Written by Paul Dail

A news story popped up on one of my feeds on Thursday about a woman named Stacey Dash having to defend some controversial remarks she made on “The Meredith Vieira Show” regarding pay inequality. As I am a far cry from being “in the know” when it comes to most things pop culture, I didn’t recognize either the name Stacey Dash or the stunning black women in the picture accompanying the article. But I figured Dash must be famous, and given that this particular media outlet had labeled her remarks regarding pay inequality “controversial,” I assumed she was saying something along the lines of it not actually being an issue.

She didn’t disappoint (except for maybe women and black people).

I found the YouTube video of the clip from “The Meredith Vieira Show.” Vieira brings up the fact that Dash had taken issue with recent comments made by actress Rita Wilson regarding gender inequality issues.

“I feel like it’s an excuse,” Dash responds. “It’s the same thing with race … Stop making excuses. If there are opportunities, seize them.”

When Vieira points out that for a long time, she was making the oft-quoted .78 per $1.00 earned by her male counterparts, Dash questions her, almost condescendingly.

“You think it’s because you’re a woman?”

“I think that had a lot to do with it,” Vieira responds

“I won’t put my fate into anything other than my own action and taking my destiny in my hands,” Dash said. “I will not be a victim.”

Because I am willing to admit to my blind side when it comes to certain issues, I will say that I am neither a woman nor black. However, since Dash’s sentiments are the same as those to which many white men subscribe, I feel like I can talk about how this particular white man feels. And since Dash brought up both issues of gender and race inequality, I’ll do the same.

Few issues are black and white (no pun intended). To a large extent, I agree with Dash. I believe we create our own destinies, and very often, it’s much easier to find sources of blame outside ourselves for our failures when we should be pointing the finger in the mirror. Even though I’m a white male, I am not personally holding anyone down or back, and I don’t believe you can hold me responsible for the actions of a past in which I played no part.

However, if I’m going to follow that hard line, in a way dismissing the injustices of the past, I have to hold up my end of the bargain as well: I cannot propagate the kinds of mindsets that caused these problems in the first place.

In other words, I’ve chosen to be a nice guy. I don’t choose to be sexist and racist. The problem is, we still live in a world where other people are sexist and racist, even if they’re unaware of it. When that’s the case—and you don’t happen to be a white male—the attitude of “just pull yourself up by the bootstraps” is a little harder to swallow.

We can’t pretend racism and sexism don’t still exist in our society and that they don’t affect the treatment of others, because they do. And I’m not talking about the big stories like the Baltimore riots or civilian shootings by police officers. I’m talking about your normal day-to-day existence.

When I taught “Of Mice and Men” in my high school Language Arts class, two of the topics I had the students discuss before we started reading were whether women were still treated as objects and if racism still existed in our country.

To examine these issues, we looked at advertising which illustrated the old adage of “sex sells.” I also showed students an episode of the ABC show “What Would You Do?”—in Utah of all places—where the actors playing an interracial couple show up at a diner and are berated by the father of the white girl.

Then there’s the example of Jose Zamora, who decided to drop the “s” in his first name on his resume (becoming “Joe Zamora”) and suddenly had job opportunities previously unavailable to him. Or the guy who put two different names—one that sounded more stereotypically black and one that sounded white—on exactly identical resumes with the same results. These are just a few examples that demonstrate that yes indeed, sexism and racism still exist in our country.

However, are the times a-changin’ as Bob Dylan suggested? Certainly. But we’re not there yet, and using the fact that things are better than they were fifty years ago is not an acceptable justification to stop striving forward.

If we are still at a point where not having the right equipment between your legs or the right skin color is going to stop you at the door—regardless of how much guts and fortitude and determination you have—then action still needs to be taken. Someone needs to step in to help those people who may not have the strength and tenacity of Susan B. Anthony or the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Not all of us can get beat down that badly and keep getting up.

Does this kind of stepping in, through things such as affirmative action and demands for pay equality, have the  potential for increasing strife between the proverbial “haves” and “have nots”? Probably. Are there flaws in the system that need to be addressed? You bet. But standing idly by and doing nothing is not an option.

And maybe given enough time, we won’t need such things anymore. I was given a glimmer of hope every year when I taught “Of Mice and Men.” Much like history, we look at literature to take lessons and apply them to our current existence. While I recognize that I taught a relatively unique and sensitive student population (a charter school for the performing arts), I was pleased to see that the majority of kids looked at things like racism and sexism as just plain stupid, a mindset unworthy of carrying on.

To quote Greg Brown, another folk singer, “World peace is surely on the horizon, once us old f**kers die.”

And maybe once “Clueless” actresses (so that’s where I’ve seen her) and white men stop saying pay inequality is a simple case of just not being motivated.

Paul D. Dail received his BFA in English with a Creative Writing emphasis from the University of Montana, Missoula. In addition to news and his bi-weekly opinion column, he also enjoys writing creative nonfiction and fiction (with a penchant for the darker side of the page). His collection of flash fiction, “Free Five,” has spent over a year and a half in the top 50 Kindle Horror Short Stories since its publication in 2012.

Currently Paul lives on the outskirts of Kanarraville, surrounded by the sagebrush and pinyon junipers, with his wife and two children. Read more about him at www.pauldail.com. While he prefers that any comments directed at a specific article be posted in a public forum, he welcomes all other correspondence at [email protected].

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Paul D. Dail is a freelance writer and managing editor of The Independent. He received his BFA in English with a creative writing emphasis from the University of Montana, Missoula. In addition to his contributions to The Independent, he also enjoys writing both creative nonfiction and fiction (with a penchant for the darker side of the page).

Paul’s first novel, a supernatural thriller entitled “The Imaginings,” is available wherever ebooks are sold, and his collection of flash fiction, “Free Five,” has spent over two years in the top 50 Kindle Horror Short Stories since its publication in 2012.