Entitlement and…. Brock Turner

Recently, I wrote about entitlement and self esteem.

I didn’t write about the dark side of entitlement.

Brock Turner.

white privilege brock turner swimmer

That’s the kind of entitlement where you use other people for your own kicks. Where you don’t even bother to consider the people around you, nor think of treating them with even basic respect.

Except I don’t see that as “entitlement”; I see that as “criminal”. As “asshole behaviour”, as “spoiled rotten” and “shitty human being”.

Thinking you should be compensated fairly for your work? As fairly as Doug the tall white dude in the next cubicle? That’s hardly the same as using the unconscious body of a girl for your own enjoyment.

(Though, you’d have to be very sick indeed to take pleasure in that. The kind of sick where you don’t even realize that your sex partner should also enjoy congress with you. Very, very sick – and too many men are.)

So many articles about Brock Turner, they attribute his behaviour to being spoiled by his family, by the people around him. That’s certainly true – that letter from his father was disgusting – but it hardly explains the behaviour.

Roxane Gay wrote an excellent essay on whiteness and crime, looking at how his privileged upbringing influenced his sentencing.

In it, she writes:

I grew up in quiet, “idyllic” communities like Oakwood, Ohio, where Turner is from. I know all about these upper-middle-class environments where white children are raised believing they can do no wrong, where those same children are denied nothing, and where they grow up entitled and never learn that they should be otherwise. These are communities where good, wholesome kids drink and do drugs and make trouble. Everyone looks away because they are good kids who are “just having fun.” High grades and athleticism and sharp haircuts and “good” families excuse all manner of bad behavior.

I grew up in a community like that too.

I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t relate to Brock Turner.

I remember the first time I heard someone describe my family as a “good” family. We were sitting there, a couple of teenaged girls talking about safety and our fears, and my friend said: “We don’t have to worry about that. We’re from good families.”

I’d never thought of my family that way. My family is my family, your family is your family. Good and bad have nothing to do with it.

And something about it seemed distasteful – because I knew “good” was a euphemism for affluent, for “right side of the tracks”.

But she wasn’t wrong. Euphemism or not, some backgrounds provide protection. It’s wrong – poor, dark-skinned kids with long hair should be able to make mistakes too – and some “mistakes” are straight-up crimes that should not be protected. But there you have it: the world is ugly and unfair and when we look at its ugliness, we have a chance to make it better.

I never really got into the drinking and drugs other kids did. I was a serious kid: I still take things seriously. When I hear phrases like: “Boys will be boys”, or “they’re just kids acting like hooligans”, I shudder. This is not to say I didn’t make mistakes as a teen, or that I didn’t make crank calls or have my own rebellions – I did. But compared to other kids? I was (and remain) relatively tame, too serious.

I watched other kids get into trouble. I watched them be wild. Gay writes: “This is how whiteness works. Turner is seen as human, as a victim in the crime he committed. He is a “good young man.” He is allowed to have both a past and a future and this past and future are worthy of consideration. His crime is a mistake, not a scarlet letter, not a reflection of his character.”

I know people like that – boys I grew up with who “made mistakes” and were bailed out. Nothing like a rape, no – but drug-related “mistakes”, drinking and driving DUI “mistakes”, failing classes “mistakes”, trashing a living room when having a big party “mistakes”. Girls who shoplifted for kicks.

I hated them for their selfishness, for their lack of empathy: “Who is going to clean that up? Did you help clean up?”

It still makes me mad, even when I see a man leave a mess out for the host – more often hostess – to clean up.

My parents were indulgent and loving, but there were boundaries.

When I was learning to drive, I got into a couple of fender-benders – stupid, new driver stuff. I was fully at-fault. I remember apologizing profusely to the other drivers, asking if they were okay, shaking, being sad, scared and angry with myself, and then calling and telling my parents.

Who were disappointed, but never belligerent. “Are you okay?” they’d ask. “Is anyone hurt?”

No one was hurt. Just the bumper or the paint job.

My parents were patient with me when I fucked up, but they weren’t Brock Turner’s parents (which is to say: shitty).

The difference, of course, is that I was accountable. They didn’t always leap to my defense, they encouraged me to see things from the other person’s perspective.

I didn’t blame the other drivers, I accepted responsibility, I apologized. I didn’t feel like their cars were mine to destroy, or their bodies were mine to use as I wanted.

And they were accidents – the kind of accidents that weren’t premeditated – that happens in a split second because you didn’t time your shoulder-check right. Stupid, wrong, bad, foolish – but hardly the kind of “accident” that happens when you take another person’s clothes off.

People do make mistakes – it happens.

But there are consequences, even for your accidents.

And using another person, outright like that? Being so willfully thoughtless with another person’s body, with how you treat another person?

It is criminal – that is a crime. It doesn’t matter what he looks like or how fast he can swim, he is very sick inside. Not “good” at all.

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