The White Guy Bubble
I am a straight, white, cisgender* male. I was raised in communities that were largely — but not exclusively — white suburbs by parents who loved me. The public high school I attended was rated by the Department of Education as one of the top five in America. It offered electives like Archaeology and Classical Literature while also offering AP classes in virtually every subject. There was never any question about whether I was going to go to college, merely a question of where.
I say this to point out that I know what it’s like to have privilege.
In high school, ever year we’d have a day where all the teachers scrapped their regular lesson plans and had what I’ll call a Diversity Day because I can’t for the life of me remember what it was actually called. I remember one year, there was a panel discussion by the METCO kids. These were kids who were bused into the suburbs from the inner city because that’s how Massachusetts decided to deal with the school segregation problem. To get back on point, they described their daily routine which, of course, involved a commute from Boston out to my high school. If I remember correctly, it took about a 45 bus ride, plus whatever time they spent getting to and from the bus stop which, I assure you, was not up the street a block or so like mine. They could easily have two hours of commute a day.
What I took away from that was that if I had to get up that early, I would never be at school on time, ever. When I turned 18 and was able to write my own notes for being late, I proved myself right.
I was an angry little shit when I was in high school. I hadn’t yet grokked the notion that all the people around me were people with their own joys, sorrows, talents, and foibles. I knew it mind you, I just didn’t understand it.
We all have a tendency to like people like us. That’s where unintentional inherent biases come from, but there’s a similar thing that comes into play when we talk about bubbles. We assume that people are like we are, that they have the same kinds of troubles, the same kinds of successes, and the same kinds of foibles. That’s true, of course, but other people — other classes of people — also have troubles that we don’t.
It was easy for me to joke about the METCO kids’ commute because my commute consisted of a five minute walk and a ten minute bus ride.
It was easy of me to assume that women had a slightly worse time in the online world than I did. I got my share of hate and assumed women faced the same, plus a little extra because of sexism. Then I saw what some women get in their in boxes every day and I was appalled.
I was easy of me to assume that disabled people were able to do anything able-bodied people were. Hadn’t the first President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990? Then I went to Philadelphia with the woman who became my wife and her wheelchair-bound mother. There I learned that cobblestones and wheelchairs really don’t mix and that sometimes a reasonable accommodation means having disabled folks come in the back door and eat alone in the basement. Yeah, I learned a little something about “separate but equal” that day.
It’s easy for me to assume that getting an ID to vote is easy because I have my birth certificate, social security card, and could drive to the DMV that’s only a half-hour away and open every weekday of every week. Oh, and it’s easy for me to assume that a little mismatch in documentation isn’t a problem because when the woman at the DMV said that the name on my birth certificate didn’t match the one on my Social Security card, I gave her my “You’ve Got To Be Fucking Kidding” face and she decided it didn’t matter.
It’s easy for me — and people like me — to assume that other people have the same ability to do stuff that we do but we need to stop because it’s stupid and wrong.
*I’m writing this in the Medium text editor and “cisgender” gets the red squiggly indicating a misspelled word. I right-click to check the suggested replacement, and it’s “transgender.” I had to laugh because, of course, we don’t need a word for “not trans” because “not trans” people are just called “normal.” Except that there isn’t anything abnormal about trans people. And don’t for a minute think that there isn’t a whole host of privilege behind my laughter. There is. I can laugh because I don’t have complete strangers call me a freak for no reason. I can laugh because I don’t have to fight for medical treatments that will make me look like something I’m so very not. I can laugh because even if I were trans, my mother would never even have considered suing me for transitioning without her permission. If you’re trans and this anecdote hurt, I’m sorry. I was laughing at the absurdity of the situation, not you and I relate the anecdote to point out how my privilege can manifest even in things as utterly inconsequential as text editors.