Ever noticed the squiggly Japanese word on disposable chopsticks? I ignored it until I started learning Japanese, then one day realised I could actually read it! It’s ‘otemoto’ and the meaning surprised me. It doesn’t mean ‘chopsticks’. It means “that which is within your reach”, or more simply “handy” or “convenient”.
Now let’s leap wildly sideways:
There is a lot of talk these days about ‘privilege’, and rightly so! It is noted that a number of humans in this world enjoy automatic privileges. Being white is one such advantage. So is being male. Ditto being heterosexual. And of course being obscenely wealthy.
If life’s lottery wins you the entire package, then it’s highly likely you’ll steam through life, automatically and unthinkingly expecting 1st class service, education, high pay, police protection, health insurance, and finally a ministerial role in the Australian government.
And here’s the curious thing: It’s automatic. If you’ve always enjoyed these privileges, how can you even perceive that they are there? You’re like a fish: you’ll never grasp the concept of ‘water’.
So it has to be painfully pointed out: Yes you’re enjoying privileges. But that’s difficult, very difficult. No-one likes being thus confronted. I was confronted not so long about about the extraordinary privileges I enjoy purely because I am white in a white man’s world. (There wasn’t an Abba song about that.) So I made myself read the stories of those that were not white; whose skin colour means they get treated as 2nd class citizens not matter how high their education, their IQ, their profession … etc, etc. Every hour, of every day of their life. Wham. That stopped me for a while.
I have friends who are gay. Same story. And much has been recently said, written, and shouted about the gender gap. Women get paid less, promoted less, and treated like children once they reach public office. Or worse!
So in this world there is a tiny minority enjoying a very smooth ride, and, as politicians demonstrate all around the world, they just don’t get it! They are fish.
So allow me to demonstrate the concept of automatic privilege in a safe, non-confrontational way. Look at you computer. How is the keyboard laid out? Look at your printer, stove-top cooker, toaster, mixer, sandwich press, the thermometer you stick into your roast or into your fevered child’s mouth (different thermometers, I hope!). Look at your car. Look at your credit cards. Yes, even them! Every single thing that has ever been made for humans (with few exceptions) is biased. Unless it is a completely symmetrical it is made for a right-hander. Even screwdrivers are for right-handers.
Statistically you’re a right-hander. I don’t hate you personally, but you are enjoying a free ride. You have automatic right-hander privilege. And I don’t. I’m the black guy, or the gay guy, or the female guy, or the guy with the bad of English. I’m the one who has to go through his ENTIRE LIFE at a disadvantage.
So – that’s my way of thinking about it. A way to engage with the concept. What IS it like not having the automatic privileges that others enjoy? 88% of the world are having a sweet ride, and I’m having a shitty ride. Every day, in every way, I AM DISADVANTAGED. Every day I’m having to fumble awkwardly for the controls. The entire world is the mirror image of how I would prefer it.
Sorry, what? What about the screw-drive? No, I wasn’t joking. I’m coming to that.
There’s been a lot of research done on ‘south-paws’; the ‘cack-handed’ poor cousins of humanity. They don’t live as long. They earn less. They are more accident-prone. But does anyone bother to stop and wonder why? Power-tools are made for right-handers. So are cars, nearly all machinery, ATMs and supermarkets (not that supermarkets kill a lot of people), oven gloves*** and just about every freaking damn thing! The entire human-built world is a gigantic obstacle course rigged (not intentionally, but the statistics tell it different) to kill left-handers!
Why don’t they earn as much? Right-hander’s privilege. Why don’t they live as long? Right-hander’s privilege. Think about it – how much more stressful would it be to live in a world that NEVER FITS? I can’t blame them. I’m one of them!
So there’s your way to get into the idea. Start noticing all of the things you’re advantaged by, without having to move a muscle (quite literally in many instances). The ways and the means, all those ‘otemoto’ things laid out for you in your house and your car and your workplace that you’d never noticed before? That is exactly how “rich-white-hetero-prettyboy privilege” also works. It’s entrenched and insidious and invisible to everyone who benefits – and it is utterly glaringly bloody obvious to all who don’t.
And how do you suppose they feel about it; the 12%? The dispossessed? Really fucked off, actually (to be blunt). Most days, they will be angry about some tiny, or massive, barrier to a life wherein their dreams might have been more easily fulfilled, let alone their needs. Most days, every day, all day.
And the screwdriver? I’M SERIOUS! Bear with me. What are screwdrivers used for? Screwing in screws. And screws have a thread. And a helical thread is not symmetrical. They’re either ‘left-handed’, or ‘right-handed’.
Every standard nut, bolt and screw in the world has right-hand-thread because the human forearm and wrist can apply more twisting force going one way, and less the other, and so once again right-handers gave themselves the easy ride where left-handers struggle. The only time a left-hander is at his or her best is unscrewing screws! I learned this from a book, and from that day on I switch hands to screw.
In other words: I *learnt* to be ambidextrous.
And here we reach the twist in the tale: Left-handers end up being more adaptive. More inventive. More skilled. More perceptive. They’re better designers. Better artists. Better thinkers. They have to constantly re-engineer their surroundings until things finally become ‘otemoto’.
And it’s nothing to do with that ‘Left-brain/Right-Brain” stuff (which is bollocks, BTW.) it’s because we want to stay alive. Because you never know when your supermarket is going to claim its first victim.
*** Read my addendum in the comments