Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: society

We Are the Camera

glass
photo courtesy of Wikipedia

When I was growing up in Queens, people were afraid of walking the streets at night, fearful of “muggings.”  It became a cliche to hear about an elderly neighbor pushed onto the ground to have her purse stolen, or some old man held up by gun point.  If you see old movies from the 1970s-1980s, you will see these events as a frequent story plot.

Crime continues today, especially violent crime, but how often do you hear about muggings in the street? Very rarely.  Do we have a new respect for the weak and elderly? Has police enforcement become more efficient?

I think the most obvious answer has nothing to do with any of these things, but technology — the growth of the credit card since the 1990s.

The desperate know that the average citizen walks around the city with paltry amounts of cash in their pockets; instead, we have a multitude of credit cards.   Credit card fraud is a whole lot more complex and time-consuming that stealing $100 from an old lady.  In 2014,  you are more likely to have your iPhone stolen in the subway than your wallet.   And as technology better protects our phones, that will become less frequent as well.

Technology. We hate how invasive it has become, but we love it anyway, especially when it serves our needs.

We all have seen the outcries on social media about Facebook Messenger and how it spies on our data.   But welcome to 2014.  Technology continues to change how we live our lives.

Much has been said about the growth of citizen journalism. During the marches and police activity in Ferguson last night, it was ordinary citizens who presented the images and videos to the world via their cellphones, not the mainstream media.  For everyone who has ever complained about the ubiquity of selfies online or me taking street photos of women crossing Fifth Avenue, we now see the positive power of amateur photography. We have become the media.

Yes, we have become the directors of our movies, but it also means knowing we are the subjects of the films of others.  Look at London.  There are video cameras on every corner.   Does it reduce crime?   Yes.   But at what cost?   We appear as character actors on camera seen picking our noses as we walk the street.

Because of our distrust of our own police forces, there are some cities that now require police officers to wear video cameras while on duty.   This will force them to not abuse their power.   I think we can all see the future. In fact, we already have it — in Google Glass.

Once we all become walking and talking video cameras, forcing transparency on what used to be done in dark corners, the world will completely change. Crime will drop, as will police abuse.  Sexual harassment will disappear because we will always be on camera in our offices.  Productivity will rise because we will have no choice.   Cameras will be required  to be ON during interviews and important board meetings.  No one will trust parent-teacher conferences that are not recorded, used as protection against lawsuits.

There will be so much good coming from this world where “We Are the Camera.”   People will act better because Big Brother will be watching.   But our urge to control the world will also control us.  Google Glass type devices can be our own personal video security system, making us feel safe as we walk home from the subway at night, but it will also destroy our careers when we are recorded telling that dirty joke while drunk.

“1984” is here, for good and bad, creating a more equitable, safe, but invasive and angry world where we watch each other, controlling each other’s every step. The amateur videos from St. Louis. The “selfies” from BlogHer. Google Glass. Policemen required to wear video cameras. And, of course, running it all from behind the scenes – Facebook Messenger.

Understanding my Privilege

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I took this photo of some man sweltering in the New York City heatwave, and when I looked at it later, I suddenly understood the concept of “privilege.”

I know this will make no sense to you right now.  But it was an “aha” moment for myself, brought upon by all the discussion about the Zimmerman trial in Florida, and what his acquittal tells us about America.

I’m privileged as a straight, white male — because I’m born as “the norm.”  I could have been a perfect home run if I was also born as a “Christian.”  You would think being born privileged in America is good, and we would want to proudly announce it to the world, but in today’s culture, no one wants to admit that they were given a head start in the race to the finish line.  So, we tend to avoid the conversation.

But as a “Citizen of the Month,” [see blog title], I believe it is important to acknowledge my privilege, because if I don’t, I can’t even begin to understand the struggles of my fellow citizens who weren’t born into the norm.   I have an important role in making things better for everyone, since I am the one with the advantages.

