Mark Sherman: Using what you’ve got

Writer’s note: Please keep in mind as you read this that it is a humor column. I’m talking about serious topics, but my feeling is, as Mary Pettibone Poole once put it, “He (and today I’d add “she”) who laughs lasts.”

Yes, this is the age of identity politics. You can fight it all you want, but it looks like it might be here to stay. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? It’s using whatever potential disadvantage you have in order to assert your special needs. The word that is often used for this is “card,” as when Hillary Clinton was accused by then candidate Donald Trump of using the “woman card.” He said, back in April 2016, “I call her ‘crooked Hillary’ because she’s crooked, and the only thing she’s got is the woman card.”

Now I won’t get into arguments about Hillary’s possible crookosity, but there is no question of her gender. So, even if she wasn’t purposely using it, she almost couldn’t help playing the woman card. (I’m not taking sides here; there were a lot of cards Trump was playing, but I can’t describe them in print in a family newspaper.)


But the woman card is not the most effective card in the world. First of all, women are not a statistical minority. And second of all, over the last 40 years American women have done better and better in so many ways — including, importantly, education, where they now sharply outnumber men on college campuses. In fact, the way things are going, I think 20 years from now my grandsons will, if the planet survives, be able to play the man card!

Being a woman is not nearly as good as being in a minority group, in which case you have the special distinction of being “marginalized.” Here there are all kinds of cards that could be available to you: the race card, the sexual orientation card, the trans card, and a card which so many Americans unknowingly use, the idiot card.

From the standpoint of identity politics, you are in a particularly strong position if you can claim more than one downtrodden identity. This is the concept of “intersectionality,” where, for example, if you are not only a minority but also a woman, you are close to the pinnacle of marginalization, beaten out only by a disabled minority woman or a trans minority woman.

I know what you’re thinking: Who does this guy think he is, making fun of those of us who suffer, when he is in the group that has ruled the country, if not the world, for zillions of years? He’s a white male. Worse than that, a heterosexual white male. A part of identity politics I haven’t mentioned yet is privilege; and when it comes to privilege, no one is more privileged than me.(Incidentally, on campuses in particular, between privilege and outrage, it’s amazing that anyone is learning things like math and physics.) So do I have any card at all? Well, I could talk about the dysfunctional family card — after all, if I told you what went on in my household as I grew up, and how we were marginalized compared to the rest of my extended family, you’d say, “Wow!” But nearly everyone can use the dysfunctional family card, so it’s not even a card, really. In fact, only if you come from one of the 18 functional families in the U.S., would that make you truly marginalized.

Ah, but I do have one card! Age! I’m 74. I’m a senior citizen. I’ll bet that behind my back, they call me “old man.” Privileged? I don’t think so. Sure, I get senior discounts, but that’s only because society knows I won’t be able to use them all that long. People tell me I “look good for my age.” How outrageous is that? Would you ever say to someone, “You look good for a black person”? Or “You look good for someone in a wheelchair?” (Actually, in truth, I love it when people tell me I look good for my age!)

Go ahead, tell me I’m using the “age card” when I stand there staring at you seated on a crowded subway car, clearly trying to make you feel guilty for not giving up your seat for me. Do you think that will bother me? Well, it won’t because the chances are I won’t even hear you say it!