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THE IRRITATION OF IT ALL

Cindy Maddera

It’s sometime after lunch and I decide that I need a cup of tea. I think I might as well do a loop outside on my way to get said tea. Get up, move my body around after a few hours of staring at a computer screen exporting data. There is a small parking area on the side of the building and I as reach the area, a man steps out of his Lexus and approaches me. He’s maybe late forties, early fifties, business suit type. He’s holding a sticky note with a name of a building and an address written on it. He asks me if this is the B building. I kindly shake my head and reply “No…this is the S Institute. I think you’re looking for a building across the street.” The man then holds the sticky note out and points. He says “But, the address says it is on Rockhill Road.” It was on the tip of my tongue to say something about how there’s two sides to a road when one of our security guards walks up and takes over.

I step back and continue on my way, but the more I think about it the more irritated I become. I mean, I can see the building the man was looking for right across the street. It has the name of the building written across it in big letters, for gosh sakes. I couldn’t help but believe his doubt in my ability to give him the correct directions had something to do with my gender. He didn’t question our male security guard when he also told the man the building he was looking for was right across the street. Part of me wants to give the man the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he just needed a second opinion. But another part of me is pissed off and sweary over the whole thing. I’ve put this man into the pile of older white privileged males that I’ve been mentally collecting to be pushed over a cliff with a bulldozer. That pile grows larger by the day. It includes all of those old white dudes who vote and make decisions regarding women’s healthcare or think they can grab a woman and do whatever he wants with her.

I’m going to need a bigger bulldozer.

There is another side of this white male privilege that I have been struggling with lately. It is not necessarily a story I can write here, at least not the details of it. It has to do with someone using their privilege to gain access to resources for cancer treatments for a family member that not everyone would have access too. I like this person. I respect this person, but every time he starts talking about next steps and details of it all, I have to get up and leave the room. My emotions range from anger to guilt to shame and doubt. I wonder if I had known to ask for this resource if it would have been available to me. Then I feel stupid that I didn’t even think to ask in the first place. A little bit of rage and jealously settles in because I know that his access to this resource is only possible through his privilege and that if I had asked for it for myself, I would have been told the same thing every doctor told us.

There’s nothing we can do.

Inevitably, after the times I have to leave the room, I end up standing in my favorite bathroom stall, gasping in air between sobs. I stand there, clutching the top of the door, trying to regain control. I tell myself that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. This man is just prolonging the outcome. That’s all I would have been doing. Prolonging Chris’s illness. When I think of it this way, it sounds cruel in my ears. There’s no way I would have prolonged Chris’s suffering. This man is just using his privilege to give his family some hope and I can’t fault him for that. Hope is nice. Also, this man is clueless and naive about his white male privilege. It doesn’t even dawn on him how fortunate he is to have access to this kind of hope. In his world, any one could do what he’s doing. I soothe myself a little bit by letting myself feel sorry for him and his naivety.

But I don’t for a moment forgive him for it.

I pull myself together and tell myself that I am not one of those people. I’m not one of those people who think that if I don’t have something, you can’t have it. I let myself be the naive one for a change and believe that after his experience, maybe he will find a way to share this resource with others. He will find a way for more people to benefit from this. Maybe it’s my job to remind him of this, teach him to use his privilege to help others.

I bet I could do it in such a way that he’d even think it was his own idea.