Speaking of privilege

Fighting privilege has been my life’s work. But I don’t paint privilege a particular color. And I think those who do are making a huge mistake. They are pitting unprivileged people from various walks of life against each other.

A few see opportunity for political gain from such division, but most who color privilege do it with the best of intentions. They are trying to come to terms with the scourge of racism that has plagued our nation from the moment of its founding. It’s not their aim to have unprivileged people at each other’s throats. Intended or not, that’s still what happens.

For someone who is white and poor, talk of white privilege makes no sense. When you are white and can’t afford to send your kids to college, it’s hard to relate to white privilege. When the road you live on used to be paved and now it’s gravel, white privilege is an abstraction. When your hometown is dying, white privilege has no meaning to you. When you can’t get 21st Century necessities like a mobile phone signal or an Internet connection where you live, white privilege is not what comes to mind. When you turn on the water faucet and can’t drink what comes out, white privilege is not what you see. What you see is brown and smells to high heaven.

Those who are unprivileged in America have been divided and conquered. They have been taught to resent each other, to see each other as enemies. They’ve been taught to think this way by privileged people, by wolves who present themselves as fellow sheep. These wolves have persuaded them vote for different political parties. Those parties harvest their votes but do next to nothing to help them. United the unprivileged could have a seat at the table. Divided they are on the menu.

The wolves have acted cleverly enough to be able to count their eventual victims among their most loyal political supporters. They feast on the very sheep they befriend.

Privilege is a cancer growing in the body of America. It is the cause of the corruption that poisons our democracy. It is the reason for the grotesque economic inequality seen in our country today. Both our political system and our economy work to enrich a privileged few at everyone else’s expense.

We need to talk about privilege. Just don’t paint it. Fighting privilege is a critical undertaking. Our country’s future depends on the success of this fight. But to win it, this fight can’t be made black and white. It needs to be red, white and blue.

Mike McCabe