By Carl Carter
Let’s talk about privilege. Mine. Yours. Our privilege to talk about it, and to beat each other over the head with it, and to use it to gag people we don’t want to hear right now.
Somebody told me the other night that I can’t talk about the Hoover situation because I’m white and, therefore, privileged. Either I use my “privilege” a certain way, or I keep my damn mouth shut.
So let’s go there. But let’s not stop at skin color. We are all privileged, and lacking in privilege, in countless ways. Folks who are born in wealthy families enjoy many advantages in opportunity, networking and education. That gives them a big leg up on a Woodlawn boy whose dad started his career as a street car driver. And an even bigger one on someone who attended Carver or Ullman instead of Woodlawn or Banks.
But hey, I’m male. That probably counted for more in the 1970s when only men could join the Downtown Y, but it’s still worth something. During the election, I heard complaints from female candidates about how much harder it is for a female to raise money, and I don’t doubt them. I also heard turndowns from potential donors to my campaign, who explained that they were only giving to women this year. Privilege points gained, maybe.
But oops, I’m 65. And bald and overweight. Points lost. You don’t believe it? Try circulating some resumes with a graduation date in the 1970s and see how much response you get. Watch any corporate downsizing and see who gets pushed out first. See how it feels to sit in the locker room and hear the young guys making fun of an older member who inconvenienced them by moving slowly. Try being treated as someone who’s boring and in the way. Because if you live long enough, you will.
But at least being young is something we all get to enjoy for a while, unlike being tall – often correlated with corporate advancement.
Some of us have the privilege of good looks, quick wits and athletic ability. We have different intellects and talents. Some will have the privilege of being happy, and others of being wealthy. And no, those two don’t necessarily go together.
Right now, a lot of folks act as if privilege exists only in black and white, with the effect of assigning rights and responsibilities based on skin color.
I lived in Hoover for 30 years and raised my kids there. I helped pass the tax that built the school system. I also ran a business in Hoover. But when I privately expressed misgivings about the impact of a “shut it all down” campaign on minimum-wage employees in stores being disrupted, I was told to shut up, because I’m an old white guy with no right to talk about it. It was even suggested that I shared the guilt of the E.J. Bradford shooting.
Throughout history, humans have assigned collective guilt or bestowed extra rights based on things none of us can control. The church tells us we share in Adam’s guilt but can be “cleansed” by the blood of Christ. Based on that we’ve fought wars and tortured people throughout history. This collective categorizing is a dicey business even if you’re God, let alone if you’re somebody like you or me.
Collective assumptions get African American men shot, transsexuals beat up and killed, and women held back. I want justice on an individual basis, but I want cops to quit being afraid of black men, and straight people to get over their homophobia. I want people with rich benefit packages to quit acting like those in the gig economy are just whiners.
The obsession with who’s up and who’s down in privilege points leads to resentment and hate, as we see people taking what we see as “ours.” It gives us people like Donald Trump. As long as there are people we refuse to acknowledge or hear because of their race, nationality, age or other trait they can’t control, we still have work to do.