Privilege means never having to say you’re sorry

By Nancy Churchill
Contributor

Admit it, it’s time we give up White privilege. Let reparations begin.

But isn’t it racist to suggest White privilege exists?

Get real. Non-Whites know White privilege well. It’s time we Whites grasp how amoral it is. Privilege shields us from Black and Latino reality, from the fact that your application will be handled differently if your name is Susan or Bill than it will be if it’s Lakisha or Raul.

“So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature,” said Benjamin Franklin, “since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do [cross out do, insert verb of choice: excuse; reject; invent; promote; deny; believe ___________ ].”

Laying blame is far more convenient, more “reasonable” for the privileged than admitting culpability or seeking absolution.

Such are the “mismatch effect” arguments against affirmative action in college admissions the late Justice Antonin Scalia so scathingly defended last December.

“The proponents of the “mismatch effect” say that large allowances based on a student’s race are harmful to those who receive them, that they learn less than they would if they attended a college more closely matched to their level of academic preparation, receive lower grades, become academically discouraged and socially segregated.” (New York Times, 12/11/2015).

See how “convenient a thing it is” to avoid a remedy for past discrimination? It will actually “harm” the victims of inequality! Or so the “reasonable creature” concludes. And if you don’t agree, well, then, you are simply not a reasonable person!

It has always been thus. The manor mistress in the antebellum South could order her housemaid, whom she “reasonably” deemed her property, whipped for an insignificant blunder. Even after slavery, Jim Crow laws “reasonably” legalized unspeakable discrimination under the spurious heading “separate but equal.”

Perhaps the first time a “free (read: “corrupt”) market” prevailed over individual liberties was when Thomas Jefferson, who even admitted that slavery “made a mockery of” the claim for equality in the Declaration of Independence, capitulated to the Southern delegates by striking from early drafts any passages that condemned “a market where men should be bought & sold” which “slave owners found objectionable.” (Brown is the New White by Steve Phillips, p. 56)

Abraham Lincoln, too, writes Phillips, “tempered his tongue and moderated his actions for fear of alienating White swing voters.” Ah, the privileged White voter!

What are we to make of such a duplicitous history? It’s more convenient to pretend those ugly truths are all in the past than grapple with the fact that White privilege lives on in different forms to this day. We will relegate oppression to history only after it has truly passed.

And if we never acknowledge ongoing oppression – if privileged Whites are exempt from ever having to say we’re “sorry” – it can never truly pass. How, then, can atonement begin?

Getting to “sorry” won’t be enough. White privilege must deliberately relinquish power, a daunting undertaking. Yet undertake it we must. It is incumbent upon progressive liberals of all kinds – White men and woman, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, LGBT – to insist that White privilege has gone on long enough, and bring it to an end. As “reasonable creatures” we must create a new narrative of deliberate inclusion and force it into every pore of our nation.

Only a revolution of shared privilege and reparation can bring our still evolving democracy from where it began to what it was always meant to be.

Share this story