The Sound of One (White) Hand Clapping

A. Some Evidence.

PZ: Whiteman, I have not heard back from you on my equipment request. Did you receive it?

WM: Yes, but I took no action, because you only sent it once. Please send it every day, so I will remember to take care of it. You must learn to behave as the whitemen do: insist!

Several days pass.

PZ: Whiteman, I have sent my equipment request every day, as you asked, but I have still not heard from you on this matter.

WM: PZ, I have put it off because you are nagging me, by sending the request every day! Women nag, my wife nags, but this is a workplace. Only one copy of your equipment request is necessary.

B. The Privilege Quiz: Sounds From the Field.

“If we move to that neighborhood, we will have to send Johnny to private school. The public school corresponding to that neighborhood is heavily Latin and Black, and Johnny will be beaten up.”

Consider the dangers of Walking While Black.

“Billy’s girlfriend has not moved in with him yet. He is 21 years old, and he deserves to have a woman in the house. I think he should break up with her, if she does not move in soon. The fact that her job is 50 miles from his house, should not matter to her, if she loves my son.”

Would you be comfortable with your son taking on a 50 mile commute to live with his girlfriend?

“This administrative micro-unit has four women and one man. For the sake of gender diversity, we must make sure to hire men to the empty positions.”

Would you say this with such certainty if the unit had four men and one woman? Why have you not taken into consideration the gender ‘balance’ in the larger administrative unit, which is already dominated by men?

C. On Just Saying No.

Whiteman: PZ, I want [X] done.

PZ: I’m sorry, it is not in my job assignment, and I do not have time this week.

Whiteman: I want it done.

PZ: As I say, I cannot. Perhaps you could do it yourself?

Whiteman: I want it done.

PZ: I cannot.

Whiteman: [Very loud expletives deleted].

PZ [shaken]: All right, to stop you from yelling those things, I will do half the job. But I will do no more. This is my final offer.

Several days pass.

PZ: Whiteman, I would like to talk to you about that incident the other day.

WM: Right, I am not good under stress.

PZ: Nonetheless, the incident was very problematic.

WM: It was at the time, but now the job is done. I am over it.

PZ: Your behavior around it was very problematic, and I would like this problem to be addressed.

WM [with higher volume]: Do you not understand, I am over that? I am just not good under stress. It was a major problem for me that you would not do the job. It helped that you did half of it, but it was still very difficult for me to do the other half. But I am over it.

D. On Manipulation.

When I tell them what I am doing and why, some of my graduate students say, ‘ah, you are manipulating the situation’. I explain to them that I am not: I am planning ahead in a strategic manner. Last year was a good year to apply for certain grants. The next two years will not be, but they are a good time to gather data and write up results, so as to be viable for the next promising cycle. Now is a good time to speak up on certain issues, because conditions indicate that I will be heard. It is a good time to let other problems lie.

What, then, is manipulation? In some instances, it involves the conscious use of subterfuge and suggestion. In the more interesting instances, it involves no such conscious intention. All parties involved know there is something happening, but they don’t know what it is. They respond to it, but their motivations are not entirely clear, to each other or to themselves. Thus do entire families, universities, and nation-states move inexorably towards their undesired doom.


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