Now, let’s go back to the photo of this man.  He is in a wheelchair.  He looks miserable. Perhaps he is even hit hard times.  He is still a privileged straight white male.

That was the aha moment.

Just imagine how the scenario and context of the photo would change if he were a black man sitting on the street like this.  Would we assume a certain life history that would be different because of his race?   All things aren’t equal.

This man is privileged.  That does not mean he is lucky.  Or even happy.  If I told you that this straight white man was born a multi-millionaire, lost it all to a drug addiction, and is now homeless, would you lose all empathy for him because of his privilege?  Of course not.

A privileged person can have a life of tragedy through illness, broken relationships, bad luck, or plain stupidity.  A non-privileged person can go to one of our nation’s top private university and become President of the United States.  Individuals rise and fall despite of their privilege and lack of privilege for many reasons — psychological, economic, good looks, parental guidance, experience with bullying in school, and even a natural ability to juggle.  This doesn’t change the fact of privilege.

The concept of privilege is a sociological one, and revolves around issues of group identity and social biases.    This does not take away from free will or just plain luck.  A black man could have a life of ease, and be born of wealthy parents, and still lack the privilege of the white man of going to the supermarket wearing a hoodie.

That is what we are talking about.  Not the ups and downs of life that everyone, privileged or not, will have to deal with over their lifetime.

Thinking of this issue as two separate entities  — privilege and free will — makes it easier for me to accept my privilege as a straight white male.  I was born with advantages.    On the other hand, the world is not an academic exercise in sociology.   Life will always be a game of high stakes poker, no matter what cards you are dealt.   Accepting your privilege just means that you believe in making sure the card game of American life as run as fairly as possible for all.   It cannot predict the outcome of every individual’s hand.

Last post:  Owning my Racism

The Priests, the Merchants, the Fools

I’m beginning to think that in any social group or organization, every single person is necessary to paddle and steer the ship, even the ones who are the most despised.  Sure, things can get heated when various personalities get together, each with his own selfish agenda, but without the heat, there is no fire.  And without a fire for fuel, the ship just sinks.

You need the priests and professors and officials to set down rules and regulations, or else the result would be chaos and death.   These wise individuals are the ones who tend to officially speak for the others in interviews and get quoted at conferences.   They must be strong souls or run the danger of being corrupted by power.

There is the bourgeoisie class, sometimes mocked by the intellectuals as philistines who are only interested in materialism and baby product giveaways.  But, these individuals are the central core of every organization, the ones who build our homes, raise our families, and provide us with blog traffic.

And then there are the court jesters, the rabble-rousers, the anarchists, many of them bitter and destructive, committing mutiny, while others play an important role of changing the landscape, of sailing out into the sea when common wisdom says that the earth is flat.  These characters either become the most famous or die penniless.

The priests, the merchants, the fools.  Land ho!

White Privilege

Recently, two bloggers I respect, Danny at Jew Eat Yet and Saucybritches, wrote compelling posts about a popular article written by leading anti-racism writer, Tim Wise, titled “White Privilege and the 2008 Election.”  In the article, the author talks about how McCain has been treated differently than Obama during the campaign.  His conclusion at the end:

“White privilege is, in short, the problem.”

After reading the article, I had a heated debate on Twitter because I found the tone of the piece disturbing.  Tim Wise creates a world based on race, where a person is “privileged” because of the color of his skin. 

“What about someone white who is poor and someone black who is rich?” I asked.  “Isn’t this “privilege” theory insulting to both?  And what exactly does this have to do with the election?  I thought Obama’s nomination was a sign of change.  I hear more talk about race from the liberal side than the Republicans.  Isn’t this racial analysis a little… 1970-ish?” 

Apparently, The Angry Black Woman has met bloggers like me before:

“White Privilege exists whether you know it, acknowledge it, or understand it. Any attempts to convince me that you, a white person, don’t have White Privilege will result in laughter, mockery, and possibly a beat down.

