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.