The subject of today's discussion - oh, please pass the complimentary doughnuts, won't you? - is my new campaign: "Minorities: Aim for the Middle of the Pack."
Erin takes the podium...or, in this case, moves the Ikea coffee table to stand in the middle of the cushy-chair coup she and her readership have made at this imaginary coffee house.
As most of you know, I am of a religious minority. But I believe this experience to be a collective one, felt by any minority of race, religion or sexuality. Tell me if this sounds familiar:
1. As a member of a minority, people tend to view the topic of your status one of two ways A) with interest and curiosity ("Oh! Can I touch your hair?!" Black people are you hearing me?) or B) with fear over your perceived difference. (You ain't from 'round here are ya?) Depending upon the person, you are either exotic or alien. But either way, you are always "other."
2. In many social situations, you will be the sole "representative" of your race, religion, sexual orientation. As such, you better make a good impression, so as not to ill-represent all Jews, Muslims, African Americans, homosexuals et all.
3. When someone of your same "creed" does something stupid/god-awful, you find yourself carrying the shame. "Great. Thanks asshole. Now all of us look like psychos. Guess I'll need to hide in my office at work today."
Naturally, the rational mind tells us that any one (or dozen) transgressors is not representative of the whole group (see my rant in my recent post about "Not all" campaigns), in the same way that the accomplishments of one (or a dozen) of our unique creed is not representative of all either.
Except that it is.
Because, now that we have a black president, black people are no longer oppressed, right?
And now that many states have freedom to marry, gays are universally accepted, right?
Look - majority people who have bothered to read to this point - here's the deal. I'm attempting to see it from your side. I know you don't know enough of "us" (whoever the "us" might be) to get a truly representative sample. So you have to make judgements on what you have personally experienced. Thus, if you know two Jews (Jacob and Jonah let's say) and Jacob is a complete asshole, then your experience with Jews has been 50/50, and it's therefore likely the jury's still "out" on us as a collective.
I can actually understand that. As people, we tend to base our opinions on a variety of things, chief among them the teachings we've received and personal experience. So if your experience with a particular group is bad, you're likely to view the entirety of that group as bad. It makes sense.
But it's also dangerous.
Because what if Jacob AND Jonah are BOTH assholes?... What will you believe about all Jews then?
Well, if you're a thinking, rational person, you'll realize that one person or even a small group of people is not representative of the collective. (But if comments sections the internet-wide are any indication, thinking, rational people could also be considered of minority status).
Lastly, so I can finish my doughnut (and because this is the thought that spurred my campaign):
As minorities, we are told that, to be accepted by the greater majority, we must adapt to our surroundings and thrive. We must work hard and be exemplary.
Sounds great in theory, but it hasn't really "worked" in practice. (The Booker T. Washington approach didn't do much to assuage the Atlanta race riots in 1906, as I recall...)
In short, we're damned if we do, and we're damned if we don't.
As minorities, if we enter a situation and do what we're told - we work hard, we overcome, we thrive... Rather than being lauded by the majority for besting obstacles, we are envied and sniped about. Because somehow, despite setbacks, we've done better than many in the majority. And that? Just doesn't seem to sit well.
For surely a thriving Jew, African American, homosexual, Muslim, Pakistani et all has thrived because of some social program. Some sort of government "leg up" like Affirmative Action has let the minority surpass many of the majority. And if the playing field were "fair" - if Affirmative Action or the insider connection (because haven't you heard? Jews OWN everything...) hadn't offered the minority person an unfair advantage - that person would never have outshone his or her white anglo-saxon protestant neighbors.
Therefore it's not hard work and determination that advances the minority. It's "favoritism" by some body. And that? Is reason to hate and mistrust.
Thus, minorities are damned if we do.
But conversely, we're damned if we don't.
As a minority, if you have the audacity to be poor, you're a scourge on "the system." You're a waste of the majority's tax dollars. And isn't that just like you? To subsist off the government's dime? Seriously, you disgust me. Why don't you just leave and be a drain on some other country?
As you can therefore plainly see, the only safety, dear minority friends, is to aim for the Middle of the Pack.
Do not aspire to any form of exemplary status, be it wealth or some other form of visible prestige. Rather, choose the middle road, the road which does not challenge the leadership status of the majority or make the majority afraid.
Sure, buy that house in that middle class neighborhood. But don't buy the most expensive house. Remember - MIDDLE OF THE ROAD! If you can, make sure the house you get is just a little bit smaller than your neighbors' homes. That way we avoid envy. That way we don't court the jealousy of the majority. That way we are "safe."
Work hard, yes. But don't outwork your majority coworker. Because that promotion? Has nothing to do with you staying late, being the most qualified or having a natural gift. It has to do with the color of your skin. And everybody knows it.
Middle of the pack, my friends! Middle of the pack!
Don't outgive your neighbor - showoff! Don't outclass your neighbor - snob! Don't outparent your neighbor - self-righteous bitch!
Rather, minority friends, settle comfortably into mediocrity. Whatever you do, don't rock the boat.
Because YOU, as the sole representative of your particular creed, are responsible for the feelings and prejudices of the majority.
Bear that burden with a smile on your brown face!
Embrace it! Own it!
You hold little political power, yet somehow, with your small existence, you are responsible for the blight of the neighborhood, or the various plights of the majority, all of whom are suffering - either from being denied their rightful place by your insolence in succeeding or by their economic hardship at having to support you and your welfare children.
Where's our sympathy minorities? Don't we recognize we're getting handouts while majority working class people are also suffering?
Can we not therefore control our arrogance and take it down a peg? What do we think we are - better than everyone else?
It's time, my friends, to settle for the middle of the pack. To content ourselves with being John's token black friend and Jane's one Muslim friend that therefore allows Jane to speak with authority on matters of a faith she's never studied.
To aim higher is arrogance. To fall lower is indolence.
And we can neither be arrogant or indolent. Because we? Might just be the only Jew, African American, homosexual, Muslim, Pakistani that our neighbors ever meet.
And we want to represent well, don't we?
So - minority people - rise! Rise but not too quickly! Speak up! But not too loudly! Believe! But not too strongly! And sleep well at night knowing that, because you aimed for the middle, you might avoid persecution from those at the top.