Monday, April 25, 2016

A red solo cup and the shape of privilege

We were on campus to go to the senior theater students gala — dinner and warm remembrances of the students from their faculty and peers.  It was lovely, the faculty worked the bar, every last student,  from actors to directors to tech crew, including the work study students who weren't majors, was feted and applauded. So perhaps that's why the walk back to the car was such a shock.

A big lacrosse game was going on in the stadium, complete with an enormous CBS sports mobile studio.  A group of JV players strode past us, chatting volubly.  As one finished his drink, without a sidewise glance, he cavalierly tossed his red solo cup on the ground, almost at my feet.  It had the air of royalty, a sense of utter indifference. Clearly, trash — where it landed and what happened to it after that— was not his problem.  Ever.

There was no trash on the ground, not even weeds in the flower bed where the cup came to rest.  Just this one red cup, discarded by an athletic twenty-something who couldn't be bothered to look for a trash receptacle.

Would he wonder who picked it up?  Would he be surprised to discover a nearly sixty year-old full professor felt compelled to pick up his garbage?  Actually I'm certain he didn't give the fate of the cup a nanosecond's thought.  He's lucky that I was so stunned and his legs so long that I couldn't catch up with him, return the cup to him and request that he put it where it belonged: my professorial persona is not intimidated by 20 year-olds, no matter how tall and overprivileged.

I though about that cup off and on all day Sunday.  What shape, I wonder, does my privilege take?  What do I toss to the side, without looking to see who it's about to hit, without giving a moment's thought to who will have to pick up after me?  What do I throw away that others could use?

Privilege.  Sometimes it looks like a red solo cup.  Sometimes it's not quite so easily recognized.

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