It’s Been My Privilege

If you begin reading, please read to the end.

My youngest daughter turns 21 today. Woohoo, nothing like celebrating your 21st on Zoom with friends, while living with your parents, and sheltering from a pandemic. And she’s lucky to have it so good compared to so many! We shared a birthday dinner Last night with the grandparents—a somewhat socially distanced dinner on my parent’s deck. Watching my children interact with their grandparents is a privilege.

My kids have had the privilege to have four stable, involved, mostly healthy grandparents their entire lives. The grandparents were actively involved in raising my children, not just being around, but helping to nurture and guide them. They would not be who they are without them. I did not have this privilege. My kids have the privilege of feeling “at home” in the homes of their grandparents. What is it like to know there are six adults who’ve got you covered—who would do anything to protect and care for you, who love you unconditionally—even enough to set limits to scold and reprimand if necessary?

My parents grew up either poor or very modest working class. But they did so in post WWII America and worked their way from that strata of society to middle class or even higher. Their generation could work and pay cash for college, and/or work blue collar jobs and possibly work their way to professional, higher paying careers. They could, and many did, do this without any assistance from their parents. They even raised children while doing this.

The primary means of accumulating potentially generational financial security was through home ownership and a long-standing career with one employer who provided a secure and steadily increasing salary concluding with a reliable pension. This financial backdrop of an expanding middle America provided employment, housing, food, public schooling, and higher education security for most who had the privilege to access it and wherewithal to grab hold of it.

From this foundation, my wife and I could choose careers that paid modestly, but still provided middle America security and stability for our family. However, during my adult, working life, the economic reality has shifted. We were fortunate to have the village of our parents—our kids’ grandparents. We knew that we would never go hungry, lose our home, or be faced with an unexpected bill that could push us into bankruptcy. We had family that could catch us and help us back up if we fell. We had the privilege of this safety net because of the middle class wealth our parents were able to accumulate. This was the trajectory of post WWII middle America.

That has not been the case as much for my generation or my children’s generation. The wage and wealth gap has grown to historic proportions since the early 1980s. In fact, I believe that for every year of my adult life as a public school teacher/public university professor, my basic salary increase (not counting promotion, continuing education, or longevity increases) has never kept pace with the rate of inflation. So, my profession, on average, pays less every year. Additionally, every year, the cost of health care or my portion of health insurance has always increased. I still consider myself privileged to be in a profession that did provide increases for continuing education and experience, and stable employment with a (so far) reliable pension. Many do not have such a career.

We’ve worked hard to build careers, advance our education, build equity in homes, but we would never have had that opportunity without the support of our extended village. The economic landscape is even more difficult for our children entering the world. They could capitalize on our family’s generational support and stability and go to the college of their choice and pursue areas of passion and interest for (potential) careers. At least so far. As the wealth gap continues to spread, the road to financial security only gets rockier with more and more barriers. Wages continue to stagnate, health care and college costs increase at nearly exponential rates, and home ownership is more and more difficult without family support.

Now imagine if we weren’t white.

My parents and my family faced no systemic, structural barriers. We never had to fear the very world in which we tried to make our way with no possibility of escaping a world that continually erected barriers. To the contrary, our world was structured to guide us along the way. This is my experience with and my understanding of white privilege.

Honestly I cannot imagine life without that privilege. So I’ll let someone who can share that perspective. This is Kimberly Jones, co-author of I’m Not Dying With You Tonight. I’ve included a transcript after the video.

Transcript:

So, I’ve been saying a lot of things, talking about the people making commentary  Interestingly enough, the ones I’ve noticed been making the commentary are wealthy black people making the commentary about you should not be rioting, you should not be looting, you should not be tearing up our own community. And then there’s been an argument of the other side of we should be hitting them in the pocket, we should be focusing on the blackout days where we don’t spend money. But, I feel like we should do both, and I feel like I support both, and I’ll tell you why I support both.

I support both because there’s…when you have a civil unrest like this there are three type of people in the streets. There are the protestors. There are rioters, and there are the looters. The protestors are there because they actually care about what is happening in the community. They want to raise their voices and they’re there strictly to protest. You have the rioters who are angry, who are anarchists, who really just want to fuck shit up, and that’s what they’re gonna do regardless. And then you have the looters, and the looters almost exclusively are just there to do that. To loot. Now, people are like, “What did you gain, well, what did you get from looting?”

