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Wiley Wandering

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How Does It Affect Al Franken?

When my mother was 22 years old the only “fare” we could afford was welfare. At the time my mama had four children and my father was in prison. Now I tell students of mine who are complaining because they don’t have enough money to get their hair done, or are lacking money to go downtown to drink about the early days of my youth and they look at me as if to say, “My, your family had it tough, but what does that have to do with me?” I then have to ask myself, what does it have to do with them? The question itself takes me back to one of my favorite moments in television history, when Saturday Night Live political commentator Al Franken would listen to some of the most heinous or horrendous world tragedies or atrocities and always follow with his most biting query, “How does that affect me, Al Franken?”

Is it our responsibility to be thankful for what we’ve got? Do we have to appreciate our privilege, or is built into the notion of privilege a level of inconsideration as to how you acquired it? I need a woman who is ambivalent about social justice issues to educate me about how she can be so disinterested when the very fact that she is driving, working, voting, etc. is directly related to heavily orchestrated social justice efforts. I need a member of a racially underrepresented group to inform me how they can be biased, inconsiderate, or hateful towards others’ sexual orientation or disability, and yet get upset when people are racist to them? I need a man who loves and appreciates a woman, any woman (his mother, daughter, sister, female lover) to explain to me how any man can stand by and listen to other men belittle women simply because they aren’t related to them? Somebody explain to me how it is we take our various privileges for granted? I need someone to dig deep and come up with a list of some of the privileges that we take for granted that we should really be appreciating. What are they?


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A great deal of the self pity Americans often feel for themselves can probably be linked to media. We are told over and over that another purchase at the store will make us happy. That getting a bigger car or more cable channels will be the thing that completes us.

Look at 'Emo' culture, kids are celebrating depression, and it really is sickening considering how prosperous we are as a culture. Try going to China, where people work endlessly for $50 dollars a month so we can have cheap plastic junk, and tell them why any American should be depressed.

Much of this is a complete ignorance of both history and current events. How many people realize that the gold they wear is mined by modern day slaves in Africa and South America?

JW...I enjoy your blog. To answer your question, here are just a few privileges I think we take for granted:

* The right to voice our opinion on just about anything we want to.

* The value of liberty...and how it allows our inner beauty and creativity to shine.

* The ability to choose our own career...and with it the ability to choose to educate ourselves in areas that interest us.

Mr. Wiley,

How about the first Amendment.

That should it all.

Mr. Wiley,

The first Amandment. Need I say more?. I can go on about my self pitty about being in a chair an not being able to get in store's or restruant's an so forth but i'll keep that to myself I don't need the pitty. The more I read these blog's the more I see it always leaning to one side. I won't go there, or I could an blame it on my disability. Naw I'll leave it alone. You know me J.W I'm the last person that want's pitty.

Since the first class I took with you, you pointed out my privledge to me. As a freshman I shrugged it off. As a sophmore, I heard Dr. Maier tell me my stance on pre-determination was a privledged position. "Try going to a temple and telling the Rabbi that the holocaust HAD to happen, because it was pre-determined." He'd say.

Junior year, in diversity, I got a better clue as to what this privledge thing is all about.

I attempted one day, to engage my friends on the word "Bitch". It was 4 males and 1 female in a room, including myself. Another male used bitch as a degrading term towards another man (it was in fact me) and I challenged him. The fact was, not only did this challenge provoke them to call me bitch MORE, but the woman in the room was silent, she didn't care (or said that, when the men using "bitch" pointed to her silence as support for their argument). She saw the kind of treatment that I got, and on some level, didn't want that kind of abuse thrown her way.

What keeps people from accepting their privledge, is that most people refuse to challenge the privledged. What makes it worse, is when the privledged are challenged, they use whatever they can to defend themselves--and those without privledge are afraid of making powerful enemies.

As always, I don't know the entire solution (but your classes are a good start!). I know I've grown due to being challenged, but in each case, it truly was a more privledged person that challenged me. Two professors, who may have began in more humble places, but at the time they confronted me, they were the people in power, while I was the powerless. So perhaps all we need, is the powerful to accept the cliche quote from Spider-Man:

WIth great power, comes great responsibility.

