There’s been a lot of talk lately involving the concept of “white privilege” and how quite often a Caucasian will misunderstand his or her benefits of being white while trying to appear just towards those who do not maintain the same generic status. Some examples are the #alllivesmatter versus #blacklivesmatter, which is often used as an erroneous argument of “I care about everyone, not just a particular race.” And then from there a whole diatribe is usually leveled on the idea that anyone who is born white exists in a world of privilege that others can never reach.
Some of it is correct, but in reality, people with diabolical purposes are using these arguments to create a false dichotomy, something I often equate to a framing issue rather than a normative one. Let me explain.
The argument is that someone born white has certain advantages that are not afforded to someone who was not. Examples include: Cops tend to shoot non-whites more than whites; whites are less likely to be convicted of crimes than are non-whites, a white male with a prison record is more likely to get a job than a non-white person with a prison record, etc. Many of these can be summed up in this comic about white privilege. What people don’t seem to understand when they post these kinds of arguments linking to this type of information is that it doesn’t mean what they think it means.
When someone makes that argument about white privilege, it is followed by an insinuation that those are actually benefits, rather than lucky brushes against much worse circumstances. The fact that I’m a white male should not then be met with “well, aren’t you lucky that you don’t get railroaded by the system by cops who might hate you.” It should be met with “cops shouldn’t be railroading anyone anywhere”. It’s like we’re already on top of a slippery slope that is continuing to force us back to unwanted situations rather than we should all be on a flat surface trying to make sure that no one creates the slippery slope in the first place.
This is why #alllivesmatter is not an adequate substitute for #blacklivesmatter. Sure, all lives matter, but all lives are not being targeted. Black lives are. Therefore, a movement to make sure that doesn’t happen became necessary. #Alllivesmatter creates an “issue” that doesn’t actually exist so that if that takes the other’s place, we’re left with the situation we stared with: People doing nothing because it doesn’t affect them.
So, what’s my point? Stop focusing on white privilege because that is not the problem. The problem is the opposite: Minority Disadvantage. THAT is the issue that should be dealt with rather than trying to create a wedge between those being oppressed and those who might actually care that there are people being oppressed. This is why Occupy Wall Street was such a powerful voice that quickly got squelched by those who feared its power. The real oppressors are the ones who actually do have the power, the one percenters who control manufacturing, media and even the police forces. Without turning this into some outdated communist manifesto, the problem is that the people who need to band together aren’t because the people creating the messages for them to follow have done so in a way that only creates an us versus them dynamic but in a way that never actually addresses what needs to be addressed.
So, how do you find answers in a civilization that is so blinded to its actual problems? Well, we could do what my grade school teachers always said: Start at the beginning. How did it happen? If we trace the time back hundreds of years, it’s not hard to figure out that the government we live under was created by rich people who wanted to continue being rich (meaning others would have to be poor). This isn’t the social model people constantly think we’re living under because that social model would actually look at the group of people around us as equal and in need of the same benefits as everyone else. We don’t live in that society. Sure, we pretend to, but when it comes down to it, a person who has little is going to always have little to none, whereas someone with much is probably going to end up with even more. That’s the civilization we live in.
How do you recognize that if you’re currently living within its infrastructure? I can conduct a simple experiment just by walking into a bar and talking to the first woman I see. In the US, the chances are that the conversation will hover on what my job is (and how much I make) before it turns into anything more interesting. I’ve had this same conversation in many other nations, and strangely enough, it was usually me that thought I had to bring up money as apart of what makes me be me. It took years to realize that the further away I moved from centralized capitalism, the less focus there was on income as what someone is worth.
So back to my original question. What steps should we take to lead to a future of equality and justice?
I hate to go all Socratic, but if you want justice what steps are you taking to actually achieve it? Do you hold conversations with people who aren’t like you? Do you comment when someone says things that lead to injustice and inequality? I’ve listened to conversations in mixed demographics where some people have said some awful things about people not present in the conversation. What I find interesting is how many people don’t say a thing, or even worse, escalate the conversation to even worse levels. Speaking up in these circumstances is difficult, and I’ve felt the tug almost every time I have done so. But what bothers me is how often those moments go unremarked, almost as if they’re okay.
The same thing is happening today in our political atmosphere. We have some politicians saying some awful things, and so few people are even casting a light on these moments other than to treat it as a news cycle rather than say: “Hey, by the way, there’s an awful racist running for office. Here’s what he said.” And even in the few circumstances where this has happened, the people listening are responding with the thought process of “yeah, but he’s better than those other guys.” If our canary in the mine is at this level, we’re going to be breathing some pretty toxic fumes sooner rather than later.
So, what’s the answer? Right now, I don’t perceive one because I think we’ve moved so far down this road that we’re not going to turn around. Sure, a nation can adjust, as many have before (I mean, face it, we aren’t ruled by divine kings any more, so eventually we can make huge changes), but I don’t see our current civilization all that anxious to try to make things better for everyone because until someone is scrounging for scraps in the gutter, people aren’t all that focused on change. And when you reach the gutter, people stop listening to you and wait for you to die. So, rational change isn’t to be expected.
Irrational change, however, is a different story. That’s the sort of punctuated equilibrium that no one ever sees coming. Unfortunately, we’re coming closer and closer to having that as our process of change, only because most other methods have fallen on deaf ears or were dismissed by people who are pretty happy with the limited value of the status quo.
But what do I know? If I was truly wise, I’d be a rich entrepreneur and well rewarded in the society in which I live. There’s a joke in there somewhere, if you look hard enough.