Sunday, August 24, 2008

Personal Benefit

A comment was submitted that was worded in such a way that I don't know if it was sarcastic, ironic, sincere but badly put, trying to get a rise out of me or what. The overall message was how have I personally benefitted from Affirmative Action since I seem to disdain other middle class people using it. OK, here's the answer.

I have benefitted enormously from AFAC. I think I'd be hating life about now if the conditions for women today were the same as what they were when I was born. I remember growing up that there were only four professions open to women - mother, school teacher, nurse and fairy princess. I remember my mother unable to have a credit card in her own name. I remember her joy at returning to college and finishing her BA. I remember the algebra teacher who would not give any girl in his class an A because girls couldn't actually understand algebra, but neither would he give a girl an F because she couldn't really fail at something she didn't understand. Maybe that's why I always got a D - I never bothered to do work that could never earn what it was worth.

What I do now, working in a senior position in an IT shop, treated with respect and given much authority, placed in a management track, this would not have been available to me at the beginning of my life. Did anyone making a decision to hire me say "She's only #3 on the list, but she's got tits, so hire her"? I have no idea as I wasn't privy to the decision meetings. Maybe that's exactly how I got my foot in the IT door. What I do know is that it was the tireless efforts of women from Abigial Adams to Sojourner Truth to Susan B. Anthony to Eleanor Roosevelt to Shirley Chisolm to Hillary Rodham Cinton that have won me the luxury to not even think about why I was hired, to engage in significant financial transactions without my spouse or father as a co-signer, to have access to safe and affordable birth control, and so forth.

It's not complete. I am the primary taxpayer on our tax returns with hubby filling in the "Spouse" columns. One year, the state of Califonia sent us the income tax booklet to Mr. Gurthang, Anglachel and Mrs. Unit, Spousal. It's not like we have gender neutral names like Shawn and Taylor either. The taxpayer was the man and the spouse was the woman - didn't we know that? I showed it to my class on gender and the students got an initial laugh, then starting thinking...

What I am also the benficiary of is centuries of white supremacy that has only begun to be dismantled since I was born. If I had been dark-skinned, my psycho ex-boss would never have hired me and given me my entry into the IT world when I changed careers. My father would have been barred from his college education and probably would have stayed in the military to make a living. He would have been in a desegregated Marine Corps, while his father would have been in a segregated Navy, and would not have been a surgeon. The university he went to might have let in hay seed farm boys with a hankering for something besides dirt, but they didn't allow "coloreds" in. The wealth, the education, the acculturation that a white middle class third generation professional can take for granted is clearly a benefit to me. The spousal unit may have been the first college graduate in his family (his mother was the first high school graduate), but his family was considered "white", not even Hispanic, and so could rise in the post war boom.

I'm just pointing out some advantages in education and employment. I'm not getting into things like housing, treatment by police, elegibility for pensions and retirement funds, access to medical care, public transportation and other public amenities. These are things I can take for granted that other citizens cannot, not with the automatic certainty I enjoy.

So, yes, I have benefitted greatly from long standing bigotry and from recent equality. To use Hillary's phrase, I have been blessed in what I have encountered in my life, and I agree with her that it is incumbent upon me to use these blessings to demolish the first source of benefit and expand the second, both for what I will rightly lose and for what I may help myself and others gain.



Bob Harrison said...

Irregardless of past personal history, what you have accomplished is, in large measure, a reflection of your individual effort and work ethic. Where Affirmative Action suffers, and we all suffer, is when the incompetent are rewarded, promoted, and hearlded. It doesn't matter if the boost is Affirmative Action or the Peter Principle, if the end result is ineptitude in high places, then companies fail, institutions collapse, and war happens.

Shit really does happen when idiots are in charge.

Unknown said...

Personal experience.
When I was in junior high, girls were not allowed to play full court basketball; we had to stop at the center line.
When I was in my mid-twenties, a position opened at the local historical society for a photo printer. It was filled by mandate by a woman. A male friend had applied for it and was complaining to two of us women (both commercial printers) that she had been hired because she was a woman. We asked him how it felt.
I live in a small town. While I was married I normally prepared our taxes, but we had questions about our filing one year (perhaps about Earned Income Credit) and took it to the local preparer. He told us that having my name as the primary payer would incur a nearly automatic audit.

Anna said...

If Obama has his way we will not have a red party and a blue party -- we will have a red party and a purple party. This is not progress.