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Editorially speaking another column about privilege.

I know I've written about privilege before, so I apologize to anyone who finds it a tedious subject. The problem is that it has reared its beautifully-groomed, sleek, smug head again, so I think it's fair game as a topic.

It's a difficult subject to discuss rationally, of course, because those who have it don't believe they have it, and those who don't have it tend to get angry very quickly when they don't think their concerns are understood. Current case in point: the almost legendary cluelessness of the Romneys, whose latest attempt at trying to disavow their privilege is claiming to have lived "on the edge" while in college.

Back to that in a moment. First, a quick primer on what privilege is and what it isn't. Privilege is not, necessarily, cluelessness. It is certainly not a character flaw, some personal defect that can be excised by apologizing for its existence. You can be privileged by virtue of your race, your class, your sex, your right-handedness, the neighborhood you live in, or even the country you were born into--most of which you have little if any control over. Privilege is not, really, an individual attribute at all.

Privilege is the mark, the result, of a system, a social and economic structure, of inequality. By definition, some groups of people will benefit and others will suffer when inequality is built into a system. One of the most commonly-cited examples of privilege in the U.S. is the fact that, even though crime is committed at about an equal rate (by proportion of the populace) by white and black people, African-American men are far, far more likely to be arrested. If they are arrested, they are far more likely to be convicted. If they are convicted, they are far more likely to serve a long sentence.

This is not the "fault" of any individual white person. In fact, nonwhite police and judges are just as complicit in this system as whites are. Still, Caucasians do benefit from a system that is set up to protect our interests before the interests of nonwhite Americans. The responsible thing for white people to do is to stop pretending we are not privileged, and to work toward equalizing the justice system. Apologizing doesn't change anything.


Now the most obvious example of privilege for people reading this column is, of course, heterosexual privilege. Any male/female couple, provided they're at least 16 years old (depending on the state), can drive to Vegas, get drunk, and say "I do." They then immediately gain all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities--theoretically, at least--of married adults.

They don't have to think twice about this; they can cheat on each other, have children with other people, join a Swingers' club, or even commit murder. None of those activities will cause anyone to question their right to marry each other.

As we know, the same is not true for us.

That, by the way, is how you can tell you're the proud possessor of some kind of privilege: you don't have to think about it. I don't wake up every morning being thankful that I'm a middle-aged, college-educated white woman, which puts me in the demographic category least likely to ever be incarcerated for anything. I rarely think about this at all. But if I were an 18-year-old black man, I would have to base quite a few of my daily activities around the absence of white privilege.

I would be careful about which neighborhoods I drove into, and I would always be ready to prove to the cops that I really do own my car. If I wore a hoodie to the QuikTrip, I might have to worry about tripping some paranoid idiot's fear-trigger and being murdered. And then I might be less than surprised when the police released my murderer, because the laws had been written to protect him rather than me.

The final and most bizarre mark of privilege is that it encourages its bearer to believe that he or she has somehow earned it. Well, my id might whisper to me, "You're less likely to be imprisoned because you're a hardworking American who doesn't commit crimes." It would not bother to remind me that the same is true of most of the nonwhite people who are threatened by our system. If I were straight, it might reassure me that I had the right to marry because I'm not a promiscuous, immature child who just wants to play house, unlike those icky queers.

And so we are led inevitably back to the Romney family, who want to move into the White House and then claim to represent us all. When Mitt was in college, he had no job, two children, and wife who stayed home to raise their kids. That does sound financially precarious. How on earth did they live? Anne tells us that they scrimped and saved and barely managed to survive by ... selling off some of Mitt's stock.

So you see, the Romneys have lived the same kind of life most Americans live. They understand what we go through every day, and we should stop picking on them just because they are so stratospherically wealthy that Mitt can say that the approximately $360,000 per year he earns from speaking fees is "not very much."

Wait. What?

Look, I don't begrudge them their money. Assuming he earned it legally (and that's a big assumption, since he was involved in the financial industry), he has the same right to his money that I do to mine. What angers me is the almost willful ignorance of how different his life is from that of the vast, vast majority of Americans.

I want someone in the White House who will push for laws that protect us all, because he understands how those laws affect us. I don't want a privileged frat boy in there. We already HAD that, and it didn't work out so well.
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Author:LeSage, Sheryl
Publication:Liberty Press
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2012
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