It is a given that, whenever I engage in debate with a white person and mention privilege, the white person in question gets all upset. “I do NOT have privilege!” they say, and then begin to tell the story of their poor, rural upbringing or something. I think this reaction stems from two sources. Firstly, White Liberal Guilt, which I have written about before. Secondly, a misunderstanding of the word ‘Privilege’.

When most people hear Privilege or are referred to as Privileged their mind immediately thinks of economic privilege: people who are rich, or are born rich, who have a leg up in society or get by because their parents have a famous name or something. Paris Hilton is an example of that kind of privileged person. Most white people are not like Paris Hilton, nor would I suggest that they are. That would be cruel.

What they don’t realize is that economic privilege is only one kind of privilege. When I speak of White Privilege, I am not speaking of economics (though they may come into play based on the individual), I am speaking of unearned advantages one has because one is born White. That’s not the only kind of Privilege there is, of course. Another I’m very familiar with is Heterosexual Privilege.”

As I read more about the subject, I began to better understand the academic concept of “white privilege.”  Racism is not overt, as in the past.  But that doesn’t mean that white skin doesn’t give a white person certain freedoms.

Peggy McIntosh, in “White Privilege:  Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” writes (via Maria Niles at Blogher):

“As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.

I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks.”

Besides White Privilege and Heterosexual Privilege, there is also Male Privilege.  Clearly, as a straight, white, male, I am at the top of the leaderboard.

I may be sabotaging my liberal status in this post, but I find most of this race/feminist/gender academic theory as dull as a butter knife. 

OK, so I am a straight, white, male.  Despite living at my mother’s house, I am privileged.  What the f**k do you want me to do about it?  I try my best to respect others and to support policies that will create a more level playing field.  My entire blogging career has been about making a more level playing field.  I am for affirmative action and insuring that women get paid the same as men.  I also want popular mommybloggers to share some of their free goodies with some of the less popular mommybloggers.

I do my little part to make society better.  But why should whites, men and heterosexuals be burdened with all the responsibilities?  Can’t we just focus on the “less privileged” — in general — rather than dividing society solely by race or gender, which is as simplistic as a children’s book. 

I spent the last half hour developing a “privilege chart,” with the first group listed being the most privileged group and the last being the least.  I think we should all acknowledge that we have some privileges and do our best to try to move those below us a notch or two up the list.  You will notice that on my “privilege chart,” — race, gender, and sexual orientation are not the sole identifiers of privilege.  A black woman born to a wealthy family and blessed with good looks and a slender body has many privileged elements in her life.  Whites need to fight for the rights of blacks, men need to care about women’s issues, straights should promote gay rights, skinny women should not buy from designers who don’t produce clothes for large sizes, pretty girls in high school should invite not-so-pretty girls to be their friends.  That would make this entire “privilege” issue humanistic, rather than academic bullshit.  

The “Privilege” Chart

Good-Looking, Thin, White Heterosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, White Heterosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, White Heterosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, White Homosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, White Homosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, White Homosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, Black Heterosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, Black Heterosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, Black Homosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, Black Homosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, White Heterosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, White Heterosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, White Homosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, White Heterosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, White Heterosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, Black Heterosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, White Homosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, Black Heterosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, White Homosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, White Heterosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, White Homosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, White Heterosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, White Heterosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, Black Heterosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, White Heterosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, White Homosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, Black Heterosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, White Homosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, White Homosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, Black Heterosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, Black Homosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, White Homosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, White Homosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, White Heterosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, Black Heterosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, Black Homosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, Black Homosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, Black Homosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, Black Homosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, Black Heterosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, Black Heterosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, Black Homosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, White Homosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, White Homosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, White Heterosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, White Heterosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, White Heterosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, White Heterosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, White Homosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, White Homosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, Black Heterosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, Black Heterosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, Black Heterosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, Black Heterosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, Black Heterosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, Black Heterosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, Black Homosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, Black Homosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, Black Homosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, Black Homosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

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