The Privilege of Choice
As some of you may remember, a few months ago, Google employee James Damore released a memo to the entire company discussing how women are biologically more drawn to jobs that are not in tech because they are less capable of handling anxiety, less assertive, have, “openness directed to feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas”, and have a lower drive for status among other reasons to try and explain the reasoning for the gender gap in tech fields. Damore was promptly fired for perpetuating gender stereotypes that are harmful in the workplace. Many women in the tech industry felt disrespected by his generalization and perpetuations of stereotypes they have long been trying to escape. Through his words, he offended an enormous number of people and was terminated for that exact reason. This seems like a logical series of events, but public right-wingers, like Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos (who posted the bios publicly of all of the Google employees who criticized the memo in attempts to shame them), were outraged. People claimed that Google was violating the free speech rights of Damore by choosing to fire him and felt as though his personal opinions, even though expressed in a workplace setting, should not be cause of his termination. To everyone who was outraged over Damore’s termination because it is a violation of free speech rights I have one question: where are you now?
Colin Kaepernick, NFL quarterback is now out of a job because he knelt while the national anthem was played on public television and none of those extremely vocal conservatives who defended the free speech rights of Damore are anywhere to be seen… or heard.
People say that the reason Kaepernick deserves to be fired is not for his beliefs, but because he brought them into his workplace and disrupted others, yet Damore used a public work memo to convey his opinions to his entire office and does not deserve the same penalty. People say that Kaepernick disrespected the American flag and is unpatriotic and offensive and that is why he should be fired, yet Damore disrespected women by blaming biology and women’s natural lack of drive in their careers for the misrepresentation in STEM fields, insulting half of the population, and doesn’t deserve the same penalty. People say that Kaepernick was bad at his job and that is why he deserved to be fired, yet he was ranked number 29 out of 96 quarterbacks in the NFL which is in the top 70th percentile. All of these supposed justifications for Kaepernick’s terminated career reflect the same justifications for Damore to keep his job, and reflect essentially the same crime.
Surprisingly, some of the people who are boycotting the NFL for situations like Kaepernick’s are simultaneously “attempting” to boycott Google for firing someone who did the exact same thing. Furthermore, Kaepernick is arguably not in the wrong. Damore in his memo is pointing out the fact that men and women are not treated the same way in the tech industry, and he believes that this is justified and they do not deserve to be treated equally. Kaepernick, on the other hand, is pointing out the fact that white people and people of color are not treated the same way in this country, but instead of perpetuating it, he wants to eradicate it. Kaepernick is supporting equality which is a value widely regarded as positive in this country while Damore is against it yet, people still see Kaepernick’s termination as justified while Damore’s is not. The hypocrisy is sickening and the root for it seems to be hidden in two words that no conservative likes to hear: systemic racism.
Kaepernick kneels because there are people, not only south of the Mason-Dixon line, but all over the country who proudly display the confederate flag. Kaepernick kneels because there were violent, Nazi protests in Charlottesville over whether or not a statue of the founder of one of the oldest and most violent hate groups in the nation, the KKK should be taken down. Kaepernick kneels because those Nazi’s that the media likes to call “alt-right” literally drove a car into a crowd, killing someone, and still weren’t referred to as terrorists. Kaepernick kneels because families of color everyday fear for the lives of their children due to threats of police brutality or violent racism that still regularly occurs across the country. Kaepernick kneels because when I ask a white person if their opinions would be different if they were a person of color and they say “yes” still don’t see that as their privilege. Kaepernick kneels because even though he is a successful black man, he is using his privilege and influence to give a voice to the people who aren’t being heard. Kaepernick kneels because this country was built on slavery and racism and right now, the American flag does not represent complete freedom for people of color in this country.
People generally do not want to be called out for what they are doing wrong, especially if they are aware of it. In the case of Damore, he is condoning the current situation of inequality in the tech industry, allowing the people in power to be content with their decisions. Damore looks at inequality and not only tolerates it, but promotes it. Kaepernick, on the other hand, is directly calling out people for their flaws and demanding change. This prompts the american people to recognize the inequality present in our society and do something about it. To understand and accept Kaepernick’s message and call to action, the people in power have to look at themselves critically for a change and go to actual effort to change their lifestyles and generally, people are unwilling to do that. In Kaepernick’s case, he is directly speaking against the current system in place and forcing people to look at themselves in an unfavorable light. Because of an underlying problem of privilege and resistance to change, even if it is positive, in this country, people are willing to stand up for the rights of the person who does not force them to see themselves in any sort of negative light, but instead applauds them for their perpetuation of inequality in this country.
As a white girl from a fairly wealthy, homogenous, and progressive area of the country, I often take for granted the privileges I have. I have never been a victim of sexism, classism, or racism on any sort of significant scale so I have the choice to ignore those problems. I could just as easily ignore a violation of someone’s rights or equality as I could choose to stand up for them without any sort of impact on my personal life aside from some mild discomfort in a social situation. I realize after seeing these two cases compared to one another, that I could easily hide behind my privilege and only choose to stand up for people’s rights when the benefit me, or I could be proactive in the fight to eradicate inequality in this country. The fact that I have this choice at all is a privilege that I am just starting to recognize.
All of this being said, I personally don’t think I will kneel the next time I hear the national anthem, but I do think that the fact that I have a choice could very likely be my privilege talking.