Wednesday, April 20, 2011
"Let me explain something to you about Jersey. There is North Jersey. And then... there is South Jersey. Dirty." ~ Bad Girls Club, Season 6, the Oxygen Channel.
Will someone kindly explain to me our proclivity to jockey for status, no matter how silly? I mean, North Jersey. South Jersey. Who'd want to come from any part of Jersey? Just kiddin,' Linda.
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Today on my facebook wall I found a discussion between two white guys who each called the other "racist."
Discussions like this are particularly common these days for two reasons. First is conservative animosity toward our black President Barack Obama. Such animosity sometimes leads to false accusations of racist bias against conservatives by liberals. On the other hand, this general conservative animosity also tends to provide cover for actual racists, simmering in the wings, awaiting a socially sanctioned opportunity to spew.
Second, because government traditionally provides essential services to the poorer members of our society, when we discuss deep budget cuts we are by extension necessarily debating the reduction of benefits and essential services that fall disproportionately to minorities. Minorities make up the largest share of our indigent population
So, back to my facebook wall.
About tossing around the word "racist" or any other perjorative label:
The moment you stop talking about behavior and start labeling each other perjoratively - that is the same moment listening stops, walls go up, the possibility for learning ends. You immediately end any chance that you will be heard by the other person. After that, why waste your breath? If you're still talking, you're talking to a stone. Since I assume if you're still talking, you still want to be heard, consider ditching the name-calling, no matter what you think.
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One of the men on my wall suggested that a caucasian who loudly makes race an issue is suffering from "white guilt." White guilt. I figure it's something like survivor's guilt, but you know me. I look it up.
UrbanDictionary.com says White Guilt is,
"...a belief, often subconscious, among white liberals that being white is, in and of itself, a great transgression against the rest of the world for which one must spend their life making atonement. It is often exemplified by embracing the cultures and philosophies of various other ethnic groups while neglecting one's own roots."
I have a friend who spent a lot of years wishing she were Latina, but I think it was because she was attracted to the sexy macho reputation of Latino men. Does that count? Are Latino men really....
More interestingly, French author Pascal Blanchard, an anti-marxist intellectual according to reviewer Eric Kaufman for The Prospect, says,
"[W]hite guilt is 'a condition imposed upon us by the high priests of the left' who are 'heirs to the Christian tradition of original sin'..."
It is so tempting to take up this question of whether the Left's thinking is the product of Christian - rather than secular - tradition, Christian traditions that leak into politics being so firmly a characteristic of the Right, rather than the Left, these days. The switcheroo tickles me. But since I don't even accept the premise, I shall restrain myself.
Instead, let me offer an alternative.
When I hear a caucasian speaking out against about racism, unlike Blanchard, I do not hear "white guilt." I hear a comment on privilege.
I wonder if people really understand how privilege - the perk of being part of the majority - works. Privilege is most often a quiet, subconscious distorter that shifts society's opportunities toward the privileged and away from those who lack it. Below our conscious radar, privilege works against equality without our even knowing it, making it that much harder for those without privilege to fulfill their potential.
Take gender privilege, for example, which still skews a majority of management promotions toward men, despite decades of feminism and women's rights work. A study done by the Cohen et. al. in 2004 to discover why only three Federation offices nation-wide had a woman at the helm is especially revealing. After reviewing promotional practices in 14 headquarter cities, and conducting 93 face-to-face interviews, researchers found,
"[T]he representation of women professionals in Federations increases as job prestige declines, from the chief executives in the largest cities (0% female) to the chief executives in the large-to-intermediate cities (16%), and from the sub-executives in the largest cities (28%) to the sub-executives in the large-tointermediate cities (47%)."
Researchers found that this state of affairs was in no way a reflection of fewer numbers of female employees, but rather as a result of gender schemas, or subconscious perceptions that men make better managers.
"[G[ender schemas [are] defined by Dr. Virginia Valian, of the Graduate Center of CUNY, in her research as “non-conscious hypotheses about sex differences.” Gender schemas “lead men and women alike to overvalue men and undervalue women.” In the corporate, professional and academic arenas, these unconscious assumptions result in "advantages men have that are small but numerous, molehills that accumulate over time to produce a mountain of advantage for men.”
How did they know that gender schemas were at play? In interviews, men said things like, "I just have a gut feeling that men are better fundraisers."
"I never ask for money on the first date. I go and hang out with people. It’s very interesting and intimate work. It’s a lot of seduction. The structure is inappropriate for women. They’re not well positioned to do the bullying. There’s a lot of machismo that makes the major gifts concept work. The major donors push each other in a way they wouldn’t between a male and a female."
"There’s a paternal way of thinking, wrapped around tradition and family values. It’s hard to break that family model because this represents the strength and legacy of Federation as well as a liability for women’s advancement."
"There are sexual overtones to that kind of thing. But just because a man might look at a woman as a sexual object doesn’t mean that he’s not taking her seriously professionally. I mean, does every woman have to be Golda Meir? My advice to women is to be presentable and play to your femininity. Men want to preen and they will respond favorably to the right package."
"There is no problem here with women getting ahead. We’re trying really hard to identify women. It’s difficult to find the right ones…They just can’t make it with senior lay people. But nothing is holding women back. Not with guys like me around."
These men think they are hip, unbiased, helpful in the cause of gender equality. They take their privilege for granted and do not understand how their attitudes perpetuate a hiring and promotion bias toward men.
This blind contribution to the perpetuation of male privilege undermines the arguments made by conservatives that anyone can pull themselves up by their strappy little sandals if they just work hard enough.
Of course, not all men are like this. My favorite male mentor - come to think of it, my only male mentor - Marvin Cohen, may he rest in peace, saw my potential and helped me find my wings.
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So what of racial privilege? It, too, skews opportunity. Just one example among many:
Study after study demonstrates the expectancy effect - that teachers come to teaching with the belief that minority kids will do more poorly than their caucasian peers, and so do not encourage minority children to reach for the moon. As far back as the 1960s, researchers have been trying to figure out why minority children disproportionately fail in school. By the mid-70s, ample evidence had been documented that primarily white teachers perceived minority students to have less academic interest and ability than their caucasian counterparts, and also that a relationship existed between teacher perception of student ability, the student's self-perception of his or her own ability, and the student's actual achievement. See, e.g. St. John, N., (1975), "School Desegregation: Outcomes for Children (New York: John Wiley) and more recently, Good, T. L., & Nichols, S. L. (2001). Expectancy Effects in the Classroom: A Special Focus on Improving the Reading Performance of Minority Students in First-Grade Classrooms. Educational Psychologist, 36(2), 113-126.
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Privilege means you never have to be insulted by jokes about how people of your faith control all the world's money (still waiting for my cut over here, btw).
Privilege, in fact, means a million little things we take for granted when we have it. Things we never think about. While at Welsley College in 1988, Peggy McIntosh wrote a powerful, if now somewhat dated, list of small but important ways caucasians enjoy privileged without even knowing. Click here to read the full article. The first part of the article describes both gender and racial privilege. The list itself begins on page 129, and has been excerpted and reprinted many times under the title, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack."
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Those of us who are fortunate enough to be among the privileged - the white, the wealthy, the male, the heterosexual, even the handsome and the beautiful among us - need to become aware of all the ways the luck of our birth benefits us. Helps us when we walk into a room or a store or a business meeting without our even being aware that we have one up on those in the room who don't share these characteristics.
There really is only one answer for privilege - the only way the perks of privilege will ever be extended to those who do not have it is if those of us who do offer to share it - infact, insist upon it.
Friday, April 15, 2011
"I have been on the phone now for over 70 minutes trying to get help. I paid for a 3-year, in-home warranty - the most expensive warranty offered me at sale. I am on my second Dell computer. The first one was finally replaced when Dell acknowledged they couldn't fix it. The second one was refurbished and apparently had one operating system installed over another, because half of its hard drive was unavailable. They made me send it in to the tech people, and it came back today. They had not replaced the hard drive as promised - they say they didn't have parts, and it has more problems than it left with, including no sound or wireless capacity. Now they are telling me that if I want to talk to anyone - tech or customer service IN AMERICA I have to buy ANOTHER warranty program. The one I have does not entitle me to talk to an American. I think I've wasted a full month of my life on the phone with Dell over the last three years."