I think that as long as we’re focusing on the what we’re not focusing on the why, and that’s my issue with that. As long as we’re focusing on what they’re doing, we’re not focusing on why they’re doing. And some people are like, “Well those aren’t people who are legitimately angry about what’s happening. Those are people that just want to get stuff.”

Okay, well then, let’s go with that. Let’s say that’s what it is. Let’s ask ourselves why in this country, in 2020, the financial gap between poor blacks and the rest of the world is at such a distance that people feel like their only hope, and only opportunity to get some of the things that we flaunt and flash in front of them all the time is to walk through a broken glass window and get it. But they are so hopeless that getting that necklace, getting that TV, getting that change, getting that bed, getting that phone, whatever it is that they’re get is that in that moment when the riots happened and if the present an opportunity of looting, that’s their only opportunity to get it.

We need to be questioning that why. Why are people that poor? Why are people that broke? Why are people that, that food insecure, that clothing insecure and that they feel like their only shot that – that they are shooting their shot – by walking through a broken glass window to get what they need. And, then people want to talk about, “there’s many people that pull themselves up by their bootstraps and got it on their own. Why can’t they do that?”

Let me explain to you something about economics in America. And I’m so glad that as a child I got an opportunity to spend time at Push, where they taught me this , is that we must never forget that economics was the reason that black people were brought to this country. We came to do the agricultural work in the south and the textile work in the north. Do you understand that? That’s what we came to do. We came to do the agricultural work in the south and the textile work in the north. Now, if I right now, if I right now decided that I wanted to play Monopoly with you, and for four hundred rounds of playing monopoly, I didn’t allow you to have any money, I didn’t allow you to have anything on the board, I didn’t allow for you to have anything. And then, we played another fifty rounds of Monopoly and everything that you gained, and you earned while you were playing that round of Monopoly was taken from you. That was Tulsa. That was Rosewood. Those are places where we built black economic wealth. Where we were self-sufficient. Where we owned our stores. Where we owned our property. And they burned them to the ground.

So that’s four hundred years. So for four hundred rounds of Monopoly you don’t get to play at all. Not only do you not get to play, you have to play on the behalf of the person you are playing against. You have to play and make money and earn wealth for them and then you have to turn it over to them. So, then for fifty years you finally get a little bit and you are allowed to play. And every time that they don’t like the way that you’re playing, or that you’re catching up, or that you’re doing something to be self-sufficient, they burn your game. They burn your cards. They burn your Monopoly money.

And then, finally at the release and the onset that they allow you to play and they say, ‘okay, now you catch up.’ Now at this point, the only way you’re gonna catch up in the game is if the person shares the wealth, correct? But what if every time you share the wealth, then there’s psychological warfare against you to say, “Oh you’re an equal opportunity higher.” So if I played four hundred rounds of Monopoly with you and I had to play and give you every dime that I made, and then for fifty years, every time that I played, I…if you didn’t like what I did, you got to burn it like they did in Tulsa, and like they did in Rosewood. How can you win? How can you win?

You can’t win. The game is fixed. So, when they say, “why do you burn down the community? Why do you burn down your own neighborhood?” It’s not ours. We don’t own anything. We don’t own anything. There is…Trevor Noah said it so beautifully last night. There’s a social contract that we all have. That if you steal, or if I steal, then the person who is the authority comes in and they fix the situation. But the person who fixes the situation is killing us. So, the social contract is broken. And if the social contract is broken why the fuck do I give a shit about burning the fucking football hall of fame, about burning a fucking Target? You broke the contract when you killed us in the streets and then didn’t give a fuck. You broke the contract when for four hundred years we played your game and built your wealth. You broke the contract when we built our wealth again on our own by our bootstraps in Tulsa and you dropped bombs on us. When we built it in Rosewood and you came in and you slaughtered us. You broke the contract. So fuck your Target. Fuck your Hall of Fame. Far as I’m concerned, they can burn this bitch to the ground, and it still wouldn’t be enough. And they are lucky that what black people are looking for is equality and not revenge.

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