Every Tuesday at 7:09 p.m., WLH 104 is entered by Brett, that guy who is always nine minutes late to your econ section. When I first saw him earlier this semester, I could not believe that anyone would wear three Polo shirts at a time, one on top of another, all with the collars popped like he was that weird neck-skin dinosaur from Jurassic Park. Like many in the econ section, I was shocked. I had never met someone who owned both “a dope yacht” and “this sick crib in the Hamptons that always gets all the chicks.” But soon I realized that, despite Brett’s privilege, he deserves exactly the same amount of empathy as other people who have actual problems.
Here at Yale, it’s important that we have empathy both for people who have truly difficult struggles and also for Brett, who once crashed his favorite Jet Ski into his second favorite Jet Ski and so had to cheer himself up by building a fort out of his seven remaining Jet Skis. So-called less-privileged people especially need to empathize with Brett — you all need to realize that your struggle to cobble together enough money to scrape by during an unpaid internship deserves exactly the same amount of empathy as Brett’s struggle to fit twelve churros in his mouth because Tanner dared him to.
The point is, there is absolutely no difference between privileged people showing empathy for people without privilege and people without privilege being asked to have empathy for those who do have privilege.
This is true for all kinds of privilege, even racial. Yes, black people are being shot and killed by police at an alarming rate, and we should have empathy for that. But, equally troubling, Brett, as a white person, often gets caught in lengthy conversations with friendly police officers, and that really throws off his schedule. But when do we see black people show empathy for Brett’s now-ruined schedule? Never. Sure, many powerful industries are still dominated by white people, and it’s terribly difficult for minorities to break in. But it wouldn’t be easy for Brett to get a job at Ebony magazine or Telemundo either, would it? Sure, minorities are wildly underrepresented in popular culture. But, just as problematic, it’s really hard for Brett to figure out which character he would be in the show “Seinfeld.” Plus, think about this — if Brett were, in theory, to move to Bangladesh, he would be a racial minority. Really makes you reconsider things, huh?
Even though you may be busy trying to juggle two jobs and a full course load, Brett needs support too. For instance, last summer, a friend asked Brett what he was up to, and Brett replied that he was “riding his butler piggyback like a horsey.” It was a purely utilitarian statement, meant only to communicate that Brett was traveling atop his butler’s shoulders in a somewhat equestrian manner. But the friend got mad, thinking that Brett was bragging. Brett experiences an unrelenting but hidden struggle. He must sanitize discussions about his everyday life of any mention of his butler piggyback rides and face the wrath of his peers whenever he slips up.
“Does this butler who follows behind me yelling ‘Hear ye, hear ye, The Honorable Brett approaches’ mark me as elitist?” Brett asks himself. Would his friends think he deserves his spot here if they knew that his real name is Peter Salovey Jr.?
But discussing the difference between Brett’s privilege and any other Yale student’s privilege isn’t the point. As Yale students, all of us have significant social capital and earning potential. Regardless of our previous status, after graduation, all of us will be the privileged. Because, certainly, all Yale students will choose to pursue careers that are high paying. Screw being a teacher or social activist. Will Yale students pursue risky, low-paying careers as artists or creatives? No, of course not. Also, going to Yale ensures that you will never face racial or sexual discrimination ever again. It turns out that a Yale degree magically erases all of the systemic oppression that exists in the world.
A Yale education augments both our social status and our minds. We are now the privileged ones. Empathy for Brett is necessary if we are ever to accept our own futures. We must master the disdain we feel upon seeing Brett in his neck-skin dinosaur Polo shirt collars, for, when we look behind it, we will find ourselves.
Adam Chase is a junior in Pierson College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .