An Interesting Discussion on White Privilege

2018-03-08 – Last night Kit and I had a nice discussion about white privilege at dinner with our boys and their friends.

The very fact that we had a “nice discussion about white privilege” is already a badge of white privilege. But one of the aspects of white privilege is that I’m never going to be able to change my race. So whatever privilege I have due to my race is not going away.

I wanted to get my thoughts down on the subject. What I have to say may be drawn from a composite of more than one “nice discussion” we’ve had. I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth—except my own.

My view is that white privilege exists, but that not all white people experience the privilege. Some people experience it more than others. And the difference is mainly class based. Upper-class whites have more white privilege than lower-class whites. Professionals have it more than working stiffs. City people have it more than rural people. These are, of course, generalizations. But they are mostly true.

The discussion last night had to do with white privilege versus class privilege. Based on the last paragraph, you can probably guess that I think that class privilege is an important factor in American life.

I am not going to get into a debate about whether white privilege or class privilege is a greater or lesser factor. In the world of intersectionality, would you debate whether gender or race is greater or lesser causes of oppression? Of course you would, but I don’t think it gets you anywhere outside of academia. Same thing with race versus class.

I do not deny the reality of oppression based on whatever cause. But there is conflict in this country that causes pain for a great many people. My experience as a community mediator tells me that focusing on past wrongs is often an obstacle to reconciliation.

Easy for a white guy to say.

In some parts of left-wing America (often the most privileged) there is a desire to confront racism as a means for getting over it. I’m not talking about the jamokes who carry tiki torches or burn black churches. I’m talking about confronting the casual racists (or unconscious racists) who love their families and never say a bigoted word. They need to know about structural racism that they benefit from. And they need to recant it and atone for their passive sins. Being passive doesn’t make them less sinful or less hurtful.

In my view, asking people to personally recant and atone for a sin that may not be visible to them is not a good first step.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t think that structural racism needs to be eradicated. But if we demand the confession of sin first, it’s not going to happen.

Although a rural Iowan can walk down the streets in Chicago and be viewed as white people (and therefore law-abiding and non-threatening). They mostly don’t walk down Chicago streets. They mostly walk down Iowa streets. There’s no privilege in Iowa (on this point, at least) because there aren’t many African Americans in Iowa that they are going to encounter. So, when companies close their branches in their Iowa towns, they’re out of a job. Their town is too small for a good grocery or big box store. Idle hands are opening meth labs and using (whatever you do with meth). And doctors prescribe opiates for the pain.

White privilege doesn’t assuage the misery.

But, what I just described is almost exactly the same description that I would give to an inner city community. Not too many whites there. Businesses have closed. There are no grocery stores or shopping. People are out of work and doing drugs.

Couldn’t the people in these two very different (but really similar) communities band together to get some relief? Not if people have to acknowledge their sins first and atone.

But what if you did it the other way around? What if you dropped the focus on the past and focused on the future?

Did you know that half of the venture capital in America goes to just two places? New York City and Silicon Valley. The rest is spread very thin. Almost none of it goes to the inner city or to rural towns. Chicago gets some. Once in a while we have a big win and a big company moves here. But they rarely move to the south side or the west side (and never to the hard core areas).

Right now Chicago is in the running to get the new Amazon headquarters. We’re in competition with other cities. Amazon is looking for the best deal.

That’s how the 1% work.

And that’s why I believe that class is an important (and until recently, little acknowledged) factor in American life. The one percent wants people competing for their largesse. It’s not just white versus black. It’s Chicago versus Atlanta versus Raleigh versus Philadelphia versus Toronto . . .

That’s how the 1% work.

So, if life for the rest of us isn’t going to be a race to the bottom, we need to stop bidding against one another. We need to band together. We need to put aside what divides us and seek the common good.

Then, fresh from the common battle, we might one day be able to say to our new friends. “You know, I used to be a jerk. You’re not as bad as I once thought. And I’d like to make it up to you.”

A confession like this is something rare in human life. Trying to extract one as a precondition to cooperation means that you have no hope. It’s not going to happen before there’s a level of trust forged in a common cause, from a struggle that is shared.

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