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Born on Third Base

Living in the North Country is quite an intriguing experience. In any given moment you can have a conversation with a millionaire or a farmer, depending on how comfortable you are with people, and where in the North Country you might currently be.

Every semester Professor Deb Light and I co-teach a course titled Examining Diversity through Film. When we get to our theme of socio-economic class we read an article that makes the assertion that many people, in terms of their economic position, will deny that they are privileged, not recognizing that they were born on third base. Some people will become irate in explaining that they worked hard for their success. The fact that you have worked hard for your success doesn’t negate the fact that you may still be standing on someone else’s shoulders, especially in contrast to others who never had the opportunity to stand on someone's shoulders.

So, what does being “born on third base” mean? Well by now you have figured out that it means you have opportunities available to you, which position you on third base, without you having to go through first, or second to get there. It means that you are 90 feet away from home, from the ultimate prize within the game. Many of us don’t think about how much better we are positioned for success when we never had to work in high school or college; consistently traveled in our youth which added to our worldly sophistication; had two working parents or perhaps one working parent and a financially secure home life supported by one stay at home parent; one or less siblings; parents that genuinely enjoyed one another’s company, which contributed to a stable environment; lived in a thriving, respectful environment where you could walk the streets at night or inadvertently leave your car or home unlocked at night; etc.

Many of the students then think this let’s them off the hook if they don’t originate from a middle to upper middle class background. And considering we live in a capitalistic society where wealth and/or material possessions are celebrated, if you didn’t have those highly valued social trappings you could convince yourself that you weren’t privileged enough to start the game situated on third base. Is it possible that there are some other ways beyond economic reasons that many of us may be starting the game in an advanced position? We may not be on third base, but starting at first or second is still an advantage, isn’t it? What are some of the ways that others may be advantaged in this game called life that they may never have truly considered?

Do you think there is merit in creating a society where people are challenged to consider their privilege?

What type of world would we live in if our children were taught some of the things that many of us as adults now realized we missed in our formative years?

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I was blessed to have grown up in Plattsburgh in the 50's and 60's. I have to say that I was born on third base. I had a loving family, warm bed, my own bedroom, good friends, safe schools, and a city without much crime.

I was taught by my parents that if I wanted something (material possessions), I had to work for it. Looking back, I was very blessed. In this day and age, I wonder now how I was able to survive then without the internet. The interstate system as we know it today did not exist until the early to mid 60's. It was slow going when we took a spring trip to Florida. I was traveling at a very young age.

I know there were some children that didn't have the same opportunities as me. They probably started on first or second. Many joined the military and today are very successful. Some of us retired, after successful careers. I don't recall anyone complaining where they started or even today where they have ended up.

I guess all this reminds me of the country of North Korea. There the people start on the base that the government decides for them. From cradle to grave the state runs their lives. They cannot travel anywhere, even within their country without state permission. They are rationed food per person, and have no variety of shopping, something we take for granted. They do not have freedom of speech, fearing everything they say.

Yes, third is better than first or second, but at least we have the opportunity to better ourselves.

*** Juan, every now and then someone says something to me, or posts something that just really makes me think beyond my usual probing. Your post did that. What you are essentially saying is equivalent to my favorite mantra: I was frustrated with the shoes I had, until I met a man who had no feet." This is so true! But we can't be a society that settles for the fact that everyone has "some type" of an opportunity to suceed, can we? That isn't enough, is it? -- J.W. ***

Well Mr. Wiley,

As for being on third. These people who are on third base an still working like the Farmers an, (Thank heavens of the Teachers) . These are just two types of workers that work way passed an eight hour day, that I know from first hand, an look at the stuff they have to put up with. You have people complaining about the price of milk, cheese, an then you have parent's that complain that there children are not being given the best education available. These are to different workers that are proble on third base becouse they work there tail off. I don't think that they stood on any shoulders. As for others in life theres always community collage, State Aid. It's all out there so those who are not standing on shoulders can get a boost up. If you want to get any wear in life get a job an work your way up. Then you have the people who don't work an that hits the people on third base again, not only are they working the tail off but there taxs are helping people who can work but choose not to. Third base in not out of reach of any body if they try hard, it's the home plate that few achieve.

t/c bonemaster....

