Thursday, January 25, 2007

Some thoughts about "advantage"

My online friend Debra of Reflecting has a post up in which she, um, reflects on her coworkers' jealousy of her new computer monitor and the odd ways in which they express that jealousy. I began to respond to her post, but it quickly became something other than a mere comment on her post. So, rather than clutter up her place, I thought I'd clutter up my own.

Below the fold is my response to her:

I understand what you're saying, but I suspect their remarks are indirectly aimed at your employer's reluctance/inability to provide more equally for everyone. You and your big honkin' shiny new monitor are going to get scrutinized for reasons that have nothing to do with your value as an employee. Sigh--it'll suck to be you for a while.

I have a former student who is interested in earning her doctorate in History and getting a job as a college professor. She's not only very bright, she's also Hispanic. Given the dearth of female ethnic minorities in graduate programs and on college faculties these days, she will drown in offers of money (much of it unsolicited) and, eventually, employment just for those reasons . . . and, inevitably, people will speculate about what, besides her gender and ethnicity, qualifies her for admission/hiring. She has thought a great deal about all this, and she and I have talked about it. She's not shy or dumb: she knows that, whether others like it or not, her gender and ethnicity give her certain advantages that others are not going to have; and, not being wealthy, she plans to take advantage of them as she is able. But she refuses simply to be somebody's token; she is a serious student and wants to be taken seriously by her colleagues and peers. That's as it should be, of course, but it takes time to be taken seriously; so, until that happens, she and her shiny gender and ethnicity will get scrutinized for reasons that have nothing to do with her value as a student or colleague. It'll suck to be her for a very long while--what makes it even worse, no one is going to come up and say to her face, even jokingly, "Must be nice to be Hispanic."

Just for the record: in rereading this, I'm not sure if this is an argument in favor of or against affirmative action policies.

Technorati tags:
, , , ,


R. Sherman said...

The problem is, when merit is removed from the equation, those who are unsuccessful in some endeavor have a ready-made excuse.

Either it's "She got the job because of affirmative action" or "I failed because of centuries of oppression." With that sort of mindset, there is no incentive to try to improve, because actual performance bears no relation to outcome.

Winston said...

My business is system and network support for small businesses, so I see it all. People are so technology conscious and gadget crazy these days... Mine is bigger, faster, smaller, more RAM, bigger hard drive, better speakers, etc., etc.

I have been using a term to describe this that most of my customers get a kick out of: digital penis envy.