Monday, April 6, 2015

I checked my privilige... couldn't find it.

I read a great post by author Dave Freer on Privilege-checking for writers.

 I have a massive beef with this whole 'check your privilege' thing that is used to one group's advantage, as a means of quelling supposed ism's by simple one-upmanship.

 Last time I volunteered some time with the educational foundation I used to work with, I got that particular epithet thrown in my face by a former colleague, a pushy lesbian lady who I used to be very fond of for her wicked sense of fun and humor. In the ensuing years since I had seen her last, I coarsened considerably as I transitioned from a humble marine biologist who lived grant-to-grant and became a merchant mariner and, well, honestly, a little more masculine and loud- well, even more honestly, I always was these things, but used to hide my light under a basket, so to speak, which was good for socializing with other academics. But I did coarsen. A lot.
       After grad school, I immediately started fishing commercially full-time, and worked as a marine biologist on the side and off season. Sometimes I took extra time off to do certain projects, and traveling to conferences to give presentations on my work was a way to drum up future business, so it goes.

      Things being what they are, I got tired of being broke all the time. The only person who makes less money per hour than a marine biologist is a commercial fisherman, and the usual injuries, broken and rebroken fingers and toes, torn muscles and tendons, etc, are as much a part of fishing as the continuous infection that plagued my hands.

 I've got bad hands, you see, and this is where Dave Freer's writing really grabbed my attention.

   I worked as a deckand or captain of fishing boats since I was 7. No shit. $10 a day every Saturday, when it was nice out, with my neighbor, and twice a week in the summer. After school and weekends through high school. Whenever I had a day off in college, and on-and-off full time right up until 6 years ago.

    The shit with my hands started when I was 13, and severed two fingers on my right hand, and mangled the others. Long story, but I recovered really well, and the surgery to repair everything went perfectly- I have all my fingers- the skin on the underside of my fingers wasn't completely cut through- just everything else.

 But my right hand never got very strong. To this day, I do things like open bottles and plastic with my teeth or a knife. My 'good' left hand got broken up pretty badly the very next year, and a glut of redfish used for bait the year after that wiped out the elasticity of the tendons- redfish is bony, and the bones puncture the skin, introducing infection about 95% of the time. I got blood poisoning at least a half-dozen times when I was 15 from that shit. The infection never fully went away until I fully quit fishing, and even then it took almost 2 years. Oh, and a nasty burn from sodium hydroxide (caustic soda is the trade name) sloughed off all the skin on my right hand's pinky, leaving it covered in scar tissue that doesn't completely heal, so my right hand pretty much looks like a bird's foot which turns a lurid purple when it's cold outside.

     So, this picture that Dave Freer put up, and the story accompanying it (read it! You'll like it) really caught my eye.

No this is not a slightly younger Uncle Si

     I absolutely know that look. That's how I feel after I touch salt water and oil (all the damage, skin constantly sloughing off, etc also makes me sensitive to oil- and I run a  a goddamned tub carrying thousands of tons of it).

   These are the hands of White Privilege. Bloody, unable to be straightened, painful.

 Shit, I can't lay my hands flat on a table without pain. Their natural position is a nasty hook shape. I can't write longhand, and couldn't, easily, through college and grad school, so I can type faster than any two people you know.

 But I'm Privileged. I'm privileged to work 100ish hours a week, spend 10 months a year on a goddamned floating tub away from my family, where the stress makes my hair fall out and leaves me unable to sleep more than a few hours at a time. When I do go home, there's no generator screaming 20 feet away from my bed, so the silence leaves my ears screaming shrilly from the tinnitus of living intimately with 4 big fucking diesel engines within earshot 300+ days a year. My wife turns over in her sleep, and I shoot out of bed like a watermelon seed squeezed between two fingers, because the sound of someone in your room without knocking on the door means they were too panicked to remember their niceties and are about to grab my shoulder and breathe the stink of old coffee and fresh panic in my face while talking about whatever got fucked up.

 And that's the world I live in. I CHOSE it, I embrace it, I accept the imperfect parts as cost of doing business for the better parts. But I wouldn't call it privilege.

   To call me privileged is to deny my experiences, and to deny me agency as architect of my own life and life choices. It's infantilizing, bigoted and asinine.We get from yesterday to today mostly in the course of reacting to our circumstances, and little more than that. From what my WASP friends describe as growing up, it sounds awful, maybe worse that growing up in an Irish Catholic enclave, with not-quite-enough-money, but both parents present and involved. Whatever, I wouldn't want the childhoods I heard described, but I'm not envious of a certain feeling that life might have been easier for them early on.  Whatever it is, it ain't my business, and if certain people just can't get over the fact that someone, somewhere, might think differently than them, well, fuck them, because, you know, it's not the quiet folks who are busy working hard who make the noise. It's the leisure-riddled guilt-mongers, and that is what my lesbian former-acquaintance had become, and why I never went back to that group with whom I used to find so much satisfaction in working.

 So, if I'm privileged, it's because I fucking worked for it. I AM privileged, come to think of it. I get to see things that most folks never see- a bow wave blasting 100-feet into the air- sunrises and sunsets are part of my every day- that's my normal, where others have to stop everything and try to remember to take the time to look- I see them daily, usually both the same day, and more often than not, they're lovely. I see marine life up close, and I know exactly what I'm looking at because I was actually REALLY good at what I did, and since I grew up knowing that I wanted to work on the water, and all the shitty jobs and broken bones and hard-won life lessons made me appreciate what I have and what I can do with it, and, really, I don't mind working 100 hours a week. In fact, I hate when people who only work 40 hours a week complain about not having enough money or not having enough time. Fuck it, I've already put my 40 hours in by early mid-week. There's 60+ hours more to work with before you cut into sleeping time, so anyone with the time to bitch also has time to work.


Bob said...

Good post. Should add some close-up pics of your hands for good measure.

Anonymous said...

You've said that you go for long walks in Brooklyn when you get the chance. How many times have you been stopped and frisked?

Paul, Dammit! said...

Anonymous. Twice. Why?

Go ahead and put it back in the deck, now.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago we purchased a new alarm system for the home where we lived at the time. A fancy one---one where the police shows up within minutes. I tried to put the password in but it didn't work and the alarm went off. As I was calling my husband, a police officer arrived. He asked me if I lived there. I said nonchalantly "yes." He then asked it again--"Do you really live here??" Remaining calm, I told him yes again. I offered to show him id info if he needed it. Then my husband called with the password. Everything was solved. I went in and he left. I admit it felt weird being asked twice if I lived there, but I didn't loose my composure over it. I didn't start screaming at the officer either. BTW, I'm white.