Confronting the Reality of White Privilege

As the son of a slaveholder, may I raise the topic of WHITE PRIVILEGE?

I’m not sure how long the term “white privilege” has been in use.  It seems fairly new to me (but I’ve been around for nearly two centuries now, of course, so my perspective might be a little askew), but it’s already become one of those clichés that’s so charged with emotion that people don’t even stop to think of what it entails.  Unless I’m mistaken, upon hearing the phrase “white privilege,” most people, or certainly white people versus people of color, think about overcoming prejudice and inequality—things like job opportunities and education—and thus dismiss it as “whining” on the part of those who don’t want to work for success. But what about the criminal justice system itself?  I’m not just talking about the fact that African Americans represent about a third of prisoners but only 12% of the general population; I’m talking about the incredible leniency our society grants those who commit what is all too coincidentally known as “white” collar crime, which should more aptly be labeled crimes committed by people who are clearly NOT the “other.” The lack of successful prosecutions and the lenient sentences, not to mention the cushy facilities in which offenders are often imprisoned, are all too commonly accepted as the way of things.  

As an example you might recall, nothing raises my ire more than incidents such as when Eric Garner, a Black man whose only crime was selling cigarettes, is killed by the police, while across the bay in Manhattan (Wall Street to be exact!) no one has gone to jail—let alone died on the ground in a chokehold!—for actions contributing to the financial crisis and the Great Recession that followed, even though it cost Americans billions of dollars and destroyed countless lives and families.  Beyond the obvious, overwhelming injustice, am I the only one who is enraged that taxpayers pay law enforcement to take down a black man for a minor infraction, while (mostly) white white-colar criminals often remain above the law?


But to my way of thinking, more often than not, law enforcement is merely a pawn, the scapegoat for society’s injustice, not the source of the problem, not even close.  Maybe it goes back to my empathizing with Confederate soldiers who got stuck fighting a rich man’s war on behalf of the Cotton Kingdom and mistakenly adopted the cause as their own, but at the risk of angering some of you, I tend to give individual officers the benefit of the doubt if I can.  Anyway, don’t go thinking I’m encouraging antagonism toward the police, because I’m not. Solving the problem is going to take a lot more than accusing a bunch of working stiffs (isn’t that what they used to call honest, working people like cops?) of being racist and making their lives more difficult, while the real culprits are sitting in corporate boardrooms laughing at us all.  And I do mean us all.

While I’m on the subject, might someone please understand that when people say “black lives matter” they aren’t necessarily siding against law enforcement, but merely acknowledging the complete lack of regard for black people’s lives?  Former education secretary but ever-present political commentator William Bennett summed up the all too persistent attitude perfectly when he said, “if all blacks were aborted, we’d have no crime problem.”  Enough said? Personally, I believe that what euphemistically might be termed “moneyed interests” still use racism as a means to distract many Americans from the true source of their grievances, but I’ll leave that until another time. (Yes, I’m talking about things like the good ol’ Republican Southern Strategy started in the 1960s and has been helping Republicans win elections ever since, most especially their beloved Ronald Reagan!) The greedy slaveholders who sent me off to war to fight for their cotton empire may be long gone, but their descendants, both literally and figuratively, are still exploiting working class whites for their own advantage, and one of the ways they do it is by directing their anger and resentment at blacks. (After all, why reinvent the wheel?) And politicians, instead of tackling the economic and structural reform that would really benefit working class whites, are still working to keep blacks in their place.  Okay, enough for now; I did say I’d leave that to another time.

Read more about me, the "gallant Pelham," and you'll learn all about America's history of racial arrogance and audacity."