Chopsticks, Screwdrivers

and White Male Privilege

Ever noticed the squiggly Japanese word on disposable chopsticks? I ignored it until I started learning Japanese. It’s ‘otemoto’ and the meaning surprised me. It doesn’t mean ‘chopsticks’. It means “that which is within your reach”, or more simply “handy” or “convenient”.

Now let’s leap wildly sideways:

There is a lot of talk these days about ‘privilege’, and rightly so! It is noted that a number of humans in this world enjoy automatic privileges. Being white is one such advantage. So is being male. Ditto heterosexual. And of course so is being obscenely wealthy. If life’s lottery wins you the entire package, then it’s highly likely you’ll steam through life, automatically and unthinkingly expecting 1st class service, education, high pay, police protection, health insurance, and finally a ministerial role in the Australian government.

And here’s the curious thing: It’s automatic. If you’ve always enjoyed these privileges, how can you even perceive that they are there? You’re like a fish. You’ll never grasp the concept of ‘water’.

So it has to be painfully pointed out: You are enjoying privileges. But no-one likes being thus confronted. I was confronted not so long about about the extraordinary privileges I enjoy purely because I am white. “I was all like — “no way, man!” So I made myself read the article in the link — stories of those who were not white; whose colour means they get treated as 2nd class citizens not matter how high their education, their IQ, their profession … every hour of every day of their life.

Wham. That stopped me for a while.

I have friends who are gay. Same story. And much has been recently said, written, and shouted about the gender gap. Women get paid less, promoted less, and treated like children once they reach public office. And worse.

So there’s this minority enjoying a very smooth ride, and, as politicians demonstrate all around the world, they just don’t get it! They are fish.

So allow me to demonstrate the concept of automatic privilege in a safe, non-confrontational way. Look at you computer. How is the keyboard laid out? Where are the controls on your TV set? Look at your printer, stove-top, mixer, sandwich press, the thermometer you stick into your roast or into your fevered child’s mouth (different thermometers, I hope!). They’re made for righties. Pick up and use a micrometer. Now try it left-handed. (Yeah. Try.) Look at the lay-out in your car. Every single thing that has ever been made for humans (with rare exceptions) is biased. Unless it is a completely symmetrical it is made for a right-hander. Even screwdrivers are for righties.

Statistically you’re a rightie. I don’t hate you personally, but you are enjoying a free ride. You have automatic rightie privilege, and I don’t. I’m the black guy, or the gay guy, or the female guy, or the guy with the bad of English. I’m the one who has to go through his ENTIRE LIFE at a disadvantage.

Ask, if you never have, ‘What IS it like not having the automatic privileges that others enjoy?’

It’s like this: The entire world is the mirror image of how I would prefer it. Every day, in dozens of ways, I have to fumble awkwardly with everything … (excuse me a moment) “What?” … “What about the screw-drive?” … “No, I wasn’t joking. I’m coming to that.” …

Sorry, where was I? That’s right: fumbling. There’s been a lot of research done on ‘south-paws’; the ‘cack-handed’ poor cousins of humanity. The evidence shows they don’t live as long; they earn less; they are more accident-prone. But does anyone bother to stop and wonder why? Power-tools are made for right-handers. Look at a grinder, or a power saw, a chainsaw… So are guns and machinery and ATMs and supermarkets (not that supermarkets kill a lot of people), and just about every freaking damn thing! The entire human-built world is a gigantic obstacle course, rigged (not intentionally, but the statistics tell it different) to kill left-handers!

Why don’t they earn as much? Rightie privilege. Why do they die younger? Rightie privilege. Think about it — how much more stressful would it be to live in a world that NEVER FITS? Stress and danger at every turn. Fumble enough times and sooner or later another leftie will run into a fatal situation that a rightie will ride through unscathed and probably utterly unaware of being smoothly saved by his/her privilege.

So here’s your way to get into the idea: Start noticing all of the things you’re automatically advantaged by without having to move a muscle (quite literally in many instances). All those little ‘otemoto’ things laid out for you in your house and your car and your workplace that you’d never noticed before? That is exactly how “rich-white-hetero-prettyboy privilege” also works. It’s entrenched and insidious and invisible to everyone that it benefits — and it is utterly glaringly bloody obvious to those that it doesn’t.

And how do you suppose they feel about it; the Dispossessed? Really fucked off, actually (to be blunt). Most days, they will be angry about some tiny, or massive, barrier to a life wherein their dreams might have been more easily fulfilled, let alone their needs. Most days. Every day.

And the screwdriver? I’M SERIOUS! Bear with me: What are screwdrivers used for? Screwing in screws. And screws have a thread, and a helical thread is not symmetrical. They’re either ‘left-handed’, or ‘right-handed’.

Every standard nut, bolt and screw in the world has ‘right-hand-thread’ because the human forearm and wrist can apply more twisting force going one way, and less the other (It’s science, okay? It’s been tested), and so once again the righties gave themselves the easy ride. The only time a leftie is at her/his best is at unscrewing screws!

I learned this from a book, and from that day on I switch hands whenever I screw. In other words: I *learnt* to be ambidextrous.

And here we reach the twist in the tale, the quirky denouement: Lefties end up being more adaptive. More inventive. More skilled. More perceptive. They’re better designers. Better artists. Better thinkers. Because they have to constantly re-engineer their surroundings until things finally become ‘otemoto’. They have to ‘work smart’. It’s forced onto them.

And it’s nothing to do with that ‘Left-brain/Right-Brain” stuff (which is bollocks, BTW.) it’s because we just want to stay alive. You never know when your supermarket is going to claim its next victim.