SO WHAT IF I AM A BENEFICIARY OF WHITE PRIVILEGE?

I previously wrote about my legacy of racism and how I have struggled to overcome it. [1] This current blog post discusses some aspects of White Privilege.

White Privilege

White Privilege provides another facet of racism. Wikipedia provides the following definition of White Privilege: “. . . a term for societal privileges that benefit people identified as white in Western countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.”

White Privilege can ostensibly refer to both obvious and less obvious passive advantages white people may not recognize they have, a factor possibly distinguishing the phenomenon from overt racial bias or prejudice. Many people express great resentment about their supposed White Privilege because the concept arguably denigrates the hard work involved in economic and social success, especially if the persons achieved their improved status from more humble origins.

Bona Fides of an Old White Guy

I am well aware that some individuals will take great exception to an old, socio-economically successful white guy writing about White Privilege. Even so, I deem some aspects of public opinion, regardless of how fervent those opposing sentiments may be, as not germane to this post. I hope that my clearly stating the fact that I have benefited from racism and White Privilege early in this post will mitigate some knee-jerk opposition to what I write. Yes, some well-intentioned persons may maintain that, despite my statements, I am insufficiently aware of my “inappropriate” benefits and should forthrightly go to great lengths to confess my “sins.” I am, however, not amenable to self-flagellation over circumstances about which I have no control, especially the circumstances of my youth before I became aware that I have benefited in some respects from racism and White Privilege.

I was born in 1938 into a racist, White Privileged society in LaGrange, GA. My maternal and paternal families were racists, although they would deny the fact because both the Old and New Testaments sanctioned slavery and because African-Americans obviously were meant to be slaves to white people. Out of my personal experience, I never saw anyone in my direct paternal and maternal families mistreat African-Americans, although my father clearly preferred dealing only with whites in the family-owned and -operated tailor shop. I endured many lectures concerning the superiority of white people, along with the assertion—hilarious to me even in my youth—that white women were the most beautiful of all races and that all African-American males wanted to have sex with white women.

Looking back through the clouded lens of 79 years, I am reasonably confident that my maternal and paternal families did not consider themselves as beneficiaries of White Privilege except for superiority to African-Americans. I believe my family felt a lack of economic privilege relative to many other white families who were “better off.” I know that my father had great resentment about white families who enjoyed a higher economic status. For instance, when I was in the third grade, he told me in no uncertain terms and with great intensity, “Michael, our family is poor and you will always be poor.” As I continued with my education, he often told me, “Our kind don’t go to college.” My father, to the best of my recollection, thought that after graduating from high school, I should work with him in the tailor shop. Yes, I do think he was proud of my educational achievements while never fully resonating with them.

My March Forward

After being told I would always be poor, I was saddened before realizing I wasn’t necessarily bound by this prediction. I began, in my young mind, to formulate a way to rise above being economically poor. Although I participated in, and enjoyed, some sports like tennis and baseball, I soon realized physical prowess would be insufficient to achieve my goal. I understood that education would be the best way for me to rise above the circumstances of my family of origin. Thus, I began the long march to an earned doctoral degree and a position in academia.

My trek toward a higher level of education probably brought me for the first time face-to-face with my White Privilege when I was in junior high school: I learned, when white schools received new textbooks, our old textbooks were given to African-American schools in LaGrange. I definitely recall thinking this process was unjust; however, at my young age, I was unaware of how to protest effectively against the situation. As time progressed, I understood—as a white person in a racist milieu—how I enjoyed certain advantages that today we might define as White Privilege.

Again, with the virtue of hindsight, I was caught up in a situation beyond my control; nevertheless, my almost single-minded purpose on using education to better myself propelled me forward: If anyone had told me I should have refrained from using the benefits of White Privilege to further my education because African-Americans did not enjoy the same benefits, I would have caustically stated I was not responsible for the situation and the differing circumstances were simply the breaks of the game.

I became professionally successful and attained a much better economic status for my new family—Andrea, Anne-Marie, Christina, and me. I freely admit the help—on many levels—I received. I also understand how White Privilege, to some extent, helped me to be successful. I have tried in my conversations, writings, and actions to combat racism. I don’t have space in this blog post to enumerate my attempts. I would say my website, mikefrosolono.com, exemplifies some of these efforts.

Resentment

I think some of the white resentment over allegations of White Privilege comes from the following concept, which definitely applies to me: As often pronounced and promulgated—especially by some liberal/progressive extremists—White Privilege can be interpreted to negate the personal hard work involved in achieving success, however success is defined. While I am aware of the benefits White Privilege accrued to me, I would resent and resist all attempts to deprive me of those benefits because they are not the only, and perhaps not even the primary, reasons for my success.

