About That Privilege

Having read little more than some screen shots of the Bible, Princess Karen version, also known as White Fragility by marketeer Robin DiAngelo, the only thing I know for sure is that I don’t self-flagellate with sufficient vigor. And, I’m told, I should because of my “white privilege.

We are determined to do that work and determined to let everyone know we are doing it. This work is deemed necessary so we can become better allies for black people in the fight for racial justice. There are so many anguished conversations among white people taking place right now about what to write on our protest signs, about that time we said that thing to a black friend and it changed the energy in the room, about whether rewatching the movie “The Help” counts as progress.

There is a frantic race to catch up, and that’s got to be the correct instinct, right? I mean, look at this moment in history. I swear, if I don’t do it right I’ll ask to speak to my own manager.

The “we” are the “good white people.” I know this because the title of the NYT op-ed says so.

To White People Who Want to Be ‘One of the Good Ones’

And to her credit, Maeve Higgins manages to sneak in some Karen jokes, as well as notice something of actual substance.

I catch myself wanting to be “one of the good ones,” and I have to laugh at myself. Who exactly do I imagine is paying attention to me? Is somebody out there doling out points? Black people are being killed in broad daylight by the police, by actual representatives of the state, and I am fretting over the wording of an Instagram post.

That black people are being killed, not to mention stopped, tossed and treated like shit, is true, even if the impression that cops are slaughtering black people like buffalo on the open plains is less than accurate. But that her deep feelings of being an inadequate ally are kind of petty and narcissistic compared to somebody being killed is surprisingly real. After all, doesn’t Karen feel it’s all about Karen?

Maybe, just maybe, this work I need to do, this learning and unlearning, is not all about me. As a white woman in America, it’s second nature for me to center myself in the discourse, but also to vanish from it when it’s convenient. So permit me, please, to make this work of undoing my complicity in white supremacy in the name of racial justice all about me, you and literally everybody else.

You go, girl.*

I, on the other hand, not only enjoy my “privilege,” but have every intention of keeping it. I worked for it and, let’s be frank, it beats the hell out of not having it. But then, I’ve spent a career fighting to eliminate the burden of racism. I’ve got a few black kids named after me, and there’s a brown guy driving around with my office phone number on the license plate of his car. I didn’t do this to show the world I was one of the good ones, and I make no claim to being one of the good ones.

What I am not is one of the white people who feels guilty about being white. What I feel bad about is that everybody doesn’t get to enjoy his (or her) privilege the way I do. I’ve already explained my theory, the “Bastardized Herzberg Theory” of equal opportunity, and I’m sticking with it. This requires a finely honed grasp of the difference between burdens and benefits, that no one should start out at a detriment to others in the ability to gain privilege. And that eliminating the burdens imposed by race, poverty and any other causes that put someone at a detriment is critical.

But what it does not mean is that there’s anything wrong with enjoying the privilege one has managed to amass. There are plenty of white people who have failed to succeed, even though they didn’t begin at a detriment because of their skin color. And there are plenty of black people who have managed to achieve great success, despite their skin color. They deserve enormous credit for overcoming the burdens that would have impaired lesser people.

I’m painfully aware of what those burdens are and mean, not because I read about it in a book or sat through a lecture in my sophomore critical theory class, but because I held people’s hands as they mourned the death of their daddy, or made the decision of whether to cop a plea to ten years so they could see their baby graduate high school rather than get crushed at trial and never breathe free air again.

But you are worried about how you look to your stans on Facebook?

In a culture fixated on self-improvement, perhaps you could think about rescinding your power as a kind of barre class for your moral compass. In the beginning it will be difficult on those tiny, rarely used muscles, but boy will you be aligned after some years of daily practice.

My moral compass is doing just fine as far as I’m concerned, and when it comes to moral compasses, no one else gets to tell me how mine should work. But if Karen feels the need to do something, self-improvement isn’t going to make any black person’s life better. It’s not hard at all. Black people (and brown, red and green too) are just people. Fight for them to get a fair shot at the same success you fought for, because not all white folks sit in bed eating bon bons all day while checks roll in from their trust accounts. But beyond that, they’re just people, like you, Karen. Some will succeed if the burden is removed. Most won’t, just like white people.

