White Privilege

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Poster Child for White Privilege

W.J. Astore

As a concept, “white privilege” is disturbing, contentious, insulting, take your pick, assuming you’re a white guy like me enjoying “advanced middle age,” as one of my old friends recently put it.  Me, privileged?  I come from a working-class background, grew up in a triple-decker in a decaying city, started working at age 15, went to college on a ROTC scholarship, served in the military for twenty years, and so on.  I didn’t “succeed” because I’m a cis white male, right?  Where was “my” privilege?

Of course, privilege is often invisible or barely visible; it’s stealthy.  It may mean you’re not being watched because you’re white.  You’re not being stopped and frisked because you’re white.  People don’t cross the street because you’re white.  Maybe you’re not shot at or choked out because you’re white.

The clearest illustration of white privilege I can think of is Donald Trump, and it’s not because I’m a Trump hater.  (I’m opposed to Trump and Biden.)

Think about Trump.  He’s been married three times.  Has had five kids with three different wives.  Brags about pussy-grabbing.  Has had documented affairs with a Playboy playmate and a porn star while paying them hush money.  And none of this behavior has ruined his political chances, even among the “family values” evangelical crowd.  Indeed, evangelicals generally love “bad boy” Trump.

Now, imagine a black candidate for the presidency with Trump’s record.  The multiple marriages, the adulterous affairs, the pussy-grabbing talk.  Would this black guy have a ghost of a chance at being nominated in the USA?  Recall that Barack Obama needed to have the “perfect” family image, monogamous, faithful, wife, two kids, by all accounts a loving relationship, the prototypical nuclear family.  They even had a dog, unlike Trump, who seems to despise pets.  (Trump’s a germaphobe.)

Now, let’s imagine a woman of any race or creed.  What would America say about a female candidate who’s had five kids with three different husbands?  Who’s had adulterous affairs with porn stars and Playgirl centerfolds?  Who’s bragged of grabbing males by the you-know-what?  Would she have a chance to be our president?  To be embraced by evangelicals as their candidate of choice?  Of course not.

With Trump, all this doesn’t matter.  As a rich spoiled white guy, he’s been given a blank check by society to do whatever he wants.  Sure, he’s been criticized for his more outrageous comments and actions, but he still won the presidency — and may yet win again.  You simply can’t say the same of any woman or any person of color with the same baggage as Trump.

It’s amazing what Trump gets away with.  But this is not about partisan politics.  It’s about societal norms and expectations.  Consider John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.  Both were philanderers; LBJ was especially vulgar.  But all was accepted or at least tolerated because they were white males acting in “manly” ways.

This is just one obvious but nevertheless compelling illustration of white (male) privilege in America.  As my better half reminds me, for white men it’s easier walking down the sidewalk, buying a car, renting an apartment; basically, living.  And that is privilege indeed.

29 thoughts on “White Privilege

  1. Well said, “Of course, privilege is often invisible or barely visible; it’s stealthy”.

    There is the old saying, “It is not what you know, It is who you know”.

    The simple, Who you Know, has now been translated into Corporate Speak to “Networking”. A resume of what you know is not good enough, you have to have the Network of references to back you up.

    Back when the Civil Rights Legislation was passed at least nominally speaking, we all had equal rights at birth. From then on the opportunities in your life depended on your parents economic status, for people of color this was already a hurdle.

    I remember the the anguished screams of White People when Colleges and the work places were being compelled to admit people of color into colleges or in the work place, especially at the professional levels. There was even a name for them “tokens”. 250 years of slavery and 100 years of Jim Crow meant people of color were denied entry into the American Dream.

    The movie Hidden Figures documents rather well the result of White Privilege.

    Several years ago in a gas station, I was trying to buy something. The cashier scanned my $20 bill and told me it was counterfeit and kept it. I gave him a good $10 bill to buy that something. When I went out into the parking lot I was not surrounded by Police and cuffed. I went on my way.

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  2. We were very lucky… I also started my Paper Route even before 15 about 13, and then into the Air Force with our Parents permission @ 17 studied hard to become a Civil Servant Firefighter with ironically also a 20 year Career. Shortened due to Line of duty injury. Point being other minorities had it even tougher in our working class City growing up. Think yea we grew up in a Triple Decker, but we owned it. Most of the other minority kids Parents struggled and just were Renters in the Triple Deckers… Affirmative Action in the Late 70’s. finally helped even the Scales some helping Women & Blacks to get these coveted Public Sector Jobs. Sad commentary that this country is so rough on its Citizen minority population. We used to say in a Fire we’re all the same Color wish it was that simple!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Older Bear. I suppose we could say we all burn the same color, i.e. fire will blacken us all, even as we all bleed the same color.

      Given the size of our family, Dad thought he had to work two jobs. Recall how he mowed grass in cemeteries. And also rented out the 2nd floor for more money. The rent he charged was more than fair. He did a lot of his own auto repairs, house painting, etc., to save money. Thriftiness was a legacy of the Great Depression.

