The Mac & Cheese Kid: How Privilege Plays Out
I originally wrote this essay in 2015 for my private client/student groups. Given my post last month on Listening, I thought it might be a suitable follow-up.
This scene goes on for 9 minutes. What are the first words that come to mind about his behavior? Now indulge me for a short bit here:
Watch all of it and imagine he’s an Black or Latin or Arab 19-year old. Now what words come to mind about his behavior? Would he have been characterized as ‘drunken college kid being a jerk’ - or something else? And would it have been allowed to continue for nearly as long as it did? Would a black kid be allowed to go on for a full 5+ minutes after first pushing the manager?
This is what Privilege looks like. Not being handed things, but having your dumb behavior be seen through the filter of “dumb behavior” and not through the filter of dangerous behavior or violent and uncivilized behavior or rioting behavior. Note the title of this video: ‘Drunk Kid Wants Mac and Cheese’. I’ve seen a variety of newspaper and online headlines this morning with similarly soft titles. Nowhere have I seen any headline along the lines of: ‘Violent Student Attacks Store Manager’ (which he did – he physically attacked the manager…twice).
The essence of Privilege is not that you are entitled to certain material things, but that you’re entitled to a story about yourself as being basically decent/good and capable of doing stupid things versus being basically bad/uncivilized and capable of doing good/decent things.
Privilege is about how we are Listened.
The most important part of that video to pay attention to: at the 8:24 mark, the kid asks the cop that the handcuffs be loosened and….the cop gets out his keys and loosens the cuffs.
Because when the story about you is that you’re basically bad, “I can’t breathe” is just noise coming from someone probably trying to do something else that’s bad. There’s very limited and highly transactional Listening for someone I ‘know’ to be dangerous, violent, aggressive, etc.
But when you’re basically good and just engaged in really bad behavior, “loosen the cuffs” is a legitimate communication that is heard as request. The Listening that is brought to this 19 year old – that he is basically a ‘disorderly student’ – has his words be heard as a request.
This is not an anti-cop perspective.
It is not an anti-White perspective.
It’s not even a pro-Black or brown perspective.
If you’ve spent any time with me – or read any of my posts or watched my videos – you likely get that I’m not terribly pro- or anti- anything.
I’m committed to awareness. To seeing how we see. To seeing the filters, the perceptual design elements that make up what we think of as ‘reality’. The mac & cheese kid is one of the clearest mass media / viral examples I have seen in some time of how Privilege plays out in subtle but powerful ways in terms of how we are Listened.
PS, clearly this kid is distressed and disturbed (alcohol related or otherwise). The hand on his neck from the cafeteria manager 7+ minutes in is inappropriate and should not have happened - and, it further underscores my point. He's allowed to carry on as he did for a very long time, and engage in physical contact twice, before he is confronted in this way. Even then, he's for the most part simply held until the police arrive and arrest him. He walks away without any real physical harm.
Note also, there aren't a half dozen police officers racing in, guns drawn. Because the call they likely received was something along the lines of: some kid's drunk and acting like an idiot at the cafeteria. With different actors but the exact same scenario, that call might well have been: there's a black kid attacking the cafeteria manager.