Scoops: A Personal Examination of Privilege

by: Todd Andrew Clayton

For the first two weeks, I didn’t even notice his hand.  He’d find me in my office at school every morning to say hello.  All the other kids called him Scoops, and it wasn’t until he asked if he could crack my knuckles that I knew why.

“Let me see your hand, Todd.”  I stretched out my left arm and he pulled my fingers until they gently popped.

“The other one,” he continued.  When he took my right hand in his left, I saw it.  Born with a congenital birth defect, his left hand curled inward, like a perpetually half-closed fist, scoop-like.  Scars on his forearm evidenced a surgical attempt to remedy the malformation.  I said nothing, but instead looked in his eyes and smiled.

Scoops, who could avoid crowds and attention and fun for fear of mockery from his peers, is, instead, one of the most popular, well-respected, and out-spoken students on his middle school campus.

When he stood up in English last month to give a speech on the abolition of the death penalty, before he began speaking the audience hushed, save one brave seventh grader:

“Scoooooooooops,” he hollered.

The rest of the class joined, chanting in rhythm: “Scoops, Scoops, Scoops, Scoops.”  Like a flag, he raised his left hand, his face beaming.  The students cheered.

Every time I take him to the mall or the beach or to lunch, he tells me how many bitches he’s going to holler at.  I tell him “bitches” isn’t a kind way to talk about women.

“All right, then,” he says.  He calls them “honies” now, which I tell him is fine.

On Saturday, I picked him up to spend the afternoon with some other kids from his school at Belmont Park, a small beach boardwalk on the other side of the city.  I got to his house early, and—since we had some time before the other kids would be there—asked if he wanted to stop by a bakery that I used to go to when I was in college.

“They make this chocolate bread—but only on the weekends—so I would come on Saturdays and get a slice with a cup of coffee and read.”

“That’s what’s up,” he said, which is Scoops for: “That’s really cool.”

On our way, we listened to Mexican banda music on ciento-seis punto cinco, the windows of my truck down, the wind constantly disrupting our hair.  When the music swelled at the choruses, he’d laugh, look at me, and dance in the passenger’s seat.

When we walked in the bakery, I felt him immediately at my side.

“Scoops, what’s up?”

“Nothing, man.  I’m fine,” his eyes struggling to make contact with mine.  They found refuge in the grout of the black tile counter-top.  He inched closer, now hip-to-hip with me.  He didn’t holler at any of the honies.

“Scoops, what are you thinking about?”

“It’s just,” he hesitantly began, “I don’t know, man.  This place is for rich people.  And for white people.  I’m the only Mexican in here.”

I looked around: Thomas Edison light bulbs dangled from the ceiling, a chalk menu written in cursive leaned against the opposite wall, families wearing expensive North Face jackets sat around the hardwood tables.  I said nothing.

That there might be degrees on my wall or price tags on my jeans, that there might be light bulbs of judgment that hang in my heart, signaling people to feel too Mexican, too Islamic, too poor, too straight, too Christian, too dumb, too anything but perfectly welcomed and celebrated is deeply unsettling to me. People like Scoops are too good to be missed, and I must be aware of the bakeries in my life, the places and statements and decisions and attitudes that unknowingly alienate people I encounter and send them clinging for comfort to their hips of stability.

I paid for our loaf and we walked back to my truck.

I picked him up two days later to go surfing.

“I like you, Todd,” he said before we got to the first stoplight. “I like you like a brother.”

“I’m really glad we’re friends, Scoops.  You teach me a lot.”

“That’s what’s up,” he said, before turning the music up like he always does.

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One response to “Scoops: A Personal Examination of Privilege

  1. When I visited the country of Jordan, I felt too Christian. When I visit anywhere 30 minutes deep into Mexico, I feel too wealthy. When I visit Hillcrest, San Diego, I often feel too straight.

    But these things do not have to be barriers. The barriers, at least in this society, are largely in our own minds. The problem is we, as humans, lack courage to step into an unknown crowd. Because, learning from the reality of my father’s experience of emigrating to the United States from his birth country of Ecuador, South America back in 1963, this society is an extremely generous, inviting one for those who show themselves ready to join in and invest for the greater good.He may not have had a much more than a high school education, and did not know the language, but he did not see these as walls, but instead as challenges to overcome. And he certainly did not allow his self doubts to take hold of him. Because he could recognize amazing opportunity in this society, where there truly was little where he came from. And the last thing he ever thought was that he was some type of “victim” to circumstance and fate.

    Many people, often at an early age, buy into their own self doubts, their own insecurities and their own comfort zones, and retreat for the rest of their lives within the safety of the mental barrios they have constructed.

    Yes, of course there will always be individual people out there who try to jealously protect their “privilege”. That is life immemorial. But from my observation, this unique nation with its vast, diverse, pluralistic spirit which pervades throughout, has bestowed about as much a chance to succeed and elevate one’s self as anyone will find on this little blue planet.

    Perhaps you are there for “Scoops” to teach him this. Perhaps you are there to help erase any poisonous thoughts of victimization he may have. Perhaps you are there to open his eyes to the fact that opportunity, like ripe, low hanging fruit, is all around him. Certainly it will take work, persistence, and good decision making, but nevertheless it is there for him. A young person like him just needs someone of courage and strength to show him that often it is our own fears that are the greatest obstacle to a fulfilling, free life.

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