To the extent that it’s productive to convince the privileged to reflect on their priviledge—and I really do doubt the returns of this exercise, as I have written before—the way to do it is less Elizabeth Warren and more Emily Dickinson, who advised, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant—Success in Circuit lies.”
On any given day you set out to reach him, the whitest, richest Cisgender male likely won’t feel like a lucky feller; he’ll feel bogged down, beset, and overwhelmed, like everyone else.
Advertising people make their living not by making jarringly immaculate moral arguments, but by selling beer and hamburgers, on a friendly basis.
That means making the rhetorical concessions required to meet people where they live. And where most people live, every day—whether they live under a bridge or work in a corner office on the top floor—is the self-pitying astonishment that life is so hard, so complicated, so full of crazy people, so relentless, so tedious—so daily.
Somehow, our mothers never quite prepared us for this. They wanted more for us than this.
“Time to make the donuts,” was a Dunkin’ Donuts slogan so resonant to its audience, it’s part of pop culture 40 years later.
McDonald’s had us at, “You deserve a break today.”
“For all you do,” the beer commercial sang, “this Bud’s for you.”
And how many times have you been on the phone around 5:00 and heard or said, “I think it’s getting around Miller Time.”
All these commercials are decades old. We remember them because they appeal to how almost all of us feel—amazed at how much is asked of us every day, and pretty damned impressed at how much we manage to pull off—and for such paltry recognition.
My adman dad admired a print ad that I frustratingly can’t find. It was for Hertz or Avis, promising quicker service at the airport counter. The picture showed a businessman looking weary and discouraged, and the headline was something like, “Third in your class at Harvard, first to make VP before 40 … and last in line at La Guardia.”
So you want to talk to someone about their “privilege” and get some scales to fall from their eyes? At the very least, you’ve got to show that you understand how hard their life is already, and then ask them to imagine another person dealing with a whole layer of other bullshit on top of that!
And in order to show you understand, you have to get to know the other person, and show you know something about their life and its catastrophes and daily hardships. You have to.
And if you can’t be bothered? Then you ain’t gonna sell no hamburgers—let alone those fucking lima beans you’re hawking.
Or as Emily Dickinson concluded, And so, as Dickinson concluded, “The Truth must dazzle gradually,” Dickinson concluded, “Or every man be blind.”
P.S. While I was writing this, a gin and tonic finally at my elbow, at 7:05 p.m. on a Monday night after a 12-hour workday, this happened.
By 7:45, I had remembered I’m privileged to be able to afford to have this repaired, I hope. If it doesn’t explode and fill me with shrapnel first.