Personal

White male privilege; Or, the simplicity of equal rights

I rarely consider just how fortunate and privileged I am to be a heterosexual, middle-class white male.

Cops don't pull me over for driving while white. Women don't clutch their purses more tightly as I walk past, fearing that I'll mug them. I've never been killed for looking suspicious on my way back from the corner store with a bag of Skittles.

I get paid on merit, not as a percentage of what someone else makes for the same work. There's very little chance that someone will try to grope me. (Even if I could use a little action sometimes.)

When I go online, I'm not harassed for my appearance, or threatened with violence, or assaulted with slurs based on the type of body I was born with. No one tells me to eat a cheeseburger, go on a diet or make them a sandwich. No one tells me my only place in this world is the workshop or the kitchen or out clubbing gazelles for dinner.

The worst stereotype I might face is my inability to jump.

No one sees the name "Tom" on a job application and immediately judges me like they might for someone named Roshanda.

No one would look at me like a lesser being for buying contraceptives or refuse to ring up my purchase based on their religious beliefs. No politicians have suggested I'm roughly equivalent to a farm animal.

I don't have to endure looks of pity when selecting a form of payment for groceries. So far I've been fortunate enough not to have to choose between a doctor's visit and food. No one is making it impossible for me to exercise my right as a citizen to vote.

I don't have to wait for others to grant me basic civil rights. There are no laws barring me from being in a relationship with a consenting adult1 of the gender to which I'm attracted. There aren't churches full of people lining up with picket signs reading "God Hates Straights". "No hetero" isn't a phrase anyone uses.

I'm a straight, white male from a middle-class background, and that gives me enormous privilege in today's world. It's remarkably easy to take it all for granted, and of that I'm absolutely guilty. But it doesn't have to be that way.

You don't have to be gay to support gay marriage. You don't have to be pregnant to support the ability for a woman to get an abortion. You don't have to be a minority to oppose discrimination. You just have to be a reasonable human being2 with a shred of empathy and the mental capacity to understand that allowing someone to lead a lifestyle of their own choosing will probably not bring down fire and brimstone upon the world.

Humans are humans, regardless of their skin color, their access to bits of paper, their dangly bits or who else's dangly bits they enjoy. That shouldn't be a difficult concept to embrace.


  1. To take it a step further, I'm not even sure why marriage should necessarily be limited to two people. So long as those involved are consenting adults of legal age, who are we to tell someone that you can't love more than one person simultaneously?
  2. This is somewhat kinder language than what I used on Twitter today.
Personal

Death and Your Digital Posterity

You are going to die.

It’s okay, it happens to the best of us. But it is going to happen. We may not know when exactly you’ll succumb to the Reaper, but eventually the bell will toll for thee. Then, presumably, those left among the living will be tasked with handling the aftermath.

It’s likely you’ll have left some physical remnants behind – some furniture, maybe a few books, your prized peanut butter jar collection, whatever. We as a species have had some experience with death over the centuries, so the process of dealing with all that stuff is pretty well defined by now. But what about your digital life?

For most survivors, coping with the physical possessions and conventional assets of the departed can be overwhelming enough, but at least there are parameters and precedents. Even if a houseful of objects is liquidated through an estate sale or simply junked, mechanisms exist to ensure some sort of definitive outcome, even in the absence of a will. And there’s no way of ignoring or forgetting it: eventually the stuff will have to be dealt with.

Bit-based personal effects are different. Survivors may not be aware of the deceased’s full digital hoard, or they may not have the passwords to access the caches they do know about. They may be uncertain to the point of inaction about how to approach the problem at all.

Cyberspace When You’re Dead by Rob Walker, for The New York Times. You should really read that article – it’s quite good.

When my grandmother passed away a few years ago, we started sorting through the various papers and effects she left behind. Among them was a fairly well-documented family tree dating back a couple hundred years, along with a handful of newspaper clippings about this family member or that. But none of it really gives a sense of who those people were, no sense of what their lives encompassed. All those moments have been lost in time, like tears in rain.

Continue reading “Death and Your Digital Posterity”

Personal

Your House is Burning – What Do You Grab?

A thought experiment, if you would. Your house is burning. What do you take with you? Let’s assume for the sake of discussion:

  • You wake up in your bed and realize there’s a fire you can’t put out; you need to get out.
  • You have a safe exit, but not for long.
  • You have some kind of small bag handy, like a backpack or a pillowcase, that you can throw stuff into.
  • You can only make one trip. Once you’re out, you’re out; no going back in for more.

What do you grab? Continue reading “Your House is Burning – What Do You Grab?”

Personal

Five Things I Wish People Knew About Me

Amber Naslund had a great post a little while back, “What I Wish More People Knew About Me” in which she lists a handful of things about herself that maybe weren’t that well known to others, but should be.

Social media can create really superficial vantage points. We can see a few tweets or a blog post or a Facebook status from someone and think we’ve got them all figured out. So much nuance can be lost in the midst of snippets of electronic and fleeting communication.

Absolutely true. We live with a stream of constant tweets, check-ins and status updates, and yet how much about these “friends” do we really truly know? And how much about ourselves do they know? My guess? Not much. And so Amber lists a handful of things about herself that help us get a better sense of who she is, then in true internet fashion issues a call for the rest of us to share alike.

So, doing my best to avoid sounding narcissistic, here are a handful of things I wish people knew about me. Warning: candid revelations below.

Continue reading “Five Things I Wish People Knew About Me”

Personal

#nerdhumor

So, um, this happened yesterday:

'Today is 4/04, TODAY NOT FOUND.' Over 1200 favorites so far.

It was posted totally on a whim; I expected maybe a handful of people to star or retweet it. Instead it took off and got massive visibility. As of the time of this writing it had been retweeted 1231 times using Twitter’s native retweet function and – according to a quick search via the Twitter API – over 600 times by people copying and pasting it, retweeting others who had commented, etc.

I’ve never had anywhere near this kind of widespread attention to any of my tweets in almost a year of Twitter activity. I’d love to spend some time analyzing the various non-native retweets to figure out the progression – who commented on it, whose comments got retweeted the most, and how the tweet evolved as it went. Surprisingly, the vast majority of these stayed in the original form. A few people posted it as a “via @tomhenrich” tweet, etc, but most of the retweets I saw kept it as a proper “RT @tomhenrich” format.

Nerdy highlights: I got retweeted by both @charliejane and @bonniegrrl! Mostly I’m just happy to see there are that many people on Twitter that appreciate a good nerdy HTTP status code joke.

What’s really weird is how many people kept retweeting it today, when it’s no longer 4/04. Date-based humor knows no bounds, apparently.