On Privilege, Databases, and Clumps of Hair


I was undressing at the gym tonight post-workout, and thinking about a job decision that I deliberated and dramatized for hours on end today. I was just in the middle of ruminating over the scary thought that maybe I was being too picky and Don Quixote-ish by turning it down, when I noticed the nightly cleaning woman coming through the dressing room with her mop and gloves. Head down, just like every night, although I always try to catch her eye to smile or say thank you.

She was just doing her job, probably none too enjoyable– given that her job consists of picking up matted clumps of hair out of shower drains and sweeping away sock lint from the area beneath the lockers– but it got me thinking. Here I am, blabbing on and on to my friends about whether I’ll get more fulfillment from challenging intellectual program tasks versus three weeks paid vacation plus Jewish holidays, and meanwhile here’s this woman—I don’t even know her name—sweeping through my pathetic panic attack with probably very little choice as to her career and how she makes a living.

She sweeps to make a living because that’s what’s done when you live in America and need to eat and don’t speak English as your native language. Not clinging on to the cushy life of a freelance writing gig, or scoffing at job offers because they’re too database-y and thus, beneath me. And especially not taking shelter under the loomingly huge (but heretoforth unnoticed) stormcloud of privilege that floats around with me like a big protective translucent bubble.

I figured trying to give a tip could get awkward, so instead I filled out a feedback slip and dropped it into the suggestion box at the front desk saying “the cleaning staff does a lovely job—you should give them a raise.” But just as I was patting myself on the back for “taking action,” I thought, “Jesus. Is this what my activism has come to?”

Good thing I start volunteering at Imani House tomorrow… I think I need a good dose of reality.


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