On Opportunity

So, on Friday a well known children's author tweeted the ever condescending advice "All you have to do to get published is write a great story." And while I agree that is part of the answer, that kind of trite advice ignores a lot of other things, mainly that the idea of opportunity is impacted by a lot of things beyond our control.

When I pointed this out the author responded with "Well, I had a hard life," ignoring how the intersections of race and gender still have an impact.  And I started to think about how often this same conversation happens and decided a post to explain why keeping intersections and privilege in mind when having conversations about opportunity is vitally important.

So, in order to fully explain this ideas I went back to high school physics, mainly the idea of vectors.

If you remember vectors, these were those wonky arrows that should the movement of an item and the outside forces acting upon it.  In this case, the "Item" is a person.

So, the success matrix for a white man may look like this:

So, as you can see, access to education and poverty may have an impact on achieving success, but since they come in from an angle they're things that can be mitigated. More effort in the success line, such as getting an education or finding a way to escape poverty, would make success easier.

So, if that is how a success vector would look for a white man, this is how it would look for a black woman:

You can see that poverty and education are still barriers, but also there are the added obstacles of racism and sexism.  But while poverty and education come in from an angle and are incidental obstacles, sexism and racism require a concentrated effort to overcome, basically harkening back to the old "Twice as hard for half as much" adage.

And of course, these intersections apply in other situations:

And so on.

And of course the more marginalizations a person has the harder it is to achieve a measure of success.

So next time someone starts to talk about opportunities and privilege, consider the source.