I was discussion Black Lives Matter in an online forum over this past week or so.
As happens more often than not, one of the BLM supporters in the forum – inevitably white and twenty-something – sniffed down their nose that I should check my white male privilege before asking questions about BLM.
Leave aside the thuggish undercurrent – I can’t ask questions about what people want when they’re blocking traffic all over the damn place? – I realized something.
I’ve had enough of people evoking “Privilege” as a rhetorical trump card.
Not just because it’s cowardly, ad-hominem debate – although it certainly is.
But because invoking “privilege” fundamentally goes against everything this country – and, in theory, Black Lives Matter – stands for.
Let me explain.
But first, let’s step back to the beginning:
Goals: BLM sympathizers – especially the smug, outspoken, white liberal ones – are pretty lousy at defining privilege.
But some of them are pretty clear about what they want; to “deconstruct” or “eliminate” or “smash” “privilege”.
So what is it, exactly, they’re trying to deconstruct, eliminate or smash, anyway?
My Tribe: I’ve asked people to define “privilege” for me. The answers – or, let’s be honest, “answers” in most cases – have varied. “If you have to ask, you can’t understand” has popped up more often than not.
In frustration, I came up with my own, over the summer; “Privilege is this; my ancestors came from a patriarchal warrior cult who had zero words for “Hakuna Matata”, but more words for “Kill Them!” than the Inuit have for “snow”. Between this and their geography, nobody ever enslaved them as a culture, thus bequeathing to me a legacy of freedom that is one of the most precious gifts a culture can give its progeny. Your ancestors, largely from sub-saharan, matriarchal tribes, were easy pickings for the patriarchal, warlike tribes that conquered them. How would you like us to address this?”
But that was a little less productive than I’d hoped.
But someone – a young black guy, as I recall – did define it pretty well a while ago. Privilege is going into a place and not having people visibly trying to figure out if you’re “one of the good ones”, and not “one of the ones who’s going to rob you”, or “one of the deadbeat welfare cheats”.
Let’s run with that.
Baseline: In other words, “privilege” is, apparently, being treated like a regular human being.
Also known as “equality”, and “being seen as a human, not a label”.
Which is supposed to be what this country is about; it’s what the Revolutionaries, and Martin Luther King, and many in between and beyond, fought for.
And here’s the thing: equality, like any other freedom or liberty, is not a zero sum equation. You don’t get more freedom, or justice, or equality by taking them from someone else. I don’t get more freedom of speech by censoring you; I don’t become more secure in my home and possessions by making your home and possessions a freeway for unscrupulous district attorneys; I don’t get more equal by treating you as less of an equal.
You don’t get more of the “privileges” of equality, justice, and freedom – we call them “rights” – by “deconstructing, eliminating and/or smashing” my equality, justice and freedom.
You don’t get more equality, justice and freedom by taking them away from other people.
And I don’t think most of the white urban liberals who are jabbering about “privilege” get that.
The Privileged: And they certainly don’t that that, as we discussed a while ago, “white privilege” is not the only kind of privilege in our society – or even, perhaps, the most pervasive.
Think about it for a moment. Two people walk into Minnesota Public Radio’s executive office; Nekima Pounds-Levy, Ph. D and tenured, termination-proof professor at Saint Thomas University, and Billy Bob Beauregard, small engine mechanic and owner of a thick Alabama accent.
Who gets taken seriously, regardless of the validity of their respective ideas?
Who’s got the privilege?
Class is every bit the privilege that race is.