I must add my support for a truly egalitarian and first-class education system for all citizens in the United States. In fact, I think our tax monies should be used to provide “free” access to all levels of education as long as students—of whatever age, gender, and race—exhibit appropriate progress according to national standards. I support this model because I know how much a first-class education did for me.

So What?

The “So What” in the tile of this bog refers to my becoming aware of White Privilege and supporting the establishment of a level and equitable playing field for all U.S. citizens, while acknowledging the hard work many whites and other persons have applied to their success. We cannot achieve a level playing field by punishing people for their success, even those persons benefiting from White Privilege. Our current taxation system is sufficient “punishment,” provided our governments would use the monies for the benefit of all citizens.

I have paid, and continue to pay, a lot of money in the form of taxation. Although this post is not appropriate for a discussion of our highly deficient and arcane taxation system, I wouldn’t mind paying more taxes to ensure a level playing field for all persons who wish to better themselves through education. Our current taxation system, however, is counterproductive for leveling access to the higher educational system. One of my favorite legal sayings is, “res ipsa loquitur” or the “thing speaks for itself.” That is, we don’t need a long dissertation about the ineffective integration between our taxation and educational systems. It is sufficient to observe that the process isn’t working for all, probably not even the majority, of our citizens. And, to be clear: (1) I do not advocate designation of public funds from taxation to religiously oriented schools nor (2) Do I advocate taking away earned privileges and success from successful persons in an attempt to provide equality for all races and genders. That is, I want a system based upon equitable opportunity and demonstrable merit on the path to success.


[1]  My Legacy of Racism. mikefrosolono.com; 25 Jul 2016.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Emily F. Fowler
    Reply

    Interesting, Mike! Coming from Hillside and one of the mill villages, I remember Mr. Callaway giving very good schools to the Black young people. Maybe not from your side of town, (which I do not know where you lived), it was not so. Still not remembering a lot of the situations for those students, or the extent to which he went for them makes me not sure.

    I will say that we were always struggling ourselves and I realized how very hard my parents had to work, so I will refrain from being too critical of them because I do not remember them ever taking the time or having it to lecture me or my siblings on the prediction that we would need education nor do I remember them telling us we would not be educated. Ours was circumstances of a favorite saying of mine, “if it happens, it happens.” I imagine in all fairness, that was the case for more people than we can imagine. We were never taught verbally that we should be racists! But there are silent teachings that just happen, you know. Although, I believe with all my heart, I would never have mistreated a black person, I also believe I would not ever mistreat a white person. Actually, being white privileged is so far from my mind. I Don’t pine over having done something to a group of people that while living my life, I never gave them any meanness or ever tried to hurt them in any way. I have had dear black friends to whom I would give the shirt off my back. I guess I am just missing something here, but I do believe that I am where I am today due to God’s blessings and my husband’s wise values and work ethic.

    I am sure there are any number of groups that could also be included in this “latest” buzz guilt trip “ya’ll need to do something about this.” Shame on us. I’m trying to figure out where this started, and have a good idea. More reason not to be too concerned.

  • Emily F. Fowler
    Reply

    Interesting, Mike! Coming from Hillside and one of the mill villages, I remember Mr. Callaway giving very good schools to the Black young people. Maybe not from your side of town, (which I do not know where you lived), it was not so. Still not remembering a lot of the situations for those students, or the extent to which he went for them makes me not sure.

    I will say that we were always struggling ourselves and I realized how very hard my parents had to work, so I will refrain from being too critical of them because I do not remember them ever taking the time or having to lecture me or my siblings on the prediction that we would need education nor do I remember them telling us we would not be educated. Ours was circumstances of a favorite saying of mine, “if it happens, it happens.” I imagine in all fairness, that was the case for more people than we can imagine. We were never taught verbally that we should be racists! But there are silent teachings that just happen, you know. Although, I believe with all my heart, I would never have mistreated a black person, I also believe I would not ever mistreat a white person. Actually, being white privileged is so far from my mind. I Don’t pine over having done something to a group of people that while living my life, I never gave them any meanness or ever tried to hurt them in any way. I have had dear black friends to whom I would give the shirt off my back. I guess I am just missing something here, but I do believe that I am where I am today due to God’s blessings and my husband’s wise values and work ethic.

    I am sure there are any number of groups that could also be included in this “latest” buzz guilt trip “ya’ll need to do something about this.” Shame on us. I’m trying to figure out where this started, and have a good idea. More reason not to be too concerned.

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