Blogcast w/Chris Graham: White privilege

chris graham dogsI long chafed at the notion that I have been the recipient of any sort of privilege. I mean, sure, I’m a white male, but: a white male who was raised by a single mom, in a trailer park.

We had nothing. I wore one pair of pants to school for two years. Fortunately for me, I tested well, got into a good college, and now I do what I do.

But, privileged?

Nah.

A few weeks ago, I came to the point of conceding on one point. OK, so I wasn’t raised with a silver spoon in my mouth, and had to get whatever I was going to get on my own, but at least I don’t have to fear basic situations with police turning into something more because of my skin color.

And then today, literally today, I conceded to myself a second point. I was out running on the greenway, as I do probably too much, based on how much I write about it, and I passed a young woman running in the other direction.

I was near the end of the trail, meaning I was going to turn back.

And it occurred to me: she may have been thinking when she saw me, I hope that man doesn’t run me down and attack me.

It’s logical for a woman running alone on a greenway trail to think that. Same as it is for a black man getting pulled over by a cop for a busted tail light to think, hope this doesn’t end with me getting shot.

I don’t have those kinds of things hard-wired.

I have other default settings from growing up poor: worry that no matter how good things seem to be going, that it’s all going to come crashing down; that I might have to go to the doctor – poor folks can’t afford to go to the doctor, so even now that I can more than account for the expense, I can’t tell you the last time I saw my family doctor, and if he would even consider himself to be such.

I still sneak ketchup sandwiches, a delicacy from when all we had in the house was bread and ketchup. Hey, grains and a vegetable.

You can take the kid out of poverty, but you can’t take the poverty out of the kid, to borrow and adapt the phrase.

But none of that is life-threatening. Well, maybe the thing about not going to the doctor will be, but we’re talking down the road on that one.

A woman walking or running alone had better be aware of her surroundings, and whether some sweaty guy with tattoos listening to Eminem might have bad intentions.

A black man driving his Lexus home from work going 30 in that school zone knows that he’s much more likely to be viewed as a drug dealer than as an environmental engineer and treated accordingly.

I’ve gotten tickets every time I’ve been pulled over. Full disclosure there. Including the one dumb one for a sticker that had literally expired the day before.

But for a white male, an overzealous cop writes you a dumb ticket, and you go about your day.

Or for a white male, a sweaty guy running past you on the greenway is somebody who can serve as a pacer when you’re starting to run out of gas on a long run.

Not having to view these kinds of things as existential threats is my privilege.

I totally acknowledge that.


Though, I have to concede, the concept, I get, the actual word, not so much a fan.

It seems that those who use it don’t know that they unwittingly push away people who would otherwise be allies in the process.

Tell the other folks that I grew up with in the trailer park who weren’t as fortunate as me in terms of being able to get a college education about how privileged they are, for example.

People making $10 an hour and trying to pay the bills with no hope for things to ever get better than they are right now are in the right to chafe at being told how privileged they are.

They’re the ones on the front lines of the opioid crisis in Appalachia and the Midwest, and here in the Shenandoah Valley, the ones caught up in the meth epidemic that isn’t quite as sexy, but is just as deadly.

They should be allies with racial minorities and women who are also treated as second-class citizens in our system.

Instead, they align with a ruling class that has convinced them that minorities and women are trying to take what little they have for themselves.

Shake your head at me all you please. It’s what’s happening.

And actually, this is far from being the first time that this kind of divide-and-conquer strategy has been used by ruling elites.

Southern Democrats ruled for just short of two centuries using a similar tact of fearmongering fueled by disinformation.

I’ll concede that it might run counter to common sense, poor folks who have no hope siding with ruling elites who use them as political pawns to enact policies that only further entrench their poverty, but when you’ve been beat down all your life, the last thing you want to hear is that you’re the beneficiary of some sort of special privilege.

I’m not sure the word accomplishes much, I guess, is what I’m saying here.

Maybe another form of white privilege on my part.

Column by Chris Graham

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