I couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong.
It wasn't outright discrimination -- just little things that started to pile up.
Yesterday, I got almost 18 taxis that I didn't want. As I was walking down the street minding my own business, a police officer approached me and asked if the teacup poodle wandering around the Whole Foods belonged to me and if would I like to go out later? It was, but what an assumption! Going to the mall made me feel sad and nervous; there are too many Barbies that look like me, and I feel like my experience is vastly over-represented in the movies, to the point that I can hardly go out without people telling me I remind them of "a more fun Jennifer Aniston."
Gradually it dawned on me: I was being oppressed.
What other explanation was there?
I began researching this phenomenon. Sure enough, there were signs of it everywhere, if you knew where to look. A recent Public Religion Research Institute poll found that 44 percent of Americans thought discrimination against white people was just as bad as bigotry aimed at other minorities. Yup, just as bad. I feel that a lot, as people harass me at the airport for looking like a terrorist or police ask me if this is my house, even though I'm a tenured Harvard professor.
But as I learned more, I realized that I was one of the lucky ones. At least I was a woman.
I give thanks every day that I was not born a white man.
I don't know how I would survive.
The things they have to put up with! -- farmer's tans, not being given scholarships, not having to give birth, having to go to rehab instead of jail, worrying that their favorite crew teams might be defeated at the Stotesbury Regatta.
Yes, they've been hit hard by the recession, especially blue-collar workers. But that's hardly a cross they've had to bear alone. And now they're calling themselves the "dispossessed majority" and kicking up a stink.
"We used to run things," they shout. "We didn't do that bad of a job, except for slavery and the whole women's thing, and also what happened with the Native Americans. But other than that, we've done a lot of great stuff. Art, literature, science! Come on, we invented the steam engine! We invented pretty much everything other than peanut butter and a few other things that are listed on an informative poster at the library during the month of February."
"Assuming we concede that," we say, "what's changed? Why are you red in the face and trying to throw rallies everywhere I look?"
"Don't you see?" they yell. "We're dispossessed! We used to run everything! Now we run ... less than that. We used to be 100 percent of Congress! Now we're only about two-thirds of Congress! That's practically nothing! There are 15 female Fortune 500 CEOs! There used to be zero! Elite colleges are co-ed. Tiger Woods plays golf at a very, very high level! Women as a group make 75 percent of the income that men do! That's a lot more than zero percent! Sometimes, people make movies that are not about white people, and those people win Oscars!"
"Oh, give me a break," we say.
"That's why white males need scholarships!" they continue. "And colleges need Whiteness programs to study what's happened to us! Because people are paying less attention to us! Comparatively speaking!"
"Oh, for Pete's sake," we say.
Sure, given current demographic trends, white males won't be the majority for long -- in Texas, as Colby Bohannon, president of the Former Majority Association for Equality, points out, they no longer are.
But we are far from living in a world where white men need additional advantages.
If only we did.
Or better yet, if only people could just be evaluated on their merits! We can't pretend that backgrounds do not influence lives, or that different groups have not had different experiences, some more painful than others. But these experiences all combine to form our shared history, just as the sum total of art and literature belongs to everyone, not just the people who share the hue and gender of those who created the works. That's why Whiteness programs at colleges make little sense. And why the answer to increasing diversity -- some Census data indicate that whites will become a minority by 2050 -- is for everyone to focus on what binds us, rather than to push each group into its own rarefied pocket. Then we as a society can be happy for everyone's success, rather than dashing off to create restricted scholarships.
In the meantime, I have to do something with all these taxis.