*** Mr. G, I finally figured out your ending salutation of "t/c bonemaster."

Your respect for third base children is admirable and real. I see you your point, and raise you this: True, third basers, some of whom worked to get there, and some of whom were born there, both often lose sight of the fact that the windows of opportunity don't swing open as easily for some as they do for others. To say "everyone can make it happen" is to say something like, "everyone can dunk a basketball like Jordan." It just isn't so!!! With help, yes, many of us could dunk like MJ. Maybe the rim needs to be lowered...or maybe we need to eat our Wheaties...or maybe use a smurf ball. Maybe society needs to figure out how we can get people to third base, or any base beyond batting from home. Lessen the distance...strengthen the athletes...develop the hitting. But everyone isn't born Jordan, and everyone isn't born equipped or positioned to advance to third. That, Mr. G. is real as well! -- J.W. ***

I think the reason why some people take offense when it is suggested they were "born on third base", is that they take it as a personal criticism. But the main reason to even discuss the idea is so that people born on third might come to judge those born on first less harshly. Also, while we're at it, maybe we can figure out some ways to get the to at least second before they have to really start competing.


*** Apulrang, yes, that could be a reason, no doubt. When you are born on any base other than batting from home, you are apt to not even think about that fact, perhaps because you are so focused on scoring (reaching home). But while you suggest that those on third need to know they may have been born there to begin to understand the reality of those not born to such an advanced position, thus they may come to respect the lesser bases, the lesser bases (being born on first base for example) are still born privileged over those that have to earn their way on first. I am though, quite intrigued by your thoughts that competition need not start until they reach second. Are you suggesting that we should allow people an opportunity to be competitive before they are banished or relegated to an underprivileged reality? Be careful my man, you may be attacked for too progressive a thought! -- J. W. ***

I have to say, your topic, at best, should call for an attitude of gratitude. That means being cognizant of where you're at and how you got there; taking blame or credit. It means appreciating the labors of those who came before you, the ones who were forward-thinking enough to plan and work and hope and dream. Adam and Eve started out naked, so somewhere along the long, somebody did something outstanding.
I think I stand with most North Country residents to state that I do think that eight hours of work is eight hours of work, that no one is responsible or has any control over what circumstances they were born into, and also that being born on third base is often a liability to people. They may think that their own efforts aren't needed, putting them in line with those on the dole who won't lift a finger on their own behalf, either. What do you think of this statement, ( I have to paraphrase) "there is a natural hierarchy among men- some by their own skill and efforts will always rise to the top". I'm pretty sure that was Thomas Jefferson.
You can't judge a book by its cover. One well-dressed person might get all their stuff, carefully, at the Salvation Army, and another slovenly type might buy their pre-ripped jeans at Macy's. Up here, where the average income is lower than in other places, people are sensitive about money. They may be afraid that if anyone knows what they have, be it little or great, that it will be stolen from them. People are scared. They may think it is bad luck or bragging to talk frankly about money, that they may jinx whatever advantage they have secured for themselves, regardless of how it was gotten.
What we are born into is God's gift to us; what we do with it, well, that's our gift to God and our children. It is an "family culture" to teach or not teach skills with money and values that elevate the importance of education. I prefer discussions about character and integrity to ones about money. It's a more level playing field. The Bible says that the poor will always be with us, so apart from supporting programs and teaching or mentoring others, what's your ultimate goal in bringing this topic up? To reveal folks as shoddy racists/classists? Let's empower folks with gratitude rather than regrets and blame. No matter how little you have, there is someone with less; no matter how much you have, there is always someone with more.

*** KB, First, I love the Adam and Eve reference! Now, to your question of "what's your ultimate goal in bringing up this topic? To reveal folks as shoddy racists/classists?" No KB, that is not my ultimate goal. My ultimate goal is to create a conversation whereby others will join in and assist me in engaging some of the complexities of our lives (such as you quite articulately have done). I agree with many of your statements, and may take philosophical umbrage with a few, but none significant enough to press here. As to "revealing folks as shoddy racists/classists, no that is not my goal. Do they exist? Yes! If a discussion takes place that might make shoddy "ists" or people who think they are logical "ists" reflect on their behavior, is that a bad thing? Well, I think that probably depends on the person, but knowing how many people benefit from that type of a conversation (since I am in this line of work), I think it is very much worth having. I'm an "ist" and everytiime I enter a conversation with someone who educates me about another dimension of my "ism" I get excited about it because I know I have grown a bit more, in a very positive way. So, no, for me KB, it's all about the opportunity for growth that comes from insightful, exhilarating, respectful dialogue. -- J.W. ***

