The recent approval of the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court led me to reflect on her “privilege,” meaning two caring parents who valued education, the gift of high IQ, plus her determination and her quality education at Harvard.
I imagine she had a scholarship, because she was an outstanding student and because how could her parents afford to send her to the elite college and the law school?
In a roundabout way, that led me to mulling the concept of “white privilege,” and a column I wrote in 2014.
My feelings haven’t changed much, so here is that column, with minor updates.
Privilege to be white? Not quite. 9/16/14.
My “white privilege” was sharing a bedroom with my sister in a South Bronx tenement until I was 15 and she was 11. My parents slept on a bed in the living room. Then we moved out of a neighborhood of close scrapes and fire escapes to public-housing in Brooklyn — the projects — where we had our own bedrooms.
We were lower class, but not “poor,” or at least we didn’t think so. In the early ’50s, not all that many people were “rich,” and I didn’t know any of them. My first full-time job was as a stock picker and packer in a Norcross greeting-card warehouse.
My situation today may be better than my Black Bronx classmates’, but I don’t know that for sure. I attended the same high school as Attorney General Eric Holder, and he’s done better than I. Much better. The hill was, and is, steeper for Blacks than whites. You would be foolish to deny that, but to believe all whites roller-skate downhill is ridiculous.
“White privilege” is repackaged “white guilt.” The “privilege” part gags me, as it does many (especially) working-class whites. The semantics are more galling than the concept because it smacks of cheating. It is a toxic mixture of race and class hate.
A general definition of “privilege” is “special advantage enjoyed by a particular group.” If it is true that most whites find it easier to hail a cab, get a better table in a restaurant, and are less likely to be stopped by a cop, that is not ”privilege.” It is customary treatment,
A better term to explain the gap between Black and white might be the “Black gulf,” which I don’t like, but shifts the focus to the undeniable victim. Racism —being stopped by cops, trailed in retail stores, cold-shouldered by white neighbors — lays its hand on most African-Americans, but none of it improves white lives.
“White privilege” says whites get an undeserved boost, even when they are unaware of it. It’s part of woke belief that many of the beneficiaries of privilege are unaware of it. That’s almost hateful. And defending yourself is seen, by the woke, as proof of racism.
There are millions more whites than Blacks below the poverty line, but I know the poverty rate is twice as high for Blacks as for whites. There are myriad historical causes for that, but ”white privilege” is not one of them.
Actual privilege is enjoyed by the classes above your own. The son of an African-American M.D. in Cherry Hill is going to find the hill less steep than the white son of a single mother in Kensington. That’s reality.
Whites are not America’s highest-earning ethnic group. That distinction goes to Asian Indians, who are nonwhite and relative newcomers. Why doesn’t “white privilege” hold them back?
Many African-Americans won’t agree with me, but go sell “white privilege” to a white sharecropper in Appalachia or a white trapper in the Cascades. If “white privilege” is not always true, it should not be stated as if it were.
If we are going to have that elusive “conversation about race” we keep hearing about, both sides have to be willing to listen, otherwise it’s a lecture. When you hear all the points of view, and all the facts, I think most will conclude that America is not “systematically racist,” but is a system with some remainders of racism in It.
I find it odd that the academics who coined “white privilege” would vehemently oppose other racial generalizations directed at minorities. As they should.
The “white privilege” fallacy makes many whites angry and some Blacks bitter. It doesn’t help anyone.
The pain of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and redlining created indelible, negative impressions of America for African-Americans, as the Holocaust created indelible impressions of the world for Jews. Both exist more in history than in 21st Century reality. Ours is not a world in which every gain by one party is balanced by another party’s loss.
Here are my real privileges:
America. Every American —white, Black, brown, red, yellow — has a privilege over most people in the world.
Parents. Mine loved me and set standards. They demanded I get an education because any problems in life would be multiplied by ignorance.
Good health. I have it, but my good health doesn’t cause anyone else’s bad health.
Gender. When I was growing up and into the present, males were paid more than women. There has been progress: The disparity today is not as wide as grievance merchants would have you believe, nor as narrow as I want them for my daughter.
Height. I am more than 6 feet tall, and research shows tall men generally do better than short men. It’s also true that pretty does better than ugly, slim vs. fat. Is that right? No. Is it changeable? Probably not. Humans are imperfect.
What you “own” was not necessarily taken from someone else. A successful African-American — and there are many of them — didn’t cheat another Black person to succeed.
Neither did a white person.