A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away… I worked on a little TV show called Blue’s Clues. If you’re just learning this now, go back and start with Part I: Before Blue’s Clues.
First: a word from our sponsor, Privilege
Before I move on to Part IV, I want to talk about something that’s been gnawing at me since I started writing this series.
I considered it a privilege to work on such a special show with an amazing team of talented people. But that’s not the privilege I want to talk about.
If you read Part I, you heard me say a lot about how I worked hard, stayed determined, and wrangled my way into jobs and circumstances where I otherwise might not have been granted access very easily. All of that is true, of course. However, I also had things going for me that were inherently and firmly in place long before I tried to achieve my dream.
I was raised in the 1970s as a white male in a middle-class, Christian, American family. That means that I saw myself and my family reflected in the TV shows I watched and the ads I saw. We were the default, as far as society was concerned. I never knew about white or male privilege because I lived it. I was on the inside, and you can’t see the rest of the forest when you’re surrounded by all the same trees.
For many years I considered myself enlightened simply because I was conscious of the wrongs perpetrated in history, especially against people of color and women. I still had a lot to learn.
I also grew up in a household that championed the independence of women in society. I can give you a perfect example of how different it was back then. When my mother went to get a part-time job in 1983, her boss asked her if she had her husband’s permission. That’s changed, but there are workplace paradigms still in place today (unequal pay is an obvious one).
Growing up I never understood that girls were raised, sometimes in very subtle ways, to be subservient to males. We still live in a society where men expect to be in charge. If they find themselves in a situation where they’re not in charge, they will find a way to subvert the female leadership and “make things right.” I’ve seen it happen many times. Sometimes it’s not even an overt act. It’s not immediately obvious to the men that that’s what they’re doing, but they are.
I also never understood the fear of getting gas late at night alone or going into a public restroom in a badly lit area. Even being the lone female in a crowd of rowdy dudes is a danger that I never considered.
I never understood what it was like for a woman to apply or interview for a job. Over the years, I’ve learned about the subtle ways hiring managers make it more challenging for women than they do for men.
I also never considered myself racist. And even though I hated racism itself, I had no idea what being Asian, Jewish or a person of color was like, apart from what was represented on TV. I didn’t know about the experience of being a black man in a suburban store. I recently learned how many black men are conscious of not appearing threatening or making sure they’re being accommodating, just to avoid suspicion of being a danger to the white customers. Growing up, I never gave a thought to the fact that Band-Aids were made for white skin and how that affects the mental well-being of black kids growing up in a white world.
Now, I can imagine that the simple fact of your race not being represented in simple ways must change the very basis of how you think about the world. The overtly racist ways of white supremacists are obviously hard to deal with. I can only imagine how the subtle, quieter ways are just as hard.
I’ve talked a lot in my series about motivating myself to get to the next step in my career. That’s my experience as someone who has always had a lot of privilege. You can’t just hand a copy of The Power of Positive Thinking to a marginalized person and expect that they’ll suddenly overcome all their issues. It doesn’t work that way. Someone who grew up in poverty doesn’t necessarily believe that a better life is right around the corner if only they could just think better. Sometimes it’s a matter of survival first, motivational posters later.
I’ve seen perfectly competent and personable individuals turned down for jobs because of race, gender, age, disability, and even weight. Yes, it’s against the law. Yes, it still happens. Everyone in those situations knows why, but no one talks about it. The privileged can compartmentalize their shame and move on without much trouble. I’ve been complicit in some of those situations simply because I didn’t speak up. Being a silent witness doesn’t make me any less guilty.
Over the years, I’ve learned more about what privilege means. As a trans/non-binary person, I’ve also experienced firsthand some of the non-inclusivity and fear that comes from being in certain situations. That experience has helped me understand a lot about what other marginalized people go through.
My privilege doesn’t take away from my hard work. I did work hard and I did achieve the things I wanted because I stuck to it and didn’t give up. I had an incredibly supportive family. Acknowledging my privilege is important to understand the context in which this series is set.
I hope you’ll keep reading.
Next Up: Part IV
Next week, I’ll show up with Part IV, where I’ll talk about the juicy details of what it was like on the inside of Blue’s Clues. The stars, the writers, the meetings, and the day-to-day experience of creating a TV show for kids.
Read Part IV now: The First Lesson
Tune in next week for the continuation of What I Learned From Working on Blue’s Clues!