Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly are constantly making much ado about people of color and our “entitlements”. You know, just because we’ve endured socially engineered and government sanctioned poverty and oppression since – I dunno – 1625, we think we’re entitled to food and housing. I get it though. Nobody likes a mooch. Shame on us colored folk for not rising up with, arms if need be, to shake off the shackles of our oppression just as the early settlers did when they broke free from the tyranny of Mother England! You see how black Haitians were punished by (white) American government when they overthrew the French during the slave revolts. Just who did these people think they were, taking their liberty by force? Black people ought to know their place, and that place is under the boot of “real Americans” with cap in hand and handily available for scorn!
The words entitlement and privilege get tossed around in my circles and are often the subject of intense debate. For those of us who find ourselves squarely in the middle class –with our college degrees and respectable middle incomes – we have the luxury of discussing these topics without ever having to live through the true consequences of oppression. For example, if I find that I can no longer endure mainstream racism and the arrogance that accompanies it, I can save up a few dollars and travel to West Africa or the Caribbean. Likewise, I have friends who pick up home and hearth and go live in (read: escape to) Europe for a few months, because they can. We are the ones who carry the scent of the smoke of racism in the fibers of our clothing without ever having to feel its burn in our skin. We identify with oppression, but have never truly felt it; not like the man who gets denied housing because of the color of his skin, or the woman who is forced to undergo sterilization because of hers. Our education and zip code often insulates us from the most heinous forms of racism, and acts as a buffer so that we do not need to seek out “entitlements”. When Hannity and O’Reilly talk about entitled Black folk, I know he’s thinking about my Black face, but not talking about my particular circumstances.
But then of course, this got me thinking: Are people of color the only ones who pursue entitlement? And what the heck does that word even mean in the 21st century? I submit that Donald Trump feels he is just as “entitled” to a certain level of treatment as the homeless vet pushing his cart around downtown does. That said, I do admit that there are certain liberties that one is not entitled to take depending on what elements make up your existence. Like, you can’t be destitute, overweight and short and think you’re going to break into the haute couture world of fashion. Some things will just not ever be so. But what if there were some liberties you could take, just to try on for size? What if the matrix of your existence gave you juuuuust enough wriggle room to venture into a space that is not normally reserved for you? Last week, I decided to dedicate 24 hours to give this experiment a try, and I knew just where I wanted to begin.
“I will block traffic. I just don’t care,” my former colleague Becca* informed me, her green eyes flashing with confidence. “If I need to make a turn, I’ll make everyone wait.”
At the time, Becca drove what I called a “bully truck”. It was a grey Nissan Xterra and she would whip it into the parking lot like it was a Vespa. What kind of a person blocks traffic just so she could make a turn? What kind of human being is that inconsiderate? How can you not feel any sense of embarrassment for holding up the rest of road because you couldn’t wait a few more moments for traffic to clear? Well, an entitled person doesn’t, that who. I see women in their bully trucks driving as if they own the road several times a week. So when I dropped one of the girls off and was coming out of a particularly difficult turn on Peachtree Corners from the hair salon, I did just that. I pulled into traffic, forced everyone to halt and made the U-turn I had been denied for the previous 3-5 minutes. When a woman in a burgundy Honda CR-V honked her horn at me in irritation, I gave her one of these looks and went on my merry way.
It was thrilling!
You know I work in retail, right? I meet all kinds of crazy people, ALL the time. My favorites are the one who come in to purchase/return an item with no receipt and a stack of coupons that expired in 2008. They also want a full refund or credit for their purchase, damn what the stipulations say. Why? Because they are entitled to it!
So I walked into Target during my 24 Hours of Privilege spree and picked up a few items for the kids. Target has a Red Card, and they practically pull your panties off at the register trying to get you to sign up for one. Needless to say, I have a Red Card – not because I enjoy being publicly fondled – but because I like saving money. The card guarantees me 5% off all my purchases. When I got to the register, imagine my surprise when the cashier informed me that their card reader was down.
Was this supposed to be my problem? My face conveyed my annoyance as I asked, “So what about my 5%?”
“Uh…I guess…Let me ask a manager,” the cashier stammered.
Oh, on any other day I would have let it go. But I was intent on enjoying every bit of privilege that I could! So yes, I held up the line when it was 10 minutes to closing time, had the manager called over to make my adjustment and walked out the door $1.60 richer. I suppose the glare that the 6’1” sashaying key holder shot me was meant to shame me, but it didn’t. Because, privilege.
I only had a few hours left into my experiment and so few opportunities to explore the type of privileges certain folk take for granted every day. At last, I was given one from the ancestors themselves.
I work with a particularly immature and irritating manager named Jordan. Her hair is dyed red as an anus set aflame and her voice is as pleasant a spoon trapped in a spinning garbage disposal. On my first night working with her, I took a break toward the end of my shift since she had not given me one. I am entitled to a 15 minute break, even if I don’t always receive one. I had a colleague radio up to her to inform her I was in the break room. Sure as the sun rises at dawn, here came Jordan clicking her way back into the break room to scold me. To scold ME! Oh no. Not on my Day of Privilege!
I gave her one of these looks and kept munching on my chips. With my heart pounding in indignation, I fired off an email to the store manager that night, knowing it could have potentially got me fired. (Spoiler alert, it didn’t.)
Do not ever put me on the schedule when Jordan is on duty. If you do, I will not clock in for duty. I will look in her face, spin on my heel, get in my car and drive to McDonald’s and pick up a sweet tea. I will then go home and watch the latest version of ‘Jake and the Neverland Pirates’ with my kids.
And then I waited.
Do you know they have given me more flexibility with my schedule since I sent that note? How’s that for leaning in!
Of course, I cannot exist this way for the rest of my life. Not until we achieve true equality. This sort of privileged behavior casts me as an “Uppity Negress” or “Sassy/Angry Black woman”, and no one wants to associate with those. No, for now I remain your humble Malaka, beneficiary of whatever liberties society deems fit for me to possess.
Have you ever tried exercising entitlement where/when you didn’t feel you had the right to? How did it feel? Felt great, didn’t it?!?!