Why I Don’t Play Golf
Hello, I’m privileged, and so are you.
I work in the auto industry, and playing golf is an essential part of the industry vocabulary, kind of like “grille,” or “direct-injection,” or “recall.” When I first started in the business, I noticed commonalities in almost everyone around me, and by everyone I mean middle-aged males with glasses, a blue shirt, and a name badge worn on a lanyard around their necks.
And they all played golf.
I have nothing against golf; I find it amusing as a competitive, athletic endeavor. From what I can observe, golf seems to be the game of choice for Finance, Auto, and many other male-dominated industries. There commonly is a lot of cigar smoking and general hanging out, back-pats and afternoon scotches. I think golf probably single-handedly funds the sales of Polo shirts in America, which, incidentally, features a logo of someone playing a different sport.
Regardless, a lot of my friends do play, and I've often been invited but have never found it interesting. And until the WSJ recently published this article, I never really understood why. But I do now.
Golf to me has all the dressings of a game of privilege. You have to have huge stretches of green to play. The clubs are expensive. You also have to have time — usually half a day at least. Many of the courses belong to private country clubs, which, when I was little I thought they were a kind of sandwich.
That’s not to say that other sports aren't expensive. Any sport when played truly competitively will start commanding better equipment, more exclusive access, and trainers. But unlike running, where one needs a decent pair shoes to get going, or basketball or tennis, where public parks and schools often offer a court, or even swimming, where a lake or the local YMCA can offer availability, golf simply has a higher barrier to entry. It’s not meant to be a truly public sport. Sure, there are public golf courses, but they usually charge a fee many times higher than other public sport arenas. And why not? Golf requires large expanses of green, manicured space, and any such requirement commands a premium.
I’m not going to put golf in the same category as say, dressage, but golf is an exclusive game. It excludes entire communities and has an in-built assumption: that you have access to play. To me, golf is a sport of privilege.
You might be asking at this point, so does that mean that if I play golf, that I’m somehow privileged?
Yes. Yes it does, at least it means there is a high probability that you are. There is nothing wrong inherently with the idea of privilege, but it makes people uncomfortable. People don’t like to think themselves as privileged. I know many of my friends don’t. And that’s kind of the problem — that the very individuals who are privileged often don’t know it, and when they do they tend to deny it. I've noticed that people like to define “privilege” as an other, as in, “oh I’m not privileged, I only make $250,000 a year, the guy that makes $400,000 — now he’s privileged.”
Most people tend to define privilege as the top 1%, or as people who inherit their wealth. We imagine lavish ski trips to Aspen, private jets and islands, and dinners with politicians or movie stars. We think of a long chain of private school education, Ivy League careers, and people in thousand-dollar suits practically carried into mahogany office rooms to be seated in lambskin leather thrones. This little mental exercise we do allows us to narrow the definition of privilege until we are just outside of it, looking in. When we are not inside, we believe whole-heartedly that we are entitled to everything we have, because we worked really hard for those things. And we tend to react negatively when anyone challenges that notion.
So let me define privilege here:
Privilege is being born into a country where access to healthcare for infants is prevalent and for most, like your parents, affordable.
It is having parents who cared about your education and could pay for your school supplies, and maybe even your after school dance lessons.
It is having access to fresh fruits, vegetables and quality food that help you maintain a healthy physique, so that you are at lower risk for obesity and diabetes.
It is living in a home where you feel safe, where violence, physical and substance abuse, and mental illness tend to have statistically lower correlations with your environment. (We tend to mourn openly when celebrities die of suicide or overdose, because it is jarring to us — somehow it doesn't “fit” with their lives, while poverty-stricken populations suffer much higher rates of death from crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and psychological trauma, and continue to remain unseen).
It is living in a neighborhood where social and government services such as police, fire departments, and emergency services operate regularly.
It is having access to education and higher education, and, more importantly, being socialized early on with the power structures, systems, and institutions that provide resources.
It is having both the leisure and the ability to do something with it, like traveling to places like Amsterdam to expand your circles, as the article You Are Boring suggests. (Yes, I’m kind of averse to that recommendation in the article, it somehow misses its own privileged viewpoint — a lot of people cannot afford to travel to expand their circles, that doesn’t make them less interesting as people.)
It is not having to worry about meeting basic needs, such as food, water, a roof over your head, where your next paycheck comes from, or whether you would be plunged into a cycle of debt if you happen to get injured or ill.
You can be privileged and still work hard.
You can be privileged and still have financial constraints.
You can be privileged and still be racked with heartaches and tragedies in life.
That’s the thing about privilege, it’s more common that we’d all like to think, and that’s why it can hide so well among our own awareness.
Being privileged itself is not the problem — it’s simply a life circumstance like being tall or having red hair. It’s not recognizing your own privilege that can be hurtful, because it creates blinders — blinders against vulnerable populations who truly can use your help. If you don’t recognize your own privilege, you won’t realize the good it can do.
So you can take your privilege and make sure that you guard it behind a gated community and surround yourself with others who are equally or more privileged, and congratulate each other on how hard you work and how you deserve what you've earned. Or, you can accept it and realize that it is a part of you, that it’s something that can be shared and can help make many other lives better, through donations or volunteering, through teaching your children about their privilege, and making an effort to maintain a general awareness of those around you, in your immediate community and in other countries, so you can pass on the awareness that where you are in life is a gift, built upon many circumstances that have occurred long before your arrival into this world, and not by your hand.
Hello, I’m privileged, and so are you.