I am going to dip into a very hot topic today. A visitor to the Democrat booth at the fair had a printed copy of a quote from Sally Boynton Brown about “shutting down” Democrats who said they are not prejudiced and do not recognize “white privilege.” He said that he would never vote for a Democrat again. He would not engage in a discourse with me, so I asked a trusted friend who also was upset about that comment to tell me what he heard when someone brought up white privilege.
I paraphrase, but not much: I hear that, because I am a white male I have had everything given to me. I hear it as an excuse for not being able to accomplish things or for needing handouts to make them equal to me. I am angry because I have always worked hard for everything I have.
This is an example of a quote I remember from an old edition of the Air Force publication “Tongue and Quill:” “I know you think you heard what I said, but I don’t think you heard what I meant.” The quote explains both out-of-context and misspoke rejoinders. Sally was talking about listening and not presuming to understand before the message is delivered. My friend was talking about advantage. In my mind, privilege and advantage are not the same thing. Privilege, in the dictionary, carries with it the term immunity, and that makes the difference.
Advantage is about old-school ties, geographic location, the happenstance of birth, hard work and sometimes luck. Privilege is no questions asked, no bias set aside, no difference noted. Skin color is not the only carrier of privilege. Membership also carries privilege, but skin color is because of genetics; membership is mostly because of someone’s choice.
My studies of psychology and sociology give me background to understand why there is such indignation and even rage at the term white privilege or black lives matter. However, I believe that there is another social science that illuminates the true problem significantly. Economic studies show us that the economic advantages of the very wealthy are more significant than they have been for decades. The history we have any personal knowledge of, the history back through our grandparents, was characterized by an upwardly mobile middle class which had secure economic stability.
With the help of the labor movement, it was generally recognized that employees deserved a fair share of the profit from commercial enterprise. Today, even stock holders have seen their share of profit drop as company executives and the money managers who arrange deals for them take the lion’s share of increasing profitability. People are wondering why their hard work is not producing the standard of living of the last century. Economic advantage has gone to the few, and they claim privilege.
I object to terms meant to capture a complicated idea used to bash someone over the head. It is also an example of a political tactic meant to distract attention from another enemy. Using propaganda to attribute all woe to Trump, Obama, the right wing, or the liberal limits creative thought. Instead of examining the harm being done by the concentration of wealth and privilege to the few, we are busy throwing rocks among the many. We don’t need economic equality, but we do need broader economic advantage so that the overriding privilege we have is simply being an Idahoan in America.