      Privilege comes in many forms. We were privileged to have loving parents who sacrificed for us.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. The way I came to understand white privilege is that in the morning I never have to plan my day on the basis of being a white male. I know that’s true for no one else.

    I only got a taste of what it must be like for others when I used to shop at a well-known outdoor clothing maker’s store. It was downtown in an area with a lot of street people and transients. Every time I was in there I could feel the eyes of one particular clerk watching me or following at a discreet distance. I resented it and it made me uncomfortable – I was only looking at the various clothing and gear lines not looking to steal. Having to live one’s entire life like that must be exhausting and humiliating.

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    1. Great point. My wife and I were once followed by a salesman in a fairly small fake-fancy antique store. An older white guy, he seemed to assume we couldn’t afford his fake-fancy overpriced junk. It was downright insulting. And it did make me empathize with blacks and others who are profiled simply for the color of their skin. God know what this guy would have done if two black males walked in his shop. He’d probably call the cops.

      I recall that Oprah went shopping and was profiled in a Swiss boutique. How can that black woman have so much money? 🙂

      https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/08/10/210574193/why-didnt-the-store-just-let-oprah-buy-the-38-000-handbag

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It does not matter whether one is a professor or an actor or an athlete or a bus driver or a pedestrian… .. living in America while black is dangerous…..
    https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/06/13/the-problem-of-police-powers-for-people-living-while-black/
    I had posted a link to a documentary in earlier post which is a must watch for anyone who questions or has any doubts about White Privilege…. sadly, majority of the white population is not even aware of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. White Privilege did not just drop out of the sky. White Privilege comes from White Status. Having lived in Asia for many years, I can verify that White Status bestows White Privilege. But where does White Status come from? The economics is a huge factor of course. National origin helps too: Anglo-Americans are generally highly regarded across Asia. The theory though is that status derives primarily from power, and as the inventors of the Modern World, Euro-Americans wielded extraordinary power. As the rest of the planet develops economically the balance shifts, still, most of the world is in awe of the things we do, for example driving golf carts on the Moon. And having status makes it easier to act like a jerk, but people everywhere are hyper-sensitive to high-status individuals acting like jerks, and it is not a stable long-term strategy.

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  6. The apparently unwavering support of “evangelicals” for Trump speaks very loudly about THEIR “values.” Bear in mind that most any organization these days with the word “family” in it–e.g. “The Family Research Council”–is a front group for HATRED of the “differently gendered”! How frightfully “Christian” of them!

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  7. With all respect, Dr. Astore, I have to tweak you here regarding MALE privilege. I note that you used a slang term for female genitals, but did not use even the anatomical term for male genitals. Goose and gander, sir! ; -)

    You’re quite correct about the impossibility of a female candidate’s being elected President if she had Trump’s history. But I note your usage because the difference between male and female privilege is even more insidious than the bias against adultery, promiscuity, and so on that you mention. If one takes a look at modern movies and TV, full female nudity is quite often displayed, but full male nudity, almost never. “Game of Thrones” is a perfect example: there are naked women in most, if not every, episode, but men…..perhaps one or two brief glimpses in the entire series. I realize I’m somewhat off topic here, but my point is that there are all kinds of stealthy biases at work in our society.

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    1. Ah, interesting point! My wife suggested I adopt the you-know-what construction. Just because Trump is vulgar doesn’t mean I have to be so in my writing.

      Totally agree on nudity. I used to tell my students I believe in equality of nudity. I’d show them Venus emerging followed by Michelangelo’s “David.” Nudity for all! 🙂

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      1. I’d thought that maybe you’d used the female term because it’s what Trump said. However, the grammar-and-usage Nazi in my head quibbled about the lack of quotation marks in that case. As a nicety, I wouldn’t consider the use of the word, “penis” to be vulgar in this case. : )

        Love your Venus-and David lesson! Bravo!

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      2. “David” was supposed to be about 12 years old in the famous Michelangelo sculpture! Hey, ain’t there laws against that?!? Lindsay Graham would not approve! Okay, forgive me for really going a bit off topic: I saw a post on Facebook a couple weeks ago suggesting Sen. Graham would soon be revealed to the world as a closeted gay man. I’m still waiting for the “news” to break, darn it! It would be quite interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s been my personal experience that the most vocal fanatics—religious or otherwise—all have skeletons in the closet closely related to that which they rave against. I’ve known half a dozen Bible-thumpers who secretly cheated their companies and ran around on their spouses, for instance. But of course, it was OK for THEM to do it, because they were on God’s side.

          Hmmmm…..maybe you’ve hit on the reason that the evangelicals have stuck by Trump.

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          1. CNN (FWIW) has something online now about “what Evangelicals are saying in private about Trump.” I didn’t bother pursuing the details. It doesn’t matter a damn what they’re saying privately, anyway. They may have private doubts about his “faith,” but if they still VOTE for him again, that’s what really counts.

