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 adam.chase@yale.edu .

  • http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/lists/the-10-worst-ways-to-die-in-a-hieronymous-bosch-painting-53872 Hieronymus Machine

    Self-parody strikes deep. Well, not “deep deep,” as Whoopi might say, but certainly skin deep, ay Country Day?

  • 100wattlightbulb

    The navel gazing is strong.

  • dtc35

    I laughed at this article, and the article it’s parodying; but can’t everyone just be kind to everyone else? Brett doesn’t deserve any more or less empathy or scorn than anyone else. If we start selectively doling out empathy we lose our humanity and become a sociopathic society. Despite his privilege he probably has problems that are very real to him in the context of his own life and he doesn’t deserve to have them minimized (and I don’t mean crashing his jet skis into each other). We should all have a high level of empathy for everyone around us, poor, rich black or white, etc.

  • Man with Axe

    “Yes, black people are being shot and killed by police at an alarming rate, and we should have empathy for that.” This is simply not true. You could look it up.

    Black people are being shot by other black people at an alarming rate (e.g., Chicago) but fortunately we are not being asked to care about that even one little bit. Can’t blame it on white people, you see.

  • Nancy Morris

    This article is a sort of bonfire of slack, unexamined mostly liberal stereotypes. “Yes, black people are being shot and killed by police at an alarming rate.“ One would have to be quite the prisoner of a partisan bubble not to have got the message that police in general are actually much LESS likely to use force against blacks than others in similar circumstances. Three polo shirts? I believe that Tommy Hilfiger’s domestic US revenue has long been disproportionately derived from customers of comparatively modest means, including many ethnic minorities. So I’m a little unclear why that three-polo-shirt pseudo-detail is here. And on and on. There is so much sloppy “fact” mustering here that it impedes analysis of the at least equally flaccid reasoning, to the extent there is any reasoning. In short, this article is not a serious effort and doesn’t warrant a detailed response.

    But it just so happens that later this afternoon I am to visit a friend from a very wealthy family. The family’s fortune was generated by my friend’s brilliant and hyperactive, hyperaware father during his career as a hugely successful investment banker and then private investor. Unfortunately, his multifaceted brilliance was and is coupled with a bipolar emotional affliction. When he isn’t spinning off brilliant ideas and distributing fabulous advice, he is sometimes literally catatonic, staring into space, resistant to all drug therapy. Most recently he was in a quasi-catatonic state for two straight years during which his family was terrified he might never recover, and he only recently emerged. The period of emergence of a bipolar person from severe depression is a dreadfully dangerous one during which suicide is very common. Some researchers believe that about 80% of those who suffer from bipolar affliction will seriously attempt suicide. So, naturally, my friend’s entire family has been living a long term nightmare: first the two years of quasi-catatonia, now the dread of a paternal suicide, and soon (if the man survives) the prospect of yet another period of accelerating activity leading to mania and inevitably a hideous crash.

    My afternoon visit with my friend today largely involves dealing with some of the consequences (“wreckage”might be a better word) of those nightmares, but I don’t feel entitled to discuss the details.

    The family has several beautiful homes, one of them on a gorgeous beach. But I don’t recall any mention of a Jet Ski. The children went to great private schools and then Ivy League universities, and one attended Harvard Business School (where her father had graduated as a Baker Scholar after attending a local state college that his father, a blue collar worker, could afford). But my recollection is that each of them worked like crazy all the time, sometimes to the detriment of their own mental health, and still do. Parental expectations in that family are very high, you see. In fact, while my friend and her siblings do take time to have fun (they are especially fond of tennis), I don’t actually recall them doing anything irresponsible. But that doesn’t matter, since they are unquestionably privileged by the crude standards of this article.

    And, curiously, I don’t ever recall even one of them wearing three polo shirts.

    So here’s my question: Am I allowed to have empathy for my friend when I visit her this afternoon? What say, Adam? Please let me know before I have to get in the car for the long freeway haul to the family’s perfectly manicured estate.