It's been approximately three years since I bought my first Dell. I wanted a Fujitsu - I've had three of those little computers that just keep giving - but the unit with comparable features to the Dell wasn't scheduled to be to market for several months. The first Dell had one problem after another. It was loaded with Vista - although the sales people assured me it would be fully upgradable when the new Windows product finally came out - and I spent probably 40 hours worth of time, no exaggeration, with Dell techs trying to get that computer to work. Later, when I loaded it with Windows 7 under the careful tutelage of an online technician, the install failed. The failure was not only no surprise, but Windows 7 was actually designed to be "rolled back" to Vista in case of an install failure. Unfortunately, the roll back did not work on the Dell, and Dell had to wipe out my hard drive, and I had to cope with everything that implies, so that Windows 7 could be installed.
After that, the computer never really worked again. Couple that with the stuff that happens - it fell off the sofa once. I spilled liquid on it once. But that's what that expensive three year warranty is for, right?
One thing to like about Dell's warranty is that they send someone right to your house to fix the computer. However, one guy once broke my computer while fixing it, and they had to send out someone else to undo his work. Another time, the guy was extremely annoyed when I told him my schedule wouldn't permit an appointment for a couple of days. He gruffly told me to call when I was ready, but when I did, I discovered that he'd cancelled the work order with Dell. Meaning, I had to start from scratch on the phone again. No one was simply willing to look me up, push a button reinstating an old order. No, we had to go through the entire rigamarole again.
To make a long story short, the replacement (Dell 1645 STUDIOxps if you want to know) is a lemon too. The computer constantly announced that it would not proceed because the hard drive was full. Delete something! it ordered me, over and over.
My initial calls to Dell yielded a pie chart showing about half the hard drive as grey matter - something was using it, but they couldn't tell what. They blamed me. They said obviously I had too much stuff on my computer. If it didn't look like it, it must be because I had duplicates of everything. Seriously?
Now understand. I intentionally bought a huge hard drive. Even though I mostly surf the web and create documents. I do keep a few photos on the computer, but I zip them to save space, and move them onto disks when they get too plentiful. I don't have games or computer aided design programs that eat space. I don't keep music or movies on my machine.
I am whisked onto the set of Fringe. My computer is mysteriously connected through a vortex to an identical computer across the void, an identical computer that sucks half the life from my hard drive. Yes, that's it. Halfsies with a computer on the other side.
Eventually, making my way through several techs over many hours of time, someone suggests that possibly a new operating system had been installed over an old one. Who knows?
Regardless, they finally offered to replace the hard drive with another. Yes, that means I must yet again reinstall all my software. Not their problem, of course.
Today I received Dell number two back from the shop. I opened it and immediately noticed that the original hard drive remains. All my programs and documents are still installed. For a brief moment of hope, I believe Dell's technicians have made a back-up of my entire system somehow, and then reinstalled it. But no.
I launch Internet Explorer and head to Facebook. It opens to a video of the Marx Brothers singing "Lydia the Tatoo'd Lady." Half way through the video, the faces distort suddenly. Within moments, the sound coughs and disappears. Then, the wireless goes down. Now, I know it's not the router, because my little Toshiba is up and running next to the Dell. I run a troubleshooter, and it tells me that my wireless switch is off.
Did I accidentally knock it? And what does that have to do with the picture or the sound?
I try the switch. Nothing.
I shut down the computer and reboot it. I'm so not surprised when nothing happens.
I reboot it again, this time on safe mode/networking. Fine, it comes up. Still no sound or internet though. I restart it again, because not all troubleshooting works in safe mode. This story is getting very boring, isn't it? The computer comes back up, but a grey picture of a speaker is now on the screen, and an x is flashing off and on in the middle of it, making a little tick tick noise that it's still making, two and a half hours later, as I sit here and type. A noise which the Dell tech later claims not to hear even when I hold the phone right up to the source of the noise. Of course, why should he hear it? He's OCEANS away.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Here we go again. The only feeling worse than picking up the phone to call Dell is the feeling I used to get the first day of Legislative Session, when my stomach knotted up the minute I stepped on the capitol campus.
Fortunately, I get a pleasant enough woman, although she has a heavy accent difficult to follow. She begins asking me the routine questions. She pulls up the file, finds the order number, and begins to read outloud every word on the screen. It says exactly the same thing as the service slip inside the box. Tedious.
