Reading this piece by Thomas Ott on the efforts made by Cleveland’s new casino to appeal to Asian gamblers made me think about the intersection between diversity and capitalism. The article clearly shows that if a group has money and a business wants the group to buy its products, the business will cultivate its sensitivity to diversity. In this case the casino has two Chinese speaking hosts dedicated to working with top Asian customers and has also hosted special events tied to Asian festivals. No one needed to tell the casino to please hire Asian workers to reflect the makeup of the community. It was simply a matter of effectively cultivating customers. I like this Laissez-faire approach to diversity, but I know it only works in some unique cases like this one. The key is obviously the presence of a critical mass of diverse potential consumers, but it also seems essential that the group being targeted clearly demand superior service. If the targeted group can be satisfied with a nod or a slight discount on an inferior product, then instead of promoting an understanding of diversity, this capitalist dynamic merely promotes stereotypes and cynical manipulation.
I have my doubts about white privilege. I know I benefit from it. I understand that I am more likely to see people who look like me in roles of power, less likely to be racially profiled, more likely to have inherited family wealth as a white person. (See this Peggy McIntosh peice for details.) However, while I totally accept that I am white and privileged, I cannot really separate out that privilege from socioeconomic privilege. I also have access to housing, education, social networks and other resources because I grew up upper middle class. When I read a book like Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock set in Appalachia, I find it hard to think of the characters in that book as privileged, white though they may be. Does it really matter that if they turn on C-Span the senators look like them?
A video game analogy by John Scalzi has potential as an explanation for how white privilege plays out, but I am not sure it works. He says that if life were a video game, being a straight white male is like playing the game at the lowest difficulty setting. On the other hand being a black lesbian would be the highest difficulty setting. His explanation of the analogy is complex; it boils down to the fact one can win or lose a game at any difficulty setting, but that does not change the fact that it is easier at some settings than others. He goes into character points, dump stats and various elements as analogies for wealth and other attributes, but not being a gamer of any sort, my understanding is hazy there.
I am still not sure I buy this argument perfectly. Is there not a similar game where being rich is the lowest difficulty setting? Still this analogy did get me thinking about white privilege and my uneasiness with the term and my uneasiness with that uneasiness.
Years ago Paul Fussell published his “Living Room Scale,” a way to evaluate one’s living room, and by its contents determine one’s standing in the American class system. Here is a link to a slightly modernized version. I took the test, and our living room scores in the “middle class range.” We lose points for having family pictures not in sterling silver frames but gain points for a potted palm.
The test does imply that one has a living room, a kind of showcase room in which one does not actually conduct the business of living. Hence, the presence of a TV, stereo, or computer loses points.
I wish there was a way the test distinguished between having books on display and having books on display that one has actually read. I do admit that is a bit of English teacher snobbery though. As time moves on, I wonder how this test might be modified. For example, should point values be changed for magazines as publishing declines? Will having actual copies of magazines reflect a greater level of wealth when they grew rare?