to unfriend her because I find the sort of right wing news and opinion she shares to be mildly interesting and somewhat amusing.

As an aside, while we were still ‘friends’, I had a few interactions with her.  Often, I tried to point out that many of the incidents involving Obama that were producing froth on the right, hadn’t happened.  I provided links to as evidence.  Her response:  “It’s my understanding that George Soros owns Snopes.”  My unspoken response, “if that’s so, why doesn’t he spend some money on the damned thing; the interface has 1992 written all over it!”  Anyway, you can see how pervasively the “echo chamber” blots out contradiction of the outrage machine.

Recently, I read a Facebook post from her in which she recounted the story of how she had applied for a driver’s license in a new state (she had moved from Ocean City some time ago).  Although she was armed with what seemed like an overkill of paperwork, she failed to secure the license because her documentation was insufficient.  I’m sympathetic, because, as we are all aware, bureaucracy can be maddening, turning necessary and seemingly routine transactions into trials designed by Kafka.

She then opined that the hispanic men in line behind her probably would have no problem getting whatever they wanted at the agency.  She wondered if she would have been more successful if she’d been wearing a burka and flashing a green card.  Sigh.

She then noted that, based on information she got during the visit, she was able to go online and secure the documentation she needed for about $50.  So, presumably, a subsequent visit would result in issuance of a driver’s license even if she left her burka behind.  She wondered why this additional documentation was necessary since it was so easy, anyone could do it.  Interestingly, she is someone who complains bitterly about taxes (she is, after all, a tea party type).  The fact that she was being taxed $50 in order to execute a simple but necessary transaction was lost on her.  Rather, she focused on the notion that if she was a foreigner, whether legal or illegal, she would have been treated better.

As time goes on, life becomes more complicated.  In the not very distant past, if you were a white citizen of the US, while you expected visits to the DMV or other state agencies to be annoying and time consuming, you also expected to accomplish what you’d set out to do. For a number of reasons, now, this is not necessarily the case.  One of my assumptions is that, in the past, if something about your request was not routine, you could explain, be believed (assuming whiteness and citizenship), and the bureaucrat was empowered to make the transaction happen.  Now anomalies seemingly need to be handled by a special agent who is invariably at lunch or out of the office until next week; individuals on the front line can only routinely process what is routine.

Of course, my assumption above is merely speculation, based on my observation of business and life over 5 decades and more.  Her speculation, that immigrants would be treated better than she is based on xenophobia and the right wing news trope that immigrants are the cause of every ill in the country.  There is no reason, except her frustration that the transaction was not to be accomplished in a single visit, for her to assume that foreigners would fare better; that her white citizenship worked against her when she tried to conduct necessary business within the government bureaucracy.

Life gets more complicated.  Clerks on the front lines of government agencies, and department stores, and wherever, typically cannot do anything but process a routine transaction.  If the requests deviate from routine, a manager or supervisor is required, which itself demands more time, more annoyance, more frustration.  There are any number of forces that shape modern bureaucracy and they may not be all bad.  But frustration is frustration and we all have to deal with it.

Privilege has been ubiquitous for white men like me — so much so, that until it began eroding, it was invisible.  While it’s annoying to notice that privilege is eroding, it’s best to understand this as a result of increased recognition of the rights of all of us.  Privilege goes away because it was always inappropriate and now is beginning to be understood that way.

One of my observations of the ideology of the right is that, “if everyone was like us, things would be fine, but there’s always those ‘others'”.  When life is frustrating it’s because, directly or indirectly, of the ‘others’.  Bigotry’s seeds are always there and too many people are all too willing to fertilize and cultivate them.

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