I’ve found myself going against the establishment most of my life, but only recently coming to realize it. As much as I have done things differently, it’s always been with the goal of becoming the establishment. It pains me today to say that, but I realize it to be true.
- I worked hard to make money so I could dress like you.
- I drove a Mercedes, a Lexus, a BMW so I could be respected by you.
- I owned a big, new house in the suburbs so I could live next to you.
- I learned your language so I could converse with you.
- I became oblivious to other people’s pain so I could laugh with you
In the end, I feel ashamed of myself. I was not me, but instead I was a yellow version of you. You were the carrot being dangled in front of me, yet I never realized I had an appetite for carrots.
- When I was like you, you respected me.
- When we shared the same dreams, you encouraged me.
- When we partied and got drunk together you shared stories with me
- When I parked my car in your neighborhood, you envied me.
- When I made lots of money you helped spend it with me.
Being in a position of power and privilege feels really great! Every luxury is at your disposal. People drool all over themselves when you offer them your scraps. Everyone wants to be like you. However, there is always a price to be paid for such privilege. For me, that price was indifference. At the time, running with the haves made me care little about the have nots. I started with nothing, to gain all that was mine — and now it’s mine so go out and live the American dream and become a have yourself, rather than trying to take away what I worked so hard to get.
Can you relate to my story? Whether you are privileged to have or unfortunate to not have, you understand this story well. Even if you’re crawling up the ladder of success and in transition on the way to having, you get the story. However, if I make the topic about race rather than money, do you still get it? Consider my perspective as a Japanese-American growing up in California and re-read those points above one more time. Don’t think about money, but think about race in American culture. Does something get lost in translation? It shouldn’t, but I know it will.
It all comes down to three things: money, power, and privilege.
When one has power and privilege, money is not necessary. If someone had no money, but had beauty and celebrity, you would want to know them. You would want what they have. Money will come to them. When one has money and privilege, power comes their way quickly. Wherever money and power are together, you can obviously see where they automatically gain privilege.
Look at someone like Tiger Woods. At the time of this writing, he is amidst some scandal regarding infidelity. He has lots and lots of money. He dominates the golf world which gives him power. He gets in bed with women who are not his wife because this gives him privilege. Seriously, if Tiger Woods didn’t have money and power, would we be hearing of how he slept with 7+ mistresses and how they all kept it secret? No, he’d be just another black man judged for being a player in a world of player haters. His mistresses wouldn’t have kept the secret, because their chance for privilege or power would come from exposing him to the public.
The establishment has dictated the rules of the game. Either be born of privilege like us, or somehow gain money and power. Otherwise, we are forced to take our game somewhere else.
You know what, I played your game. In grace, I ran to your crumbs and hoped that my gesture would get your attention. That you would see me standing at your feet savoring your scraps and possibly invite me up to the table with you, even if it were just for one meal. In the end, you dropped your crumbs to the floor, made sure I came for the feast of scraps, then picked up your plate, locked me in the dining room and moved out of the house never to look back on me again. You, my friend, are someone of privilege who now has power. Yes, money is coming to you. Don’t you worry. When you play the establishment game you always win. You can’t help it. It’s in your genes.
I don’t want to play the establishment game any more, no matter who I offend. I’m not on that team anymore. I am not like you. It is not in my genes. My hard work should not be so you can take advantage of me and parade me around as I honor you by being like you. It’s time I realize who I am, not who you want me to be. Playing with you isn’t playing to win, it’s simply winning. The game is fixed, the deck is stacked, the bets have been recorded.
In reality, I have come to learn that it is the have nots that are really privileged and the haves that are living in the unfortunate. Because as have nots, they are living in the world of reality and know who they are, while the haves are living for the sake of how others see them. As people of the chance to be haves, some days when you look in the mirror you have no clue who you see.