Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Trading Places

I was reminded of the movie Trading Places this past weekend after reading the point/counterpoint offering in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  The discussion revolved around Elizabeth Warren who is running for Senator in Massachusetts.  Apparently it has been revealed that she listed herself as 1/32 Cherokee on her application for admission to Harvard.  The point/counterpoint writers focused, not on her claim to be Cherokee which I have heard have been attacked as undocumented, but on her use of this heritage to gain advantage in the admission process to Harvard.  The point argument was that this "reverse" discrimination has no purpose in today's world and that it is about time that our institutions and government treat everyone equally, based on character and achievement.  The counterpoint argument took the need for diversity side of the debate.  To be honest, I read more of the point side as I am always fascinated when white males write about how they feel attacked by the liberal perspective that belittles their obviously superior skills and wants to sacrifice the future of America by watering down its economic and business leadership by forcing us to hire people whose only qualifications are past atrocities of their ancestors and/or scant bloodlines.

If you don't know the movie Trading Places, it depicts two brothers in the commodities business who wager $1 that they can make a successful, white, male business executive turn to crime while at the same time, turn a low-life minority con man into a successful wall street trader.  The old nature vs nurture debate.

(As a side note, I love the scene where the brothers are trying to teach the street character played by Eddie Murphy how the commodities business works.  After explaining it, Eddie Murphy says "Sounds to me like you guys a couple of bookies".  To which Randolph Duke, the "nurture" advocate in the experiment says, chuckling, "I told you he'd understand.")

Anyway, what fascinates me about this "poor suppressed white male" whine is the plea for fairness and equality.  Never mind that currently, in the United States Senate, there are 96 white members, 83 of them male.  I don't believe that America consists of 83% white males.  And I am fairly certain that more then 4% of the US population is minority.  Never mind also, that 78% of Fortune 500 board members are white male, about 13% white female and the remaining 10% minority of any gender.

I guess, anything less than 100% dominance is unacceptable, especially when we realize that white males are indeed the most superior race and gender. 

I know, I know, that isn't what they really think.  Writers who abhor affirmative action just want the best people making the most important decisions.  They just want whats best for America.

In fact, they frequently use sports as their proof.  Isn't there a higher percentage of blacks in professional sports?   They are the best, and therefore they are hired at a higher percentage than their population at large.  Of course, the fact that sports is an entertainment industry seems beside the point.  And the fact that it has only been 60 years or so that blacks were even allowed to participate in professional sports is ignored.  And the fact that sports team owners are very white male dominated.  And the fact that the percentage of minorities of general managers and on-the-field managers is just finally beginning to rise after years of having no blacks at the helm.  Even black quarterbacks were bypassed for quite a while; not smart enough I think was the reason.  So yes, sports is integrated.  At the worker level, but not so much where the power and control exist.

But I digress.  In Trading Places, like all discussions of the influence of nature vs nurture, it is clear that environmental influences effect outcomes.  In fact, there has been recent scientific research concerning a third factor which one might say bridges the two generally considered main factors in an attempt to explain why some identical twins raised separately might still make very similar choices and achieve very similar results while other identicals raised by the same parents can turn out to be extremely different, even unrecognizable as twins.

The white male whiners, as I like to call them, display a very serious case of arrogance in their perspective.  They seem to think that the years of advantaged living, the contacts, the opportunities, the similarity between their white maleness and the people making the decisions to hire, promote, mentor, is all a coincidence.  That they are successful because they are superior.  In other words, they completely discount the nurture end all while being immersed in the benefits that especially nurturing environments bequeath.  It is actually sad if you think about it.

And, in the letter I sent to the Inquirer reproduced below, it suggests a level of being afraid.  Afraid that should minorities be given the exact same advatages that the white male has had for decades that women, blacks, hispanics, etc might perform better.  Might prove to be smarter in decisions affecting business.  (I would take less greedy, if I had my druthers).  Might generate a political system where public service was more important than private compensation.  Might lead us to a place where making a million dollars was nice, but helping a million people was much more valued.

Might acutally work for equality, starting with marriage equality.

Of course, maybe once the white male becomes a minority he will be treated just as he treated women, blacks, etc in the past.  What goes aroung comes around?  Is that the thought that keeps them up at night?

To the Editor:

With George Parry's summary paragraph in Sunday's Point/Counterpoint asking "Isn't it past time that our universities - as well as our government and other institutions - treat all of us equally and on the basis of our characters and achievements", I fully expect Mr. Parry to condemn all those states which have passed "Defense of Marriage laws" which uniquely treat those with a different gender preference as completely unequal.

Short of the publication of what I would consider a remarkable column by Mr. Parry, perhaps he can explain why 83% of current United States Senators are white male, 17% white women and only 4 percent minority of any gender, especially when one realizes that a little more than half of all Americans are female, and that minorities make up about a quarter of our population. Or why 78% of Fortune 500 board members are white male with only about 13% white women and 10% minority of any gender?

The fact is that our systems of government and economics have been and continue to be dominated by white men, not just because they are the superior gender and race but because discriminatory hirings, subpar educational opportunities, and the prevalence of the good-old-boy mentality has created a situation where, given the exact same character and talents, women and minorities have been denied access to the lanes of upward mobility that result in our current lack of diversity in the two most important systems in America.

In other words, Mr. Parry and his ilk are afraid that if we give those who have historically had less opportunity and access, the dominance of white males might be threatened.


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