Red Shirts and Privilege

When I was fourteen,  I worked for a McDonald’s franchise across the street from my middle school.  As an under-16 minor, I was only scheduled four hours at a time and never on the grill (though insurance snd ls born laws were okay with me using the deep fryer.) Like all low-level employees,  I had a red collared shirt with an embroidered McDonald’s logo as part of my uniform.

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After a few months working there, I saw my general manager promoted to a corporate position. He’d always been a decent boss and we were happy for him. He’d been a high school dropout who worked his way up from part-time minimum wage to a good annual salary at a desk job.

The man who came to replace him had never worked in a McDonald’s before. His father owned nearly 1/3 of all McDonald’s franchises in the state. Completely unaware of the implications he told me, a part-time minimum wage subordinate,  that his father wanted him to work his way up “from the bottom.”

Being 14 and delightfully irreverent,  I pretty much laughed in his face and told him if he wanted to start at the bottom, he should put on a red shirt and go clean the toilets. 

This story is my personal metaphor for privilege.  People who start with unearned privilege imagine they’ve worked up from the bottom, or achieved all they have through merit and hard work,  because they don’t see the pedestal they were born on.

My new manager couldn’t see the arrogance in calling his superior position “the bottom”, to someone quite obviously below him on the corporate hierarchy.  Once I pointed it out to him, it was probably harder to ignore, but he had decades of practice by that point.

This is the flaw of white feminism (a sub-group of feminism that prioritizes white women over others). It’s easy to see that compared to men, especially white men,  as a woman I’ve been cheated. It’s easy to see the pedestal men were born on. The white pedestal I’m on is a bit harder to notice.

So, to me as much as anyone, this is a reminder. Check your privilege.  Notice your pedestal.  And when possible,  throw on a red shirt and get down in the muck.

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