Here is my problem with your article and the responses that followed. There are opportunities abound for every individual to become successful. There are more scholarships out there then you can shake a stick at. There is Affirmative Action and minority grants. Any person can make it in today's society. The limiting factor is how hard they want to work to get there. The individuals desire and drive are what you should be questioning here, not what base they are born on. I know many individuals who were born half way to home plate and today stand barely on first. I know people who were born in the "on-deck-circle" that now own homes on the ocean and more land then the catholic church. Those people got there because they worked. No hand outs were taken and the broke their backs to get where they are.


*** Jim, I don't disagree with anything you said, so is your problem with the article/posting I presented necessarily, or the thought that it invokes? The fact that some work to achieve, and some don't to underachieve doesn't negate the fact that your child or grandchild, my nephew or niece may be born with some type of physical disability that this country/world is ill equipped to assist them in achieving a level playing field (in terms of policies and legislation). In other words, there are certain types of privilege that visits all the so-called areas of social injustice. What I think most people immediately respond to when they see the posting I put out there is a third base birth predicated on race. While that is one of the possibilities of course, it isn't the only one. Heterosexuals are born on third base in a country that celebrates heterosexuality and denigrates, albeit subtle at times, homosexuality. What happens to two gay people that love one another but can't celebrate that love the way their heterosexual neighbors can? Does that loss of energy from hiding their identity have ramifications in other areas of their lives? Does it effect their working lives? This is what I mean by being born on third base. I think we oversimplify the notion when we automatically go to the place where America is the land of opportunity and anyone can make it if they try. Often there are very real mitigating factors that contribute to why people don't make it. Or how about this, why should certain people in our society have to work harder than others simply because we haven't addressed some of the social ills that should have been addressed? -- J.W. ***


What I always find so interesting when examining issues of socio-economic status is the wonderfully crafted ideology of "meritocracy" that pervades United States culture. The idea where all we need to do is take the gifts given to us and we'll all become millionaires.

While I am not discounting the efforts of people born on third base, or taking the agency away from people who can't even afford a ticket to the game, the reality is that barriers exist that are solely based around class. To even play the game we need some sort of historically based advantage.

And much like the history of baseball, the history of the United States is marked by triumphs and absolute disgrace; racial segregation and the transcendence of race by monetary issues; and a large concentration of wealth in few hands that leave the rest of us in permanent rain delay.

Sorry if I overdid the baseball analogies J.W. It's baseball season and I'm amped. Great article.

*** Tim, you got serious mileage out of the baseball analogy, so no need to apologize. I hope you can enlighten me on what you meant when you said "the transcendence of race by monetary issues," when you referred to the history of baseball? -- J.W. ***

I love this article and commend J.W. in his successful effort to provoke some thought in the residents of the North Country. It makes sense for people to recognize their privilege, yet few of us do this. Why would we? For example, if a college student goes to school for nearly zip, parties every night, and receives her deserved 2.0 GPA, she would probably not want to hear that there is someone who has paid for school out of pocket, working 30 hours a week, and earning a 3.8 GPA, living in the dorm right next to her. She will probably try to ignore that fact, or stay away from her fellow student because she might feel guilty, knowing that she is not taking advantage of the opportunity she did nothing to attain. This is what is meant by being born on third base and if we cannot, no…WILL NOT recognize our privilege then we can only blame ourselves or continue to scapegoat others. Ignorance is bliss and knowledge is power. Let’s step out of our comfort zone and take control of our world.

*** Via Via, Great example of some of the impact of unrecognized privilege in your response. My question to you is why would someone refuse to recognize their privilege? -- J.W. ***

JW - I enjoy reading your blogs. As for the "Born on Third Base" issue, life has always had "haves" and "haven-nots" and we are often a product of our up-bringing. If one takes advantage of opportunities from early in life, one can move from first-to-second-to-third. My main concern, however, is for those who, because of neglectful parents and/or rebellious youth, never took advantage. Yet, when they reach 21, for example, and have a baby and new-found responsibilities, they have to mature in a hurry. But find themselves stuck at first base (or home plate) forever. They earn their GED, work hard in a factory, work overtime, care for their child, and still live from paycheck to paycheck. They can never get ahead. They dream of third base, but can't even get to first! These hard-working good people are the ones we should care about and find ways to assist.

