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Wiley Wandering

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Wandering in Redondo Beach While Wondering About Social Class/Privilege: PART ONE

While on vacation in California I watched so many movies you would have thought I would have gotten burnt out. However, it was my return to the North Country of NY where, with an engaging woman named Elise, I watched Denzel Washington’s academy award nominated performance as Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in “The Hurricane.” The movie inspired a discussion about just how subtly our unearned social class privilege can go unnoticed. In a scene from the movie the head of the correctional officers calls the rebellious Carter (who refuses to wear the inmate uniforms) Mr. Carter in all their interactions. Now, the film only shows this specific officer interacting with Carter and no other inmates. However, it was hard to not notice that the officer continually gave Carter respect in a fashion that benefitted him considerations beyond those afforded the general inmate population. Unquestionably Carter had earned some of the privilege that accompanied his title, but preferential treatment over other inmates has nothing to do with the earned privilege of a championship boxer does it? Was it fair for Carter to receive preferential treatment? Is this type of status, this type of social class privilege, fair? What are some other social class privileges unfairly extended to some just because of their social class/status?


Later that night I found myself reflecting on my vacation, which basically was my first trip back to the Los Angeles/Southern California area with my doctorate completed. In many ways it was somewhat refreshing that my family processed it as nothing special. Some of my friends who have had their doctorates for years acknowledged mine, but my paranoia had me seeing their thought bubbles filled with thoughts like what took me so long. One of my closest friends, now a Vice President for a major music company, seemed to be proud of me though I couldn’t shake the feeling he probably thought I should have had it years before. Another friend, an Executive Vice President for a major film studio, who was one of my mentees at the graduate school I attended on the West Coast—though he had completed his doctorate before me— was congratulatory in a manner that was somewhat matter of fact. I didn’t expect a ticker tape parade, but where was the love? On the other hand, this is what happens when your college crew was populated by people who were serious about making it happen. I get my respect from my crew because of the type of work that I do. But most of my college friends make six figure salaries; have large homes, and prestigious positions. So this hard to impress group of peers is mostly surprised at my accomplishments because they couldn’t have projected that I would be teaching and consulting on diversity and social justice. Who knew?

However, it was the older family members that were eager to introduce me as Dr. J.W. Wiley. You could hear the excitement in their voices, and/or see the emotion in their eyes. One of my best friend’s fathers, whom I hadn’t spoken to in over 15 years, called me to acknowledge my accomplishment. Often it was quite emotional how much the accomplishment meant to them.
I can’t help but wonder if we live in a society that grants too much respect on titles, or not enough? Are the director or chair of an academic department, the president of a college, superintendents/principals, publisher of a paper, captain of a police department, millionaire business owner, state investigator, etc. more important in the grand scheme of things than our sanitation workers, custodial workers, teachers, bank tellers, retail clerks, etc.? Are certain people in our society valued more because of their income, their monetary worth, or is their monetary worth simply a symbol of their value in society? Do we devalue the voices of the so-called less educated and perhaps give too much respect to those with book sense and financial cents over others with common sense?

When I drove around Southern California in my sister’s modest four door vehicle, why was I subconsciously struggling with the image of me in this low profile vehicle as opposed to those moments in her high profile vehicle where everyone was looking and I imagined wondering who I was? Why are we more validated when we have box seats, or our seats at the sporting event are in the front row?

These are the preliminary questions I want you to consider and respond to before we get into the meat of Wiley’s recent wanderings in So Cal.

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Comments

This is a blog that currently hits home for me. In New York, I worked as a correspondent for the Press-Republican, beginning my career as a journalist/reporter. I still do some freelancing for a local paper, now, in So Cal, but have also recently picked up a paper route.

What's interesting about the route is that I throw in the early morning hours when barely anybody is awake to see me. It's something like being invisible, no title at all. I don't think the home owners/loaners I throw to even think twice about who is throwing their paper, unless of course there is a complaint.

On the flip, when I work as a correspondent, my name is present below the title of my article. Everyone who reads my byline knows I wrote the article. I have a title, I am somebody.

What would happen without the paper throwers? The residence wouldn't get their papers and my name wouldn't be displayed for people to title. It's quite a sense of double consciousness straddling the socio-economic fence.

***Via Via, you are correct, without the paper throwers, or people of that station fulfilling their important roles, we are not a functioning society. Unfortunately, with them in roles that are ill considered as significant, they are devalued and role players, along with those inconsiderate of them, in our dysfunctional society. *** -- J.W.

About the scene in “The Hurricane” – in speaking with several corrections officers, I’ve learned that a few inmates, do, in fact, earn some level of respect from their guards while serving their sentences. I suppose it’s not unreasonable. After all, these guards and inmates interact with each other for hours at a time, several days a week. Is it so strange to think that, person to person, one might recognize some admirable qualities in the other and even acknowledge those qualities with some public displays of respect?

I was listening to a radio news story recently about unemployment benefits. Some politicians are making the case that these benefits encourage laziness – why work when you can get paid NOT to work? Aside from ignoring the fact that we’re in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, and, the fact that most of the people receiving benefits now contributed for years to the fund from which those benefits are supposed to be drawn, these politicians also assume that the “haves” in our society have earned what they have. Has an heir to a fortune earned the millions (billions?) he inherits? Circumstances do not necessarily indicate merit.

I’m just finishing Ted Kennedy’s book “True Compass” and one of the things that strikes me is of the matter-of-fact way he describes some of the experiences of his youth. “Teddy” was the youngest of the Kennedy brothers by several years, and I think, he sometimes fell behind John and Bobby. In fact, one of the chapters of the book is called “Catching Up.” As he describes his youth, he talks about trips to England and the rest of Europe, shuffling from one high-priced boarding school to another, learning to sail magnificent boats, riding with his father every Sunday on his own horse (one of several) from a private stable of horses, and eating large meals around a comfortable family table filled with lively family discussions. He discusses all of these things as if they were no real big deal; formative, to be sure, but just a part of his life. Nothing special, as if it was just an ordinary childhood.
And then much later in life he talks about fighting for his political career in 1994 against Mit Romney, who challenged Kennedy for his US Senate seat. I get the feeling Kennedy almost felt put out that anyone would have the gall to challenge him seriously in the first place. The idea that voters might actually AGREE with the challenger was nearly too much for him to grasp.
I think it’s ironic that a man who was perhaps the biggest champion in Congress for all the disenfranchised in our society to really had never come to terms with just how privledged his own life had been.

I don’t attend a lot of high-profile sporting events, but, when I do, I like “box” or front row seats because I can SEE better. If I’m going to pay the travel and other expenses necessary to go to a sporting event, I’m damn well going to make sure I can see the game. I don’t really care who sees ME at the game.

Via-Via – KEEP the paper route! It will give you a reason to get up early (and therefore a reason to go to bed early) and help you maintain the proper perspective during what I’m sure will be a remarkable journalism career!

*** CB, as usual you say a lot and a lot of what you say makes sense. (Did I just imply that some things you said don't make sense? Relax!!!) Our lack of consideration of our privilege versus our frustration with our oppression (what you accuse Senator Kennedy of doing) is the height of our hypocrisy, and no one escapes it except the ever vigilant. And if you have time to be ever vigilant of something like avoiding lapsing into reveling in your own unearned privilege, perhaps you have some privileges still that you haven't fully engaged. Hmmmm!!!

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