Or if you really want to be “one of the good ones,” you could give some black person your house, your car, the inheritance you got from grandma and the seat Yale gave your li’l darling (but pay the tuition, because Yale needs money). That should make you feel much better. I, on the other hand, feel just fine.

*Because I haven’t done this in a while.

39 thoughts on “About That Privilege

  1. Erik H

    It’s not about her… until it is. Hope she gets lucky.

    The decoupling off “benefits for good acts” and “complicity for bad acts” is one the truly bizarre features of all this.

  2. DaveL

    There’s that word again: “ally.” It’s funny, I don’t see a lot of groveling and forelock-tugging going on in the old newsreel footage of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin.

    1. SHG Post author

      Do you not appreciate that being an ally back then could mean getting killed instead of getting likes?

      1. The Real Kurt

        Unfortunately, it appears we are approaching that time again, though the scale might be smaller, at least initially.

        The Real Kurt

  3. B. McLeod

    I don’t really subscribe to the “privilege” mantra, which basically seeks to impose guilt because not everybody suffers the same disadvantages in life. I am supposed to be “privileged” because my parents stayed together, worked, were literate, and passed bourgeois values on to their children. But this is simply how things were done in the long ago. Yes, people who have rejected these values, or whose parents rejected these values, will have a harder time in life, but I am not picking up the tab for their lifestyle choices.

  4. Hal

    TRIGGER WARNING!!! Tummy Rub Ahead

    “Scott, you are one of the good ones”, I say sitting in my repro Eames chair/ throne of white privilege.

  5. L. Phillips

    Nice job of planting the flag, but you could have written, “All of you get off of my lawn!” and slept in this morning.

    1. SHG Post author

      A few years ago, some would have considered me pretty damn liberal. Today, not so much. Play on my lawn all you want. We’ll make more.

      1. Jeff

        Given the shit I see you allowing in your comments on a daily basis, the suggestion does miss the mark.

  6. Dan

    Malcolm Gladwell’s book _Outliers_ takes a lot of pages to make the obvious point that a large part of our success (for those who are successful) results from chance/luck/Providence/whatever other term you want to use for factors not directly under our control (even if his example of pervasive antisemitism as providing Joe Skadden’s lucky break was more than a little strained). It’s not going to come without work, but if I’d been born into different circumstances, it’s entirely possible that I wouldn’t have enjoyed anything close to the modest success I do enjoy. So in that sense, yes, I’m “privileged.”

    The part that the woke ignore (deliberately, I believe) is that my “privilege” didn’t come at the expense of the “oppressed.” The fact that my parents were married when I was born (and have remained married for 50 years, as of last Sunday) doesn’t keep other parents from being married. The fact that I was born in the USA (which is indeed the land of opportunity, and F those who consider that a microaggression) doesn’t prevent others from being born here. The fact that they both valued education (even when I didn’t) doesn’t prevent other parents from valuing it. And so forth. So I appreciate my “privilege”, I recognize that there’s a great deal about my present situation that I didn’t earn, but I don’t feel in the least guilty about it–nor do I see any reason I should.

  7. DeJon

    This is what a fear of self-reflection looks like. There’s no such thing as a white race, but there sure are a bunch of self-assured, smug cowards who call themselves white.

      1. DeJon

        So is the goal to get away with being awful?

        Because being a shitty white man is one historically tried and tested way to succeed (and wear such beautiful watches), all the while living devoid of any admirable quailities.

        A person more in love with calling one’s self white, than with being decent would love this blog entry.

        1. SHG Post author

          It kind of depends on how one defines being a shitty white man. I have some nice watches, but is my living devoid of any admirable qualities?

          1. DeJon

            I get that this is your blog and your brain bytes spur all discussion. Given that, it takes more work in this truly bizarre comment section to drive home the point… this is not about you or your watches.

            I’m here because of the rancid White Supremacy that wafts through your reified thoughts.

            Good luck to you.

