Note From Uncle Dale

It Should Have Always Bothered Me

Dale Boam, CI, Attorney at Law

Note From Uncle Dale

To state the obvious – I call myself Uncle Dale. The gender pronoun I choose identifies how I interpret myself. I am a male. I am also straight. I am white. I identify myself as a Christian. I am not a person with a disability.

I was gifted at birth with privilege that I did nothing to earn. I have lived a life in which I never noticed doors, because they have always been open to me. I have never wondered if I wouldn’t get a job because of the color of my skin. I have never looked in the mirror before I left the house and wondered if my clothes were sending the right message. I have never had to worry that my opinion might be ignored or that I would be looked upon as overall less capable because of a limitation in one area.

Never.

I am privileged.

In fact my privilege has privilege. But, there is much my privilege tries to hide from me. At some level I have always known that all doors are open to me and I am made to feel welcome wherever I go.

Herein is the problem. The fact that I am treated as welcome wherever I go (whether or not I am actually welcome) has plagued me recently. The main reason it has plagued me, truth be told, is because it has only plagued me recently.

These things should have always bothered me.

I am not a jerk (most of the time). In almost all areas of my life I am dedicated to the service of others. This is not, it seems, a learned behavior. I am told I was born that way. My mother tells a story of me in first grade, desperately begging her to stop the car. When she pulled over I jumped out, took off my coat and put it on the back of a classmate who was walking home without one. My mother said, “Make sure you get it back from him.” I apparently replied, “No, I gave it to him. I have another coat at home and he doesn’t and he walks to school but we can’t give him a ride everyday so he needs the coat.”  

I tell that story only to illustrate that I am not confessing to being a “bad” person. I am actually quite a good person. But that is not the point. The point is I am a good privileged person.

Privilege is a parasite. It feeds on unearned opportunity and excretes undeserved power, and though obvious to everyone around, it attempts to convince its host it doesn’t exist.  

In other words, I have to work hard at all times to see it, because it doesn’t want me to.

I was in a discussion about racism recently with a friend who is brilliant, witty, and shares NO similar political views with me. He said he could not possibly be a racist because he has adopted several (personal note, ADORABLE) children of widely varying racial backgrounds. I pointed out that having racially diverse children is not an inoculation against racism, any more than having a daughter makes it impossible for me to be sexist.

I’m not talking about being a racist or a sexist. I’m talking doing or saying something racist or sexist; an action not an identity.

“Well,” he asked, “Are you saying that you are sexist?”

“Every time I do something sexist,” I replied. “For the whole time I engage in the act, dating back through the whole time I engaged in the thinking that brought the act about, until whenever it is corrected. For all that period, yes, I am sexist.

I do my best to avoid these… occurrences. I do my best to learn when they occur. I do my best not to defend myself or say stupid things like, “That’s not sexist.”

The definition of an offensive act is that someone is offended by it. If someone is offended, I am then obligated to correct my behavior, not excuse it.  

“But!” I can feel the arguments from here, “Everyone is offended about something and you can’t please everyone.”

True. In similar circumstances I may choose to engage in similar behavior to that which I was just told is offensive, if I believe it is the best course of action. In that situation, maybe no one will be offended. The difference is that I would be making a choice, not just blundering unwittingly through the fog of my privilege.  

In the end, whether racism, sexism, ableism, audism, genderism or any other “ism” you can think of, I have the responsibility to pay attention and work past each layer of privilege that clouds my vision, to purposely see when my privilege is smoothing my path and to actively make sure it is not blocking the paths of others. Most important of all I must now and forever be bothered by privilege when I see it, even if it’s my own, because for so very long I failed to look let alone to see.

Dale Boam, CI, Attorney at Law, is an Associate Professor of Deaf Studies at Utah Valley University, an attorney advocating for the rights of persons who are Deaf, an interpreter, and a blogger at “Uncle Dale’s Rules for Interpreters.” He consults and presents nationally on both interpreting and legal topics. Dale recently received a favorable decision from the Ninth Circuit Court that makes Section 504 more accessible to persons who are Deaf (See Ervine v. Desert View Regional Medical Center). Dale has served in advisory committees for the NAD, the organizing board for Deaf Studies, Today!, and the 2007 Deaflympic Games.