Politics & Policy

The Privilege That Wasn’t

Trump greets supports at a campaign stop in Billings, Mon., in May. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
The experience of many white people across the country is the opposite of privilege.

Many of those in the public eye have assigned “privilege” to all white people. Recently, I’ve seen several people share a quote on social media that reads, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

The assertion is that Trump voters don’t recognize their privilege over marginalized groups seeking equality. But quite a few people are missing a big part of the picture. For a good many white people in the U.S., “privilege” is not a word they relate to. And equality — as far as attention to the problems they are facing — is something they too want our leaders to give them.

And it’s hard for members of the media, the cultural elite, and many minority groups to grasp that. The intent in focusing on white privilege (which I do believe is real for many) is not wrong — but it’s sometimes misguided. To understand where that focus has gone wrong is not to downplay the very real problems that do face minority groups in this country. But let’s talk about another side of the coin when it comes to white privilege.

Part of what drove the Trump takeover of 2016 was the fact that liberal culture is obsessed with identity politics based on race and sex, having all but forgotten anyone who isn’t a racial, ethnic, or sexual minority — and the bread-and-butter issues that exist outside of those categories. 

Classism is a very real thing too — and this year, the white working class of America stood up and said very loudly: You’ve forgotten about us.

RELATED: White versus White America

My husband and I did not vote for Donald Trump. We didn’t think he was the answer to this problem, but the obsession with white privilege in this country hits a nerve for us, because his life exemplifies just the opposite of that.

My husband is as white as they come. He grew up poor, the son of a drug-addicted, alcoholic mother. He never knew his father, and his mom brought strings of boyfriends and one-night stands through the house his entire life.

There is a place for discussion of white privilege. There’s also a place for discussion of a multitude of other privileges not based on race, ethnicity, or sexuality.

He lived in a trailer, slept on a sidewalk a few times, camped out in motels as a kid when they lost their home. His mom slept with a guy from a bar to get into his hotel room one freezing winter night while my then eight-year-old husband sat in the car waiting to be rescued into a room with heat.

His own mother gave him drugs when his was 15. He nearly failed out of high school and was lucky to not be arrested by the time he was 18. He had nothing — no money, no role models, no parents — no white privilege.

He’s not alone. The only way he got out of his run-down, crappy hometown on the border of Mexico in Arizona was by joining the Army at 18. By some mix of miracles and random good decisions (like joining the military and using the GI bill to attend community college), he narrowly escaped a life many poor whites never do.

I’m in awe of his grit and perseverance. There are too many stories to include in a column as short as this, but suffice to say, my husband’s white privilege isn’t what got him to where he is today.

RELATED: Trump’s Reminder: Pay Attention to the White Working Class

There’s another kind of privilege that is rarely discussed — but that I believe needs to be emphasized as we take into consideration all the reasons a person may or may not do well in this American life. The first and greatest privilege of all is for a child to be born into a marriage.

As this piece reports, children born to married parents “are more likely to thrive in school, to steer clear of encounters with the police, to avoid having a teenage pregnancy, to graduate from college, and to be gainfully employed as an adult.” Read the entire piece — the results of marriage privilege are unbelievable.

#related#So yes, there is a place for discussion of white privilege. There’s also a place for discussion of a multitude of other privileges not based on race, ethnicity, or sexuality. And there’s a need to recognize all marginalized groups — and not to pretend that everyone in every group conforms to a stereotype painted with a wide brush.

Not all women vote for liberal “women’s rights” policies. Not all black people vote Democratic. Not all white people reek of privilege. The lesson of this election should not be about white people or black people or Hispanic people. It should be about every group of Americans who are trying to make better lives for themselves.

And maybe it took Donald Trump’s election to make some of those voices heard.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

FBI Lovebirds Is D.C. Satire at Its Best

What do you get when you take Dean Cain, an actor famous for playing Superman on TV, and Kristy Swanson, the actress who was the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and give them the chance to play a couple of adulterous, wildly partisan FBI agents working at the highest levels of the Mueller Russiagate ... Read More