The Politics of Access

Jose Vilson Jose

So High Only Dogs Can Hear Me

All the popular blogs are doing it.From: What Privileges Do You Have? – based on an exercise about class and privilege developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. (If you participate in this blog game, they ask that you PLEASE acknowledge their copyright.)

1. Father went to college.
2. Father finished college.
3. Mother went to college. (for 1 class)
4. Mother finished college.
5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.
7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.
8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home.
9. Were read children’s books by a parent.
10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18 assuming that sport counts.
11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18 assuming that sport counts.
12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively.
13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18.
14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs.
15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
16. Went to a private high school
17. Went to summer camp (requirement for the middle school I went to)
18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18
9. Family vacations involved staying at hotels. Much less than 50% of the time.
20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18.
22. There was original art in your house when you were a child.
23. You and your family lived in a single-family house.
24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home.
25. You had your own room as a child. I got the guest room in my teens when we didn’t have guests.
26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18.
27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course. (all free)
28. Had your own TV in your room in high school.
29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college.
30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16. (Dominican Republic, Miami)
31. Went on a cruise with your family.
32. Went on more than one cruise with your family.
33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up.
34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.

I actually did a Google search to get the original exercise, and I laughed really hard, because post after post had most of these lines emboldened or underlined, and I’m here with about 6 lines in bold. And as I graduated junior high school, a predominantly Latino school, I never knew I’d be inundated with products of such privilege. Maybe it’s the idealist in me, but I thought that having this kind of privilege would make it easier for some of my classmates to become more benevolent, especially since they had less worries economically and got a head start on much of the material we studied in our four years.

Unfortunately, that not only proved false, but it’s one of the many factors that played into my antagonism towards some of my classmates. They were so comfortable with their privileges, they more readily demeaned others who couldn’t / wouldn’t get certain items. And naturally, it only got worse in Syracuse, where stories about massive car wrecks only made me and my friends roll our eyes after the person who caused the accident would say “I’ll just get a new one from my Daddy in a couple of weeks. No big deal.” And when you have “Juicy” sprawled across your ass, it’s a really easy life … really.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t had a lot of luck in my own right. I went to a poor but well-managed public school, a good middle school with small class sizes, and a private high school with its share of good resources. I had a lot of opportunities that most people in my demographic didn’t get, nor even realized they could. I’m a product of these fortunate events, and I’m happy I got what I got.

In this country, there’s this politics of access. Those to the right of the issue say that everyone has access so long as they try their hardest. They’re the ones that usually ask “Why don’t these people work hard to attain what the rest of us have?” Those to the left of the issue are the ones usually asking “Why doesn’t everyone have the same access to these privileges?” I find myself to the left, since the politics of the left demands a lot of deep digging, and deflecting the images posted in front of us about the grandness of this empire. Underneath it all, there’s no equity, and underneath it all, we don’t do enough to reinterpret successful tips for the underprivileged in this country (and in dirty not-so-secret secret news: in order to have rich people, there must be poor, and thus with all the very rich people there are many destitute areas all over this country.)

You can give people access to museums for free (NYC does it), but will they have the proper education or historical background to understand what they’re observing at the museum, even with the little notes telling them what the artifacts and painting represent?

You can have free opera showings and Caucasian-centric musicals for the masses, but do you risk telling other cultures theirs is not good enough to be considered “cultured”?

You can give as much financial aid to some of your less privileged but promising students so they can attend your institution, but are we preparing the population who got in through a trust fund or as a legacy for the culture shock as well?

Because if not, access is simply a way of telling people “See, we did something” knowing that it would do nothing to ameliorate the problem, quasi-placating the critics and thrusting the responsibility on the victim.

I’m even aiming this at well-to-do Blacks and Latinos, many of whom forget from whence they came, but that’s another post altogether. The politics of access demands that some people have it and some many don’t, because if it’s something everyone has, it’s not that special and hence not a privilege. Yet, those who already get the privilege consider it a right of birth, and don’t know what to do with themselves when they lose those “rights.”

I suppose that’s the irony of not having anything; having something above anything is considered a privilege, and when you have nothing to lose, there’s nowhere else to go but up.  Right?

jose, who wants to know how to get  1/2 a million without the FBI catching feelings …