I ask to talk to a supervisor when the woman wants to start from scratch trying to diagnose my computer, rather than simply figuring out how to get the previously documented problem dealt with. The supervisor is a guy. Although he starts out pleasantly enough, it deteriorates when he "diagnoses" my computer's problem without any information to be something completely different than the first techs originally concluded after our hours and hours of testing and talking. He asks no questions. He does not try to look at my computer remotely. He wasn't the least bit interested in hearing what the techs had discovered during our long learning experience, and he prescribed something entirely different. I wonder if I am being dismissed because I am female. While it's not consistently my experience, it's happened more than once with a male foreign tech.
Unfortunately, the discussion is further complicated by the language barrier. I barely understand the supervisor through his heavy accent,and I need to ask him repeatedly to slow down or to repeat. On top of that, when I ask how I will be able to reinstall my Office 2010 upgrade, since the original 2007 is no longer on my equipment, he tries to convince me that Office will happily mistake a downloadable trial version of 2007 for a purchased version.
Microsoft is way too smart for that. If that worked, nobody would purchase a new version of any software. In the end the guy simply said it wasn't his problem. He just didn't care.
It was at that moment, when I realized how little he cared, that I asked to speak to an American.
He tells me that no American will speak to me. As I am not inclined to believe him, I asked to speak to his supervisor, He has the audacity to claim that he is his own supervisor. I insist he must have a boss, and he claims he IS his boss. I ask to be transferred to an American tech, and he tries to dissuade me. He tells me that I will have to pay for American help. Despite my warranty.
I ask why. Because, he tells me, American help is only for people who buy yet another warranty. I decide to take my chances, hoping that an American will at least understand my plight and find someone to help me. He grudgingly accommodates my request, but when I finally get transferred to America, they, too, are on the same page. They don't even want to help me. They talk down to me, like, I am not one of their paying customers. Seriously. The guy's name is David, the only identification he will give me is that he is on their YourTechTeam, he's clearly American, and he says, "You are not even entitled to speak with me." Fancy that.
I ask for his supervisor. He, too, tries to dissuade me, but I persist. Eventually I am transferred to Devin YourTechTeam Badge ID 199592, who is infinitely more patient, claims to have "full authority to resolve my problems," but who also claims there is nothing he can do for me except document my concerns and send me back into the hell hole I just emerged from. Devin confirms that there is nobody in America who will help me - unless, that is, I pay for the additional warranty service. I ask him what "full authority to resolve problems" means to him. I ask whether there is anyone with fuller authority. He says No. Over and over. And tries to sell me the other Warranty product.
I get a sense of what it must have felt like to be a boat refugee, turned away at the American shore. Except, I am an American. How ridiculous is this?
Ok, I say, don't help me with technical service. Just help me find someone to talk to in the United States - maybe someone who will sit on the phone with me while I deal with the people from the other out-of-country department. Devin says the only other office in the U.S. is their legal department, and when I say, "fine, transfer me," he says I can contact Dell's legal department only by fax or U.S. mail.
Ever thinking, I get the bright idea to be transferred to Sales, where I know they have English speakers. They are no fools. Save those English speakers for the sale.
Devin says, "I will transfer you to sales if that's what you're asking me to do, but they cannot resolve your problem." I know, I tell him, but I am counting on finding someone, somewhere, with more heart, or more authority, or more creativity than you. Someone who feels sorry for me as a fellow human being, and will somehow, some way, find a way to help.
This is America, where hope springs eternal.
So Devin transfers me back to Dave, with instructions to transfer me to Sales. He instead transfers me back to the pit of doom. That shmuck.
With as much patience as I can muster, I tell the man who answers the phone, the man whose connection is cutting in and out because it has to travel to a satellite somewhere over another hemisphere back down to him, then up again and back to me, that I have been erroneously been transferred to him when I wish to speak to sales. American sales.
I am put on hold and after 2 hours exactly of phone time, the line disconnects.
It seems I have three choices. I can hold my breath and dive back into the pit. I can choose vendetta. I can get on with my life without getting the Dell fixed. I'm thinking that third option might be easier and in some ways - like for my blood pressure - cheaper.
