Although I’ve scored a few small successes and had some good times, for the most part my earthly journey thus far has been paved with failure and frustration, on the career front in particular. Barring some unforeseen peripeteia, my life’s arch slowly but relentlessly bends toward destitution and a rather gloomy denouement.
Since the fat lady hasn’t warbled quite yet, I shall tentatively stop short of referring to myself as a “loser,” but should others choose to bestow such characterization upon me and back it up by pointing to my present circumstances, I wouldn’t really know how to rebut this charge and present a convincing case that my situation constitutes no more than a “temporary” setback that I’ll somehow bootstrap my way out of.
Through the sheer dumb luck of my having been born into a loving middle-class family in an affluent country, to date I have never gone hungry, never slept under a bridge, nor have I ever entertained fantasies of turning to criminal activity in order to make ends meet.
Without my lucky support system, however, God knows where I’d be. Perhaps being forced into complete self-reliance in the absence of a safety net would have jolted my ingenuity into figuring out how to make it in this world. Or maybe I’d be dead, homeless, or incarcerated by now. Hard to say.
Aside from those who comprise my immediate support system as well as a limited and revolving albeit ever-present number of individuals who appear to genuinely think very highly of me—either of me as a whole, or who value isolated aspects of my persona—on balance I would rate my reception on Planet Earth as ranging from indifferent to frosty.
My personal history has been one of feeling ignored, rejected, insulted, shafted, and passed over. Granted, I may have a knack for showing up and offering my services at all the wrong places and at all the wrong times and in a manner not exactly conducive to receiving the warmest of welcomes, but that doesn’t alter my general sense of “nobody wants me here.” (Whether this subjective sense is accurate, exaggerated, or altogether mistaken is entirely beside the point; and I’m certainly not fishing for commentary designed to boost my self-esteem. I’ve already acknowledged that there are always people who like me and who want me here, for one reason or another, and who, if they saw this post, would be tempted to post affirmations of affection in the comment section below. It’s just a matter of how representative of the whole these people are.)
For instance, I’ve always been puzzled at how difficult it was for me to find new waitering jobs in New York City, in spite of years of experience in the field. And I’m talking before the big recession of 2008. The number of application forms I had to fill out and resumes I had to drop off in order to finally end up with a new gig seemed a bit excessive.
What is it about me that appears to instantly disinclines others from wanting to associate with me?
Doesn’t matter, because here’s my point:
If I were black—or a member of any minority with a history of being discriminated against—of course I’d attribute my overall lack of success in this world, at least in part, to the color of my skin or to whatever other feature that might distinguish me from those folks I regarded as belonging the ruling class. I’d simply “know” that my “other-ness” had something to do with my persistent sense of receiving less than the warmest of welcomes most places I went. I could “feel” that the deck was stacked against my “kind.”
Being the white European-looking male that I am, alas, resorting to the “blame society” line of explanations for why I’ve turned into such a capital washout is not an option for me.
This is not to say that “covert” or “institutionalized” racism and sexism (or whatever -isms that denote wholesale discrimination against particular segments of society) don’t exist. They certainly do, although their extent is debatable.
For now, my question is this:
How does a member of a traditionally discriminated-against minority whose life isn’t going so well, and who keeps lumbering from one fiasco and rejection to the next, know whether or to what extent their failures are the result of discrimination, or whether and to what extent they’d be striking out just the same even if they were as white and male as I am?
Because I imagine if, all other things being equal, I were black, I may well have turned into a frustrated and race-baiting anti-white-establishment activist, erroneously pointing fingers in the wrong direction. How could I possibly exclude my minority status from the list of potential explanations for my failure in life? And from not being able to exclude it, how tempting would it be to adopt it and focus on it to the exclusion of all other possible reasons for what’s holding me back?