            Liked by 2 people

  8. As I understand it, Greg, Trump’s faith isn’t his attraction for the evangelicals. Rather, they believe—not clear as to why—that God specifically chose him to occupy the White House at this time, and his behavior won’t change that. Therefore, I tend to think that they’ll vote for him again.

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    1. Oh, indeed! It’s a whole package of ideological positions, most important to this crowd being the push to ban abortion with no exceptions allowed. Their beloved Donald has not been able to deliver the goods, and the rightwing majority on SCOTUS proved the other day they’re not 100% “dependable” for the most extremist positions.

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        1. I haven’t caught up on the comments here, so forgive me if this is redundant info: I hear Trump is so incensed over recent SCOTUS rulings that he wants to REPLACE some of the justices!! A SCOTUS judge CAN be impeached, but apparently Donald thinks he can remove someone by executive fiat!! What a thorough understanding he has about how the system works, huh?!

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      1. Yes, abortion is different from gay rights. Justices like Roberts and Gorsuch in polite and sophisticated society now know that gay rights are accepted, even trendy, a sign of wokeness.

        But Roberts is apparently a devout Catholic and Gorsuch was raised Catholic — and so was I, and the church drills into you the idea that “Abortion is murder!”

        Restricting abortion has the added “advantage” of telling women what to do with their bodies, something that men would never accept from women. If men were the ones who got pregnant, there’d be no debate about abortion, and access, I’m guessing, would be readily available.

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        1. Applaud your points here. They bring up the question, are not Catholics also taught to care for the poor? If so, they don’t seem to be concerned with the babies they would force women to bear.

          How odd, though, in the scheme of things, for anyone—evangelicals, Catholics, SCOTUS justices—to choose abortion as a cause, when the country is failing, the world is witnessing climate catastrophes unequaled in modern memory, and war is the norm. Perhaps fastening on such a small, divisive issue is an excuse not to look at the much larger disasters happening all around.

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          1. The rightwing extremists, posing as “good Christians,” who push to ban abortion most vigorously play on emotions. They picket facilities still offering such services (and their number has been successfully shrunk significantly without Roe v. Wade being overturned) and scream “They’re murdering babies in there!!” This very disingenuous approach has won many women over to this anti-women’s-rights stance! Remember the propaganda video called “The Silent Scream”? If Trump fails to be re-elected, his reign will go down in history as a huge failure for the extreme right. We can only “pray” for such an outcome!

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  9. I just wanted to thank you for this commentary. I referenced this piece with a family member today ( white women, early 70s, well travelled to the “nice parts of the world”, and an avid conservative who claims to be a good Christian).. I was immediately shut down. Speaking truth is of the utmost importance today in our “post truth world” . Looking forward to continued reading of your thought provoking pieces.

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    1. Being “immediately shut down” is a sign of defensiveness and possibly of bias. A mature adult should be able to discuss the subject.

      The thing is, to state the obvious, not all whites are equally privileged. We might say, in our society at least, All whites are privileged — but some are more privileged than others.

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      1. The justified resentment toward a thoroughly corrupt Establishment, unfortunately successfully channeled by Trump into virulent racism/xenophobia, has brought us to this condition. I still see well-intentioned people on social media trying to win wingnuts (I only apply this term to rightwing extremists, though I’ve seen some folks try to apply it to “the left,” whoever they are! ) over to a decent moral viewpoint. Such futility!! I don’t even bother anymore. This is what it’s come to in US, a country genuinely divided. The GOP “Southern Strategy” of Nixon’s time has morphed into the virulent rightwing insanity now loose in the country. A certain well-known former POTUS observed that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” How much longer can this country “stand”??

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  10. Under Trump, some people say the “quiet thing” out loud, as this megachurch pastor does, explaining that slavery was a “blessing” for whites and the foundation of their privilege.

    https://www.alternet.org/2020/06/this-megachurch-pastor-actually-tried-to-rebrand-white-privilege-as-white-blessing-gifted-from-slavery

    Of course, he apologized. All these after-the-fact apologies — what good are they? By comparison, Trump deserves a tiny bit of credit for rarely apologizing — he is what he is, a bully and a bigot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The privilege–in form of wealth–the Southern “elites” obtained from slavery was finally crushed by the more industrially developed Union forces. Of course, “old money” was still passed down to the new generations in the South. Not all those folks were reduced to penury like poor, poor pitiful Scarlett O’Hara! The resurgence of virulent racism down yonder started on Obama’s watch, as a reaction to his presence in the “White” House, and clearly has been stoked by the current, tragic occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Trump’s reign has brought out very clearly that racism, of course, is a national, not a merely regional, problem. The “Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy” [I’m using this generically, not claiming an actual organization by this name is the plaintiff] have obtained an “indefinite” injunction blocking the Governor of Virginia from removing a statue of Robt. E. Lee from Richmond, the former Capital of the CSA. No, the Civil War clearly did NOT end in 1865.

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