*** Foxy, is this "the Foxy?" Welcome!!! Your concern is one that many of us share. The products of dysfunctional homes (or parents) do have difficult times leaving the on deck circle. I also agree that it is them that deserve our attention and care, but not them alone. If we really want to assist them, and unfortunately others in the future who will have similiar situations, then we need to address the solution, find a cure in other words, not just put a band aid on the problem. Why is the home dysfunctional? Is it because of trifling parents? Perhaps! But it could also be some societal factor that has systematically impaired the family, for generations, to achieve the so-called American dream. Many of us don't truly want to allow for the fact that there are a multitude of reasons why some never leave the on deck circle. For example, one reason may be that some haven't grown accustomed to even being in the stadium. -- J.W. ***

I guess I was probably born on third base but, due to my mother's mental illness and divorce and nomadic adolescent lifestyle I was put back on first base. I ended up working at age 14, raising my sister 6 years younger than me and all the while attempting to hold my mother together. I quit school (unwillingly) in the ninth grade. Was married at the early age of 23. Had only a GED, worked 2 and 3 jobs, began taking night classes, finally went to a state university and graduated at 31, with 3 kids. I worked in a public school for 8 years in a very poor rural southern state and continued to seek education. I earned a Master's degree and have used my gifts and knowledge to help others. I feel yes, many are born on third base, they often throw that advantage away, or use it. Those on first base often must work harder to get home but, it is always possible if they see the home plate as something they truly yearn for.

*** Michelle, I often try to caution people about applying the tried and true "you can make it if you try" adage, because on some level I do feel as if that may not be applicable for everyone. There must be people out there who have genuinely tried their best to achieve success in life, and never ended up where they endeavored to be. However, having said that, I am very much in agreement with you. I firmly believe that positive things happen to positive people, and if you can find a way to frame yourself and your life in a positive way, you won't have to seek many opportunities, because they will find you. Though as I write this, I still feel as if there are dimensions of privilege attached to what I am saying that I probably need to unpack. Who said life is easy? -- J.W. ***

This is a great discussion and rereading it, I just wanted to add a few elements that we really do not have control over. Firstly, height. Taller men and women are noted to have an edge in whatever field they work in- most of our political leaders have been tall. Another area is looks. Regardless of race, attractive persons also have an edge (although this is something many of us are able to improve with better personal hygiene, a good style makeover, diet, exercise, etc!). Being born in an area that is poised to make great economic strides is also an edge because those persons, if they are ready for it, will have opportunities others do not. Here's my favorite sayings about success: If your ship doesn't look like it's coming in, then swim out to it. Also, success happens when preparation meets opportunity.
I do have to join my voice with Foxy- family situation makes a huge difference. It's harder to buy a car than to get a marriage license or have a kid! We do have to be careful what importance we put on third base- do we mean money alone, or happiness, security, safety, love? What do we value? In the love dept, we may be on third base, but in education, stuck on home base. A lot of folks want their heaven on earth, and that's just not going to happen. Many of us will always be struggling economically, but on our deathbed, will we be laying there regretting that we didn't do more overtime at work? We often look at others' old ratty car, trailer home, and so forth and just assume they're unhappy. They're not all, maybe some. So is third base some sort of Nirvana? Or is home? Can we make it to home without hitting third?
Finally, I think the happiest folks are the ones who count their blessings. These folks have taken a serious inventory of what they do have in their lives and where they stand in need of other things. "pray as if everything depended on God, " Brigham Young said, "And work as if everything depended on you!" I was born in a poor family, went in the military because there was no college money, got married, had kids, and finally, at 40, got to go to college and earn a degree and get a great job. I count myself lucky to have gotten to third base by faking everyone out with all my false starts.

*** Kathy, you may or may not be familiar with the Snoop Dogg track "Drop It LIke It's Hot," but you just did. I totally concur!!! -- J.W. ***

J.W.

Some people would refuse to recognize their privilege because it would:

1. cause them to consider those less fortunate and feel guilty for taking for granted what they have

2. knowledge is power and w/ power comes responsibility...once they find out about their privilege they have a responsibility to use it as a tool to help themselves succeed

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