First, let's engage what we are socialized into believing about welfare and then move on from there. The most common representation is often one sided in terms of socio-economic class status and, at the core, racist. What most people don't understand is that what we have in this country is what Donna Langston refers to as the "dual welfare" system. She writes within her article entitled, "Tired of Playing Monopoly?" that, "We have a 'dual welfare' system in this country whereby welfare for the rich in the form of tax-free capital gain, guaranteed loans, oil depletion allowances, and so on, is not recognized as welfare. Almost everyone in America is on some type of welfare, but if you're rich, it's in the form of tax deductions for 'business' meals and entertainment, and if you're poor, it's in the form of food stamps." This is a perspective that most of us never really have to consider because of the ingrained social perception of aid programs. One might argue that corporations deserve a helping hand if they come upon hard times because the workers will suffer and the workers have little to no control over the decisions that happen at the top of the corporate echelons. Why is this any different from a family that is on welfare? If a corporation is given relief to maintain the stability of those that are on it's payroll, then why is a family on the opposite, and oft oppressed, end of the socio-economic spectrum bashed when they are only trying to provide stability for themselves and their children? This is but one thought to engage when deciding what this has to do with you. The other is that, like the possibility of joining the disabled community, the possibility of going on welfare could be right around the corner for anyone in this country. Economic endurance is not an inalienable right guaranteed by this country's constitution. Any single person could find themselves in economic disparity unexpectedly at any point in their lives. An extreme, but historically accurate, example can be seen after the stock market crash of 1929 when the unemployment rate soared to an unprecedented 25%. Poverty rates skyrocketed and none of the families affected had any control over how this had come to be. This is the second thought one should have when engaging what this issue has to do with you.
This is only one example of how most of us do not take the time to examine our own privilege and how the different levels of our own privilege relate to every facet of our lives. Class and classism is only one. Each person benefits from some level of privilege in their lives. Unfortunately, we are able to take these privileges for granted because they feed a subconcious need we have to feel as if we fit what is culturally defined as normal. I'll run down some of the privileges I have as a White, Christian, middle class, heterosexual, temporarily able bodied male to give a few examples of what might be taken for granted. First, my skin color allows me to be assured that almost everywhere I go in this country I will be able to blend into the dominant racial fabric of almost any community. My belief in Christianity allows me to never be terrified of an anti-semetic symbol such as the swastika. My socio-economic class status means that I have the flexibility of identifying with those of the working class or those of the upper-class depending upon the issue that is being addressed. My sexual orientation allows me the comfort of talking about my sexuality or sex life in the presence of mere aquaintances without the fear of prejudice or repercussions. My status as a temporarily ablebodied (non-disabled) person means that I will never be relegated to a certain section of seating when attending a concert or movie. My gender means that I will never be labled as a bitch if I decide not to sleep with a woman or a hoe if I decide to sleep with her.
These are only a few examples of how my privilege plays out on multiple levels. The important thing for each of us to understand is how it is custom tailored to our own individual realities. And while each of us may want to believe that others realities are not connected to our own, the truth is that it is more like a wicker chair: Each strand of wicker is another unrecognized attribute of privilege that allows oppression to rest comfortably in its seat.

The reality is, no matter how humanistic and in our eyes, worthwhile our ideals and goals may be, the person next door has the right to feel, act, say as they want. Maybe that makes me or you angry, maybe it makes us sad, but in all honesty, if that individual is fine with his or her actions, the only one affected, or allowing themself to be affected by it is you and I, by devoting time to anger and sadness.
As a great man once said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." I like to strive toward that and not devote too much time troubled by the actions of others when it is beyond my control and frankly they could care less about the emotions I'm experiencing because of their actions. And and again, one must recognize that their judgements or perceptions are simply that, their own, and the next person will likely react and act totally different, and there truthfully is no way to tell who is right or wrong, unless of course, in the wake of overwhelming scientific evidence, you subscribe to one of the various mythologies so many embrace to survive their brief flash in this infinite existence.

Progress is made by lazy men looking for an easier way to do things. Most people have some sort of plan when they wake up every day. When I woke this morning, I did not think to myself, "Well what about %How Does It Affect Al Franken? (Wiley Wandering)"? I'm a firm believer in planning ahead and staying ahead of the game but sometimes I think that you have to just wing it.

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