‘When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression’
‘When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression’
I’ve never been punched in the face. Not in an actual fight, at least. I’m not much of a fighter, I suppose… more of an “arguer.” I don’t think I’m “scared” to get into a fight, necessarily — there have been many times I have put myself in situations where a physical fight could easily have happened.
I just can’t see myself ever being the guy who throws the first punch, and I’m usually the kind of guy who DE-escalates things with logic or humor. And one of the things about being that sort of person, is that the other sort of guy — the sort who jumps into fights quickly — tends to not really be a big fan of me. Not when he first meets me, at least. They usually like me later. Not always. You can’t win ’em all…
When I moved to Nashville, I didn’t really know anyone. I got a job as a server on my second day here. And before long, I was one of the servers the management favored, which meant I got better shifts, better sections and better money.
About nine months after I had been there, a new guy started. We instantly disliked each other. He didn’t like my smart mouth, and I didn’t like how he walked in and immediately acted like he owned the place. He carried himself with this annoying confidence — like it was his world, and he would tolerate our being in it, as long as we stayed out of his damn way.
There were also rumors that this guy had spent some time in jail, and it was very clear that he was not a “DE-escalater.” He was the sort of guy who knew exactly how much he could bench, you know? And you could sense that — just below the surface — there was always this restless energy that silently dared you to say something. He was an intimidating dude.
So it bothered me a little bit when — only a month after he started working there – he was already getting rotated into some of the good sections. Another mouth to feed meant less money for me. He was a good server though.
But nothing he did got under my skin nearly as bad as this: When Chuck (we’ll call him “Chuck.” His name wasn’t Chuck, but it was definitely a name in the “Chuck” category of names. It certainly wasn’t a pushover name like “Chris”) would walk toward you, he always expected you to be the one to move out of the way. He didn’t do this when walking toward girls.
But if he and another guy (me, especially) were heading toward each other, he would head straight for the other guy — not making eye contact — and he always assumed he had the right of way. If not, you would get bumped by this stocky, solid mass of aggression who seemed to be just itching for someone to question his intended path. And really, this seemed to best describe how Chuck lived his whole life — walking straight at people, and expecting them to move. Until one day…
I had had enough.
I kept thinking, “Why am I always moving out of this guy’s way?” Just about everyone else in the world seemed to agree that if two people were walking toward each other, both people would acquiesce a little, leaning the side closest to the other person back just so.
What gave this guy the right to just expect that I’m going to move out of his way? And then another thought started tugging at my brain: “What if I didn’t move? What if I just kept walking too?”
I was done playing by his rules. And that evening, as he walked quickly toward me in the aisle of the restaurant (we both were fairly fast walkers), I walked toward him — and I didn’t move. I’m not a giant of a man, but I’m solid enough to hold my own — especially when I see a collision coming — and the impact spun him around.
Right there, in front of guests, he immediately said, “What the F*CK, dude!?”
I said, “You alright?”
He was furious, and insisting to know why I had just bumped into him.
I said, “Chuck, I was just walking. Why did you assume that I was going to move out of your way?”
He followed me around the restaurant, angrily attempting to escalate things. He ended up stopping me by another table, and when I said something along the lines of “Welcome to planet Earth,” he shoved me. Hard. And not like a shove where you put your hands on someone and then shove.
It was the sort of shove where his hands were already moving really fast when they hit my chest, and it made a pretty loud noise. All of his bench-pressing muscles let lose on me — this person who dared question his right of way — and I was knocked about two steps back.
I walked away from him, and I could feel my heart beating in my ears. I thought about what I should do, if I should say something to a manager (that didn’t seem like a good idea), if I should say anything more to Chuck (that seemed like an evenworse idea).
I decided to just try to avoid him for a bit and let him cool off. About 15 minutes later, the GM asked to talk to me. He said that a guest had seen Chuck angrily shove me, and had complained and described what happened (describing it as him “hitting” me, but it was definitely a shove).
I told him what happened — about him always assuming I was going to move, about me simply walking and not moving, and about the arguing and the shove that followed. It was a corporate restaurant, so he took everything very seriously. He filled out an incident report, asked me if I wanted to press charges, and told me if I wanted him gone, he was fired. I said that I didn’t want the guy to lose his job. I just wanted him to recognize that other people had every right to be there that he did.
And so, I recently thought about this story again after I had just read this amazing quote (a quote for which I tried very hard to find an attribution, but kept coming up “Unknown):
“When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
And things started making a little more sense to me. All this anger we see from people screaming “All Lives Matter” in response to black protesters at rallies. All this anger we see from people insisting that their “religious freedom” is being infringed because a gay couple wants to get married. All these people angry about immigrants, angry about Muslims, angry about “Happy Holidays,” angry about not being able to say bigoted things without being called a bigot…
They all basically boil down to people who have grown accustomed to walking straight at other folks, and expecting them to move. So when “those people” in their path don’t move — when those people start wondering, “Why am I always moving out of this guy’s way?”; when those people start asking themselves, “What if I didn’t move? What if I just kept walking too?”; when those people start believing that they have every bit as much right to that aisle as anyone else — it can seem like their rights are being taken away.
Equality can feel like oppression. But it’s not. What you’re feeling is just the discomfort of losing a little bit of your privilege — the same discomfort that an only child feels when she goes to preschool and discovers that there are other kids who want to play with the same toys as she does.
It’s like an old man being used to having a community pool all to himself, having that pool actually opened up to everyone in the community, and then that old man yelling, “But what about MY right to swim in a pool all by myself?!”
And what we’re seeing politically right now is a bit of anger from both sides. On one side, we see people who are angry about “those people” being let into “our” pool. They’re angry about sharing their toys with the other kids in the classroom.
They’re angry about being labeled a “racist,” just because they say racist things and have racist beliefs. They’re angry about having to consider others who might be walking toward them, strangely exerting their right to exist.
On the other side, we see people who believe that pool is for everyone. We see people who realize that when our kids throw a fit in preschool, we teach them about how sharing is the right thing to do. We see people who understand being careful with their language as a way of being respectful to others. We see people who are attempting to stand in solidarity with the ones who are claiming their right to exist — the ones who are rightfully angry about having to always move out of the way, people who are asking themselves the question, “What if I just keep walking?”
Which kind of person are you?
I should mention that “Chuck” and I eventually became friends, proving that people who see the world very differently can get along when they are open to change, and when they are willing to try to see the world though another person’s eyes. There is hope.