My name is Daniel and I am young, straight, white, and male. My teeth are nearly Hollywood perfect and my hair has gentle highlights. People ordinarily mistake my faint accent for Canadian and assume my free use of vocabulary is something I picked up in college. At just over 6 feet, my muscled frame can be imposing, but my smile often sets people at ease. I make plenty of money in my business and live fully in California’s Bay Area. In short, I am the very face of the majority, the oppressive class.
I suppose I can understand why people are surprised to hear about my history. That I didn’t have braces is a common shock. My teeth grew that way. I got lucky. Most of my appearance it luck, too: height from my father, strong features from my mother, even the highlights in my hair are a product of generations of mixed ethnicities. White ethnicities.
Being successful was no accident, though. Another shock: I grew up poor. Not destitute, but I got for Christmas whatever my parents’ friends gave them after their own kids didn’t want them. I remember getting my first video game console in 1996, an NES with a few cartridges. My father worked full-time as a janitor and I entered school around the same time my mother got bumped from part time to full at the middle school where she taught, rendering me a latchkey kid for the length of my scholastic history. My house was four miles out of town in the woods, where land was cheap. My parents got a very good deal on it because of the location and the fact that the roof had relocated itself to the living room floor. My father spent most of their savings repairing it by himself. He was handy, and he taught me a lot.
I failed my way through high school and took the GED when I was 19. I had been working manual labor jobs for a few years and after I had my GED, I saved up money by processing salmon in Alaska, the lowest-class job in existence. I started really getting into politics and it led me to serve two years in AmeriCorps to keep myself out of the draft. This was just after the new millennium and the war made it seem inevitable. I started hearing about social justice and other radical concepts and by my early twenties, I found myself volunteering at a social justice-centered bike shop. I stayed in shape by riding everywhere since I was still too poor to afford a car. Working there, I became conscious of who I appeared to be and felt myself growing more passionate about social justice. I spent a year in Vancouver BC and six months on the Big Island of Hawaii, both areas where whites were not a majority group, experiences which only solidified my growing feelings.
I went to a trade school. I still wonder if I bumped someone out of place, or if they even bothered to look at my high school records. I tend to think they didn’t bother. After my certification, I traveled and found myself in the Bay area. I don’t pay nearly what I should in rent: I just got lucky. Or maybe, this time, some applications were left on a desk when a young white professional shook the hand of the property owner. I’ll never know. Likewise, my employer offered my a very generous position over candidates notably more qualified. Maybe someday I’ll sit my employer down over drinks and ask him if the fact that the other applicants were women skewed his decision. But, once again, I’ll probably never know.
So I find myself in a unique position. I am the very face of privilege, the poster boy for the Rich White Army in the War Against the Poor. I represent an education I don’t have, a childhood I never experienced, and an oblivion I transcend. Every day I am mistaken for the man I seek, in my own time, to tear down.
Image credit: Eric Rhoads/Flickr