The other day I was walking through a big hotel in San Diego, on my way to give a keynote speech for a corporate event. I was the only person at the conference without an ID badge and I wondered how hard it would be to talk my way past security.
I figured it would help that a life-size photo of me as the keynote presenter was sitting in the hallway by the entrance to the conference. My plan was to wait for security to stop me (if they even noticed) then point to the poster and breeze right in.
An alert security guard picked me out of the crowd and stopped me on my approach. I smiled and introduced myself as the keynote speaker, pointing to my life-sized photo as evidence.
That didn’t work.
I could tell that the guard had specific instructions to not let ANYONE in without a badge. And he would need to leave his post to check on me, which was not an option. What to do?
There was no real problem here. All I had to do was text my contact, who was probably a hundred feet away, and he would take me in. And I was plenty early, so time wasn’t an issue. I was all smiles and understanding. Perfectly patient. I understood the guard needed to do his job and was happy to let him.
I have never seen such a frightened employee. He was clearly afraid of losing his job. Somehow my carefree attitude had scared the bejeezus out of him.
I think I know why.
As a younger man, I was dubious that my maleness and my whiteness were conferring an advantage. I did not have the option of viewing the world through the eyes of others, and from my own vantage point I saw no special treatment for YOUNG white men. You can argue convincingly that I was blind to my advantage. But my point is that whatever advantage I had was never obvious to me in day-to-day dealings. I will admit to thinking the whole white-guy advantage was overblown.
Then I got older.
I have learned from experience that no one wants to fuck with a 58-year old white guy who speaks with confidence.
When I was in my twenties, people probably assumed I was a powerless member of society, and they would have been right. The only tools I had at my disposal were my inexperienced mind and my manly muscles that I was not allowed to use in business settings. I was no threat to anyone, and no immediate benefit to anyone. My memory is that people treated me that way, i.e. like dog shit. All the time.
Now fast-forward to my current age and imagine what this security guard saw coming at him.
Several hours before a big speech I begin a process that will focus all of my energy into a one-hour block of my day. I’m in a great mood, because I enjoy speaking, but my intensity is probably palpable. And I have a confident manner in general, whether I feel that way or not. (Yeah, I know it isn’t always a good thing.)
I have realized over time that when a white male my age talks with confidence, people assume he must be a CEO of something, or important in some way. And everyone assumes that guy has weapons.
They are right. Thanks to experience, I know how to get people fired if I need to. I can send lawyers after people if necessary. I know what buttons to push and when. I know how to negotiate, persuade, threaten, and scare. I know how to get inside someone’s head and turn them inside out. I have connections. I have experience. I have resources.
In a word, I’m dangerous.
At my current age, I feel my white-guy advantage kicking in all the time. People treat me with deference and respect even if they don’t know what I do for a living. As soon as I open my mouth, people start worrying that I might be the boss of something important because of how I look and act.
The security guard eventually waved me through, but he was literally shaking by the time he decided that doing what I wanted him to do was the best way of keeping his job. And I got that just by being polite and patient. He still didn’t want to take a chance.
I’m wondering if my experience is common. I assume age confers advantages to all demographic groups. Have you found that to be true in your experience?
In Top Tech Blog, Google is looking to use radar to detect hand motions of users. This is part of what I call the upcoming Age of Magic, in which we all act like Harry Potter and control our environments with hand motions and incantations (voice commands).
“This is an amazing book. Especially if you have an analytical mind.” – B. Travis