Of course Dell won't help me. Strictly as a business decision, why should they? By now my file is dotted with comments. I'm a lost cause. They've no doubt paid out more sending people to my home and covering the cost of tech time than they earned from the original sale. I'm just one unhappy customer they'd rather forget all together.
DellHellAgain.com. Or read this poor guy's story, "Friends Don't Let Friends Buy Dell Computers." It sounds a lot like mine.
There's even a facebook page called Dell Sucks! I joined.
Perhaps I will oblige them and go away quietly. Perhaps I will dive back in. For now, I am documenting this awful experience and putting it out there on the internet to make myself feel better, if nothing else. Hours and hours of trying to talk my way through Dell's official channels haven't netted me a working computer. I am trying the in-your-face angle. I hope everyone who reads this will SHARE it, on facebook, on twitter, by email. Use the little share tool to the right of this post. This blog post isn't funny or clever enough to go viral, but if enough people share it, somewhere - hopefully in America - perhaps some Dell exec will take pity on me and make this right.
Maybe. Probably not. But maybe. It is, after all, America. Anything can happen.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
And they apparently believe they've been singled out like Jonah to bear witness. Unlike Jonah, however, they don't shy from their task, and they do it with all the panache and guerilla marketing technique they can muster.
Westboro's exploitation of other people's pain strikes me as particularly indecent and malicious - anything but God-like - but it is one of our beautiful American values that one may proclaim one's views, no matter how abhorent. Freedom of speech, guaranteed. No questions asked.
My class talked about whether it is the better part of ethics to make this deal to protect the well-being of Christina's family, which has already been deeply hurt, or whether it is worse to reward this group's compassionless antics by giving them an on-air bully pulpit. My class understandably was split down the middle. This is one of those "lesser of two evils" type choices with no right answers.
By contrast, WBC's Twitter protest did not mark a solemn occasion. In fact, it's hard to be solemn when pronouncing the word "Twitter." It's a darn funny word. Twitter, and all the terms it's spawned into our lexicon - tweet, retweet, friendapoluza, twitterer, twitterzine, tweeple and more, just seems to motivate fun and creativity. Maybe because of the inherent levity, the tweeps' counter-protest solutions were better than the solution proposed by the City of Tucson.
Indeed, the twitter generated signage brilliantly drew media attention away from the Church's tiresome blather and shifted it to their own parallel display of jabberwoky.
The counter-signs were vaguely about nothing at all.
"I was promised donuts," said one. "ME," said another.
And by being about nothing at all, managed to impart to onlookers how meaningless and empty-headed a slogan can be. Signs, the display said, are just words. They do not impart authority or moral truth.
Say what you will, the brattish signs taunted, none of it means a goll darn thing.
Sometimes, the best defense is a good laugh.
WBC Tries to Protest at Twitter from Ed Hunsinger on Vimeo.
Posted by Sandy Price at 11:02 PM
In honor of the upcoming holiday of Passover, a holiday of freedom, I want to share a TED talk about freedom of choice, by Barry Schwartz.
Schartz points out that technology and culture have maximized our choices for us. For example, there used to be one telephone service (Ma Bell), one kind of telephone (corded dial-up), with only one application (duh - phone calls). Now, you have endless phone choices, app choices for those phones, and phone companies to activate those phones.
Schartz asks, "Is the result of so many choice happiness?"
No, he contends. It's paralysis. If everything is possible, can we ever be satisfied with the "narrowing" that occurs once we make a choice?
Aside: I've tried to make it up to Roselyn by gracing my blog with her smiling face. Say, Roz, when I googled for a photo of you, you'll never guess whose pic popped up on google images amid pics of you: Rusty Bowers. Go figure.
Every year as Passover arrives, I metaphorically ask myself about my own private Egypt.
What holds me back? From what do I need freeing?
This year, I'm going to be looking at the way technology ties my hands. Like a food addiction, it's nothing I want to stop "cold turkey" like tobacco.
I will look at the way my choices about technology impact my life. What are the consequences, both good and bad, of prioritizing connections I make through facebook and my blogs over other activities? What are the impacts on my outputs, so to speak? How does this use of technology serve the principles I live by, and how does it thwart them?
If you are reading this blog, these are questions you might want to ask yourself!
I hope you enjoy this short TED Talk. Let me know what comes of it for you.
Posted by Sandy Price at 2:04 PM