Wow. This piece blows my mind. I want to say, it's not often that the privileged acknowledge it but that fact is that it's far from 'not often'. It's 'almost never'. Most even get offended when you point out the obvious fact of it.
I remember watching ER once, when the Dr. John Carter character was musing ruefully outside a Skid Row hovel-office building. Not a care in the world. Laughing to himself in the pitch black, all white and rich and stuff, his back to the street. A patrol car pulls up, not to confront him as he stands there laughing about nothing and staring at an empty building in the middle of the night, but to asks him if he's OK and, sure, of course he is. Thanks for asking. He barely turns to them, barely acknowledges their presence. He's the King to their palace guards. They sincerely warn him to be careful and drive off as he continues to muse about the rascally old white man (Ed Asner, I believe) who'd conned him.
I had the hots for Dr. Carter, but even so I was thrown totally out of the story; I actually feared for the fool (I know. Hyper-imaginative much?). But he had not a moment's thought that he'd be robbed or assaulted; they didn't even have him check his surroundings occasionally or have brought a friend with him. Who wouldn't have sat in their locked car -- it was cold -- had they no choice but to stare at a building in a dangerous neighborhood? When the cops came to check on him rather than Rodney King him, I went from vicarious fear to bitter squint-eyes. How nice it must be to walk around the world, all white and rich and male and cossetted by the police. No stop and frisk for him (what the hell would he have been doing in that neighborhood at that hour except buying drugs or sex?). This is why I think I know what George Zimmerman was feeling when he saw Trayvon walking around all Free And Unfraid While Black: Oh hell no! Not this time.
This is why minorities, perhaps, should not be allowed guns; you never know which random insult will be that one too many.
I'm a writer and a voracious reader; I can suspend disbelief with the best of them, but every now and then the weight of world's war against the Earth's meek bleeds all the romance out of me. You just get tired of being required, day in and day out, to press your face up against the glass of rich, white, and/or male privilege. No person of color could have written such a scene without retching and only rich, well-educated white men, men so privileged they sniff at the rules of the ghetto, could have. I've often said that pop culture is how America dreams. Well, we all know what happens in dreams, don't we? The truth comes out.
That's why this Princeton commencement speech by Michael Lewis (upon whom I've had a professional crush since 1996) is one for the ages; he doesn't kid himself that his wild success in life, however much he rocks as a writer, is anything but pure luck. Boy, I bet half the audience was livid. yay!
Julia LaRoche, of Business Insider, writes that, "Michael Lewis says that he's really, really lucky.
Lewis eventually landed a job on Wall Street at Salomon Brothers and would later become a very famous, award-winning author ("Liar's Poker," "The Blind Side" and "Moneyball").
However, during his remarks atPrinceton's Baccalaureate he said that all his fame and fortune are a matter of luck and the same goes for other successful people.
These are two of his key points.
- He said that success is "always rationalized" because successful people don't want to acknowledge that they were actually just really lucky. What's more is, the world doesn't want to realize that either.
- Lewis told the Princeton graduates that if they are successful then they should recognize that they also were very lucky. That said, "You owe a debt, not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky."
Here's his speech he gave. [via Princeton University]
"Don't Eat Fortune's Cookie"
June 3, 2012 — As Prepared
Thank you. President Tilghman. Trustees and Friends. Parents of the Class of 2012. Above all, Members of the Princeton Class of 2012. Give yourself a round of applause. The next time you look around a church and see everyone dressed in black it'll be awkward to cheer. Enjoy the moment.
Thirty years ago I sat where you sat. I must have listened to some older person share his life experience. But I don't remember a word of it. I can't even tell you who spoke. What I do remember, vividly, is graduation. I'm told you're meant to be excited, perhaps even relieved, and maybe all of you are. I wasn't. I was totally outraged. Here I’d gone and given them four of the best years of my life and this is how they thanked me for it. By kicking me out.
At that moment I was sure of only one thing: I was of no possible economic value to the outside world. I'd majored in art history, for a start. Even then this was regarded as an act of insanity. I was almost certainly less prepared for the marketplace than most of you. Yet somehow I have wound up rich and famous. Well, sort of. I'm going to explain, briefly, how that happened. I want you to understand just how mysterious careers can be, before you go out and have one yourself.
I graduated from Princeton without ever having published a word of anything, anywhere. I didn't write for the Prince, or for anyone else. But at Princeton, studying art history, I felt the first twinge of literary ambition. It happened while working on my senior thesis. My adviser was a truly gifted professor, an archaeologist named William Childs. The thesis tried to explain how the Italian sculptor Donatello used Greek and Roman sculpture — which is actually totally beside the point, but I've always wanted to tell someone. God knows what Professor Childs actually thought of it, but he helped me to become engrossed. More than engrossed: obsessed. When I handed it in I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: to write senior theses. Or, to put it differently: to write books.
Then I went to my thesis defense. It was just a few yards from here, in McCormick Hall. I listened and waited for Professor Childs to say how well written my thesis was. He didn't. And so after about 45 minutes I finally said, "So. What did you think of the writing?"
"Put it this way" he said. "Never try to make a living at it."
And I didn't — not really. I did what everyone does who has no idea what to do with themselves: I went to graduate school. I wrote at nights, without much effect, mainly because I hadn't the first clue what I should write about. One night I was invited to a dinner, where I sat next to the wife of a big shot at a giant Wall Street investment bank, called Salomon Brothers. She more or less forced her husband to give me a job. I knew next to nothing about Salomon Brothers. But Salomon Brothers happened to be where Wall Street was being reinvented—into the place we have all come to know and love. When I got there I was assigned, almost arbitrarily, to the very best job in which to observe the growing madness: they turned me into the house expert on derivatives. A year and a half later Salomon Brothers was handing me a check for hundreds of thousands of dollars to give advice about derivatives to professional investors.
Now I had something to write about: Salomon Brothers. Wall Street had become so unhinged that it was paying recent Princeton graduates who knew nothing about money small fortunes to pretend to be experts about money. I'd stumbled into my next senior thesis.
I called up my father. I told him I was going to quit this job that now promised me millions of dollars to write a book for an advance of 40 grand. There was a long pause on the other end of the line. "You might just want to think about that," he said.
"Stay at Salomon Brothers 10 years, make your fortune, and then write your books," he said.
I didn't need to think about it. I knew what intellectual passion felt like — because I'd felt it here, at Princeton — and I wanted to feel it again. I was 26 years old. Had I waited until I was 36, I would never have done it. I would have forgotten the feeling.
The book I wrote was called "Liar’s Poker." It sold a million copies. I was 28 years old. I had a career, a little fame, a small fortune and a new life narrative. All of a sudden people were telling me I was born to be a writer. This was absurd. Even I could see there was another, truer narrative, with luck as its theme. What were the odds of being seated at that dinner next to that Salomon Brothers lady? Of landing inside the best Wall Street firm from which to write the story of an age? Of landing in the seat with the best view of the business? Of having parents who didn't disinherit me but instead sighed and said "do it if you must?" Of having had that sense of must kindled inside me by a professor of art history at Princeton? Of having been let into Princeton in the first place?
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