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20 April 2006

I'm Entitled, You're Entitled, Everyone's Entitle-titled

Here's a thing. I've been watching the amazing, revealing and sometimes painful new series Black.White. on F/X. Bruno (the white guy made up as a black man) in particular throws a word around a lot that has always been a button-pusher for me. Not the `N' word (have you ever heard anything more silly?), the `E' word. Entitlement.

I hate it when people (and by people I mean moneyed people referring to un-moneyed, white people referring to non-white, naturalized people referring to non-naturalized people), go on and on about `entitlement' as if the very act of feeling you have a right to something, means that you don't deserve it. The ludicrous, the ridiculous hypocritical, pseudo-self-righteousness with which they denigrate the angry unwashed for their errant sense of entitlement, never fails to get me hot under the collar. Of course `they' whoever the `they' is under discussion feels entitled. Everybody does. Why should the poor, and non-white be any different from Middle America, Middle-Class America or Corporate America?

It doesn't matter who we are or where live, or the color our skin or the bracket in which we file our taxes. We all feel entitled, as if we have a right to expect things to turn out well for us; whether or not we put in the requisite effort to ensure success. We're Americans for goodness sake! Our entire societal psychology is built on achieving a Dream. They don't call it the 'American You Really Worked For It Didn't You?' or the 'American You Get Exactly What You've Earned And No More' The phrase is the American Dream, a term which in and of itself betrays a cultural inability to deal with reality.

I say American, but the truth is having a sense of entitlement, a feeling that we have a right to the things we need or passionately wish for, is just part of the human condition. However, if you are if you are poor or black (or really any minority, but sticking to the subject of the show), you likely have a much better sense of reality and thus, a lesser sense of entitlement, than your middle-class or white brethren. You have seen the myriad ways in which it is possible for things not to go well. Experience has taught you that just because things are bad, it doesn't mean they can't always get worse. You don't expect breaks, or rescues, or for people to just help you out. Nothing `turns up' (as in the saying `something will turn up'?), things don't `work out'. You have enough of a sense of entitlement to be pissed, but not necessarily enough to hope for better.

On the other hand, entitlement among the moneyed and white is alive and well. I grew up in a very white town. And I came up old school. While other black suburbanites were attempting to insulate their kids from the realities of racism and just the general unfairnesses of life by pretending they didn't exist. Telling them things like, `You're just as good as anyone, in fact better, you can do anything you want.' Which incidentally is what most of my white classmate were being told by their parents. My parents drummed a different message into my head. `Being black in America means you have to work twice as hard as the white person next to you in order to get just as far. Yet another of those axioms I don't really believe, but have found to be true. Another is that taking Vitamin C helps keep you healthy.

I can't count the number of times I've been on a job or whatever and have watched my fellow workmates get away with murder. It's not so much that they didn't get caught taking the extra breaks, taking long personal calls, taking home the office supplies, barely getting their work done or not getting it done at all; it's the attitude with which they perform, or don't. The sense that they have a right to cheat the boss or behave incompetently and not get their butts fired. And if, by some (amazing) stretch they do get fired, guess who's fault it isn't, as far as they are concerned? As if somehow they had done their employer a favor by condescending to show up; whether or not they actually did their jobs was irrelevant.

Now I admit to having a kind of old school Southern girl work ethic. So I get that my take on workplace deportment is in the minority. But what I'm getting at is that no one really feels that they should be condemned to living with the consequences of their actual actions.

We do, on the other hand, feel that other people should face the music. You know if 'they can't take the heat, they should get out of the kitchen'; 'if they can't do the time, they shouldn't do the crime. For ourselves we expect -- feel . . . a-heh . . . entitled to a little mercy. 'Yes, my son knows he shouldn't have groped that woman on the subway, but calling the police? Isn't that just a little extreme? After all, boys will be boys.' 'Well, sure, I padded my expense account just a little, everyone does it. Should that cost me my job?' Or 'Why are you pulling me over? At least two other cars were going faster than I was.'

We all have our thing, a little thing, a big thing; some behavior for which we would really, really prefer the chickens not come home to roost. After all, we feel we are good people and if nothing else, entitled to having our lives go on undisturbed by excessive consequences. So why don't we all just ease up on deciding what godless excesses to which other people should feel entitled?

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