Are some people more privileged than others? Of course. But it is tied to how we think, not what color we are.
What about so-called white privilege? Don’t whites have it better than other races in America, especially blacks? Yes, but certainly not all of them. So this claimed (accused) privilege is far from a universal truth. More to the point is that it is not true, period.
Key question: “Does ‘have it better’ mean privileged?” Answer: Probably yes, but it is not connected to race. OK, how could that be? And what do you mean by “probably?”
Goals check: Are we trying to prove and defend the claim of white privilege, or are we willing to look for what privileges do exist with the intent of sharing them with as many who want to benefit?
Key observation: Privilege comes from how you think. How you think can be massively influenced by what you were taught at home, in school, and by your friends. Certain races, for example, whites and Asians, can contain cultures that do a better job of fostering the kind of thinking that leads to privilege. If you were taught the power of a good education, respect for legitimate authority, the value and dignity of hard work, the basics of getting a job, keeping it and moving up, the fundamentals of handling money and the importance of reading instructive and uplifting books and having positive and supportive friends, then you were privileged. And culture is not necessarily tied to race. Repeat, culture is not necessarily tied to race.
Follow the ((il)logic) that leads to concluding that white privilege exists: Certain races have a historically better record of success. Therefore, there must be privilege–white privilege. This line of thinking says that if things are connected, then they are causally connected. That’s simply not true. Here is an obvious example: For four years, from 1996 to 2000, the number of tons of lemons we imported from Mexico, and the number of traffic deaths in the US, declined at exactly the same rate. Exactly. Connected in time? Yes. Causally connected? Obviously not. Want another one? OK: If you graph the chocolate consumption in any country having multiple Nobel prize winners, with the number of Nobel prizes won by that chocolate-consuming nation, you would find a very high degree of correlation. But no one believes that if we Americans ate more chocolate that we’d have more Nobel winners.
If there was such a thing as white privilege, how would you explain the poverty and opioid epidemics in, for example, white Appalachia? And the thousands of Jeff Foxworthy jokes, based in reality, about how you might be a redneck? “You might be a redneck if you have matching salad bowls and all of them say, ‘Cool Whip’.” And the term “white trash” has a basis in reality in certain areas, though that phrase should never be used in any hurtful way.
What is really happening is that certain cultures have a history of doing a better job of passing down success thinking. And success thinking generally leads to success. Certain observers mislabel that thinking-oriented, culture-based success as privilege, in this case white privilege. They see the successes as connected to the predominant races of the cultures that embrace, act on and teach this thinking. They miss the real–and only–connection, i.e., with the thinking that led to the successes. (Again, culture is not necessarily tied to race.)
There are families, most of them white, who can afford to send their children to private schools from pre-K through graduate school. And get them tutors. And buy them cars. And grease their way with money and connections all along the way. But this does not teach those kids anything; I would argue that it harms them. No matter, the important point is these exceptions are not what drives success in our society. That takes us back to thinking. It is how we think that drives individual and societal success–or lack thereof. (By the way, eighty percent of American millionaires are self-made.)
If you were privileged enough to be taught privileged thinking as I have described it, then you have an obligation that goes beyond putting it to use for yourself and your family and friends. You must actively pass it along to those in cultures where that thinking is not taught. And in some cultures in America, the opposite is taught. “School is for dummies. Minimum wage is chump change. I can make more cash working the corner for the gang for a week than my old elementary teacher did all year.” “F*#k the popos. They’re out to get me.” And by far the worse, “I am a victim. You owe me.”
“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Chinese proverb. “Teach a man how to teach others to fish, and you feed a nation.” Will Luden
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Agree? Kinda agree? Disagree? And tell me about actions you are going to take.
Will Luden, writing from my home office at 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.
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