        2. Anon

          Some very harsh words, DeJon. I’m black, and I’m going to guess from your name that you are too, and not just some performative white ally proving how woke you are. So take my harsh words in the spirit given.

          Shut the fuck up. You’re a disgraceful little racist piece of shit. And of all the people to attack, Scott, whose probably done more to end racism than you will ever do. Damn, you’re a fool.

          1. SHG Post author

            I don’t take DeJon’s words to heart. We’re old friends, and he’s seeing what he sees through the lens of the moment, that people are on one side or the other. If I’m not against white privilege, then I must be for white supremacy, because what else can it be?

            1. Anon

              Sorry, but you should have called his bullshit out. It’s hard enough out there without driving away the people who actually help others to survive and succeed, no matter what their race. You may not be willing to say it, but I am.

            2. SHG Post author

              To be fair, it’s not as if he can just google “DeJon.” Since I’m a helpful kinda guy, here’s a pic for Anon’s benefit.

            3. DeJon Redd

              My name is DeJon Redd, and this is the stupidest fucking comments section on the Internet.

            4. DeJon

              I don’t know what that means, Scott. But to be clear, with the exception of your embarrassing, thick-headed thoughts on race, you have deepened my understanding significantly.

    1. Jon Justin

      DeJon is wrong.

      Of course there is such thing as a White race; to the extent race exists at all, by which I mean, if there is a Black race there is certainly a White race.

      “Race as a social construct” is not at all useful here – we are looking for objective reality, not Identity Politics. If, to simplify, “race” is conveniently reduced to mean common descent, and a shared cultural identity; this manifests itself as genetic clusters of people who share the same geographic ancestry, regionally, as these things tend to, and are all essentially sharing some ancestors from those regions. This shared genetic ancestry, which serves as a useful proxy for cultural and ethnographic ancestry, is the foundation of the biological aspects of what we call race. There can no more be a Black race without a White one than there could be the color red without blue or green. Racial classifications are really only possible relative to other things, to which they can be fairly easily compared and from which they can be fairly easily differentiated.

      Whether you want to define that aspect of the reality of human existence as a race or not, is more of an academic argument. Point being that any criteria by which there could be said to be any race (of any group), results in the obvious classification of one such race that is currently called white.

      1. SHG Post author

        Yesterday, someone showed me an old essay of Nikole Hannah-Jones (of 1619 fame) arguing about the evils of the white race. I thought of DeJon’s point and how silly it was to talk in those terms, but as you point out, if the construct is race defined by skin color, then there has to be an alternative. Both strike me as nonsensical and counterproductive as “things,” but as descriptors for the sake of this discussion, I don’t see how we can have one without the other.

  8. Shadow of a Doubt

    I know this comment isn’t likely to pass moderation (and probably doesn’t deserve too really), but really Dejon, the best example of privilege and of living in a bubble is thinking that a) Scott is advocating for white supremacy in any sort of way b) Scott one of the bad ones and c) This is the “stupidest fucking comments section on the Internet”. Seriously, if you think this is bad you need to get out of your bubble and into the world son, the staunchest of SJWs would consider you an extremist.

    I just think you’re an asshole.

    1. SHG Post author

      To be honest, I’m not really sure what he’s trying to say. I think it’s this:

      “What I am not is one of the white people who feels guilty about being white”

      But this isn’t me asserting my “whiteness,” but responding to those who inform me that I should feel guilty about my “white privilege.” So am or not? Do I have it or not? Either way, DeJon’s going to need to sort through this for himself, as whatever it is I am, it’s not going to change.

      1. DeJon

        You should read this book addressed to fragile people.

        You might be surprised how much you fit into the intended audience.

        1. Shadow ofa Doubt

          Dejon my man, you’re a good stand in for the rest of the world who doesn’t seem to understand this point.

          There are those of us who are aware of our privileges, and are not only aware, but perfectly OK with them, I daresay are even pro-privilege. Many of us believe that the best way to bring equality to the world is to bring the underprivileged up to our level, not to drag the privileged down to the level of the lowest common denominator.

          But then again, that’s probably just my privilege speaking, damn white people and their *checks card* wanting to make the world a better place for everyone.

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