Monday, April 27, 2015

Rights vs Privilege

Frequently in the last few weeks, I’ve been drawn into "special privilege" arguments about double-standards, as it pertains to race relations in this country.   The people I’ve discussed this with have been -- like me -- white men. 

They bemoaned the double-standard that they see in favor of women and minorities when it comes to speech.  There are certain words minorities are allowed to say, jokes women are allowed to make, that white men simply are not permitted to say or do without being attacked as “racist” or “sexist” or some other label.  Political correctness – or what I'd simply call common courtesy, for simplicity’s sake – has essentially left these men feeling like they lost some basic rights.  They feel cheated that they have no “white pride” parades, no “white history month” and no sanction to revel in their ethnicity the way they see minorities can. 

In short, these men feel that everybody else is getting special treatment and “free passes” that white men are being denied.  What they fail to realize is that, because the system’s already skewed in their favor, white men don’t need the compensatory legitimacy that such focused endeavors provide.

Sadly, what these men have done is confuse privileges with rights.  Our basic civil and human rights, as defined by the Constitution, its Amendments, and International Law, allow each of us our say, our day in court and our liberty to pursue whatever dreams we see fit, so long as nobody else is harmed in the pursuit.  At least, that’s how it looks on paper.  Traditionally, the reality is and has been very different.

For most of the history of the USA, oftentimes as much as half the population was denied those basic rights that the average white man took – and still takes – for granted.  This means that white men had a whole slew of privileges that others were denied.

Systemically, legally, physically and psychologically, this denial of other’s rights formed the basis for a double-standard of privilege, based largely, if not solely, on the pigmentation of a person’s skin.  White men could do many things that women or non-white people were legally barred from doing.  Things such as voting, working certain jobs, owning property, speaking one’s mind, even reading were solely in the white master’s domain for much of our history.  In fact, it’s pretty easy to argue that the sole basis for white men’s privilege in this country was the denial of black men their equally-due rights.  This skewed dis-equity affects our society to this day.

In time, that skewing of privilege has begun to balance out, which means that women and minorities have gained the opportunity to speak out and compensate for their long-standing second-class status with speech, if little else more material, thus far.  Affirmative action was implemented by law in the economic sphere to attempt to compensate for the artificial advantages that white men had for so long enjoyed, so that those who'd been left behind would have the opportunity to catch up.  This trend of equalization threatens the feeling of privilege that white men have so long taken for granted that now, many feel that they have lost rights long taken for granted, when in fact all they are losing are first-class privileges so that those around them could gain real rights at long last. 

The most visible response of “white pride” is violent, traditionally manifesting in and forever identifying itself with rampant murder and terrorism, most commonly wrapped in a white sheet.  To this day, such “White Pride” groups still advocate violent repression of women and minorities, closely emulating the style of groups this country is has been or is currently at war with (Nazi Germany and ISIS being the two best examples).  This is a defense of privilege, not right.

Yes, folks, the Nazis were and still are the ENEMY

What these men fail to consider is that while those skewed privileges have indeed in recent years been somewhat scaled back in many areas of our national life, they do still exist both subtly and overtly in force across the nation.

The numbers don't lie.

Today, white men occupy 75-85% of the positions of power in the economic, social and political spheres in this country as they have for 400 years by systemically-skewed extra-legal privileges across the board.  We make more than the women doing the same jobs beside us.  We have more political power than our minority counterparts and have much easier access to the levers of that political power.  When you factor in the rampant abuse of minorities by the justice system, the Eurocentric curriculum in public schools when it comes to teaching history and the various educational and economic disparities that continue to skew opportunities towards white men, affirmative action, realistically, is little more than a tiny band-aid on a gaping national wound. 

Every day is white men’s day.  Every month is white history month.  It has been this way for so long that it’s taken entirely for granted.

Now, before the usual detractors start freaking out about hating one’s ethnicity or “reverse-racism”, let me be absolutely clear – my point is not about hating white people.  I consider myself extremely fortunate that, by the sheer accident of the circumstances of my birth, I have directly benefitted from a skewed system.  All I’m saying is that all my fellow citizens, regardless of skin color, gender or country of origin deserve the same as I got.

It is never tantamount to calling white people “evil” to point out that a whole swath of my fellow citizens got massively short-ended by that same skewed system.  Nor is it “reverse-racist” to insist that such short-ending be curbed. It is a taking-on of the historical burden of responsibility that comes with my privileged position.

The so-called “White Pride Movement” would do well to remember that with the pride it seeks to revel comes an historical burden to bear. In this case, that burden manifests as putting up with a very minor "double-standard" when it comes to discourse.  This burden is the natural price of the privileges we currently enjoy.

Ultimately, it is the fear of being on the receiving end of the second-class status that is being a minority in this country is what scares so many white folks into the ranks of Regressivism.  As I’ve argued in a previous blog post , the era of white supremacy in this country based solely on demographic numbers is ending. The most recent Census data confirms this.  This means that for the first time since the end of the Indian Wars, white people will officially be a minority ethnicity on this continent.  If we are to avoid a repetition of history in the reverse, it’s incumbent on those of us who've benefitted from this skewed system to lay down our privileges gracefully and to support all efforts to balance the scales rather than deride those efforts.   If we don’t lead the way towards a more equitable system, we will in the end be squashed when it finally does come about.

If, at the end of the day, the only thing I can do is to make every effort to show common courtesy, and help rebalance things by enduring harmless jokes, or the occasional chip on another’s shoulder, or the occasional pride parade, the worst I’ve lost is the privilege of being a bully about it.  I don’t lose a single legal right by giving up that privilege.  I will not lose any rights if ALL of my fellow citizens finally are allowed to use theirs.  The worst I'll have to give up in the service of justice is the demand for extra-legal privileges denied to my fellow citizens.

I can live with that.


  1. So, the idea is that it's okay to show bigotry and prejudice to a whole group of people because some portion--maybe even a large portion--showed bigotry and prejudice first?

    I'm sorry, that sounds more like looking for revenge than looking for equality. It's the old "they did it to us, so it's okay for us to do it to them" defense.

    You do understand what scares a lot white people is the thought that maybe revenge and domination is the motive, not equality?

    1. How exactly does the revocation of extra-legal privilege constitute "bigotry" to you, Max?

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