In an article on racism within the trans-racial adoption community the other day I read the statement:
The most blatantly racist people I have personally known are white parents who adopted black children.
This does not mean that every single white parent who has adopted black children is rabidly racist (although I do think every white person, by virtue of equal parts privilege and osmosis alone, needs to examine their inner racist-leaning attitudes and influences ).
Concerned students 1950 demanded of University of Missouri president that he:
1. We demand that University of Missouri System President, Tim Wolfe, writes a hand-written apology to Concerned Student 1-9-5-0 demonstrators and holds a press conference in the Mizzou Student Center reading the letter. In the letter and at the press conference, Tim Wolfe must acknowledge his white privilege, recognize that systems of oppression exits, and provide a verbal commitment to fulfilling Concerned Student 1-9-5-0 demands. (Source: http://www.thedemands.org/).
Across America and indeed the whole West, a good deal of our social discourse hinges on racism, victimization of minorities, and “white privilege” [(or “male privilege” if you happen to be a feminist) or even worse, “white male privilege” if you happen to be a feminist of color.]
I usually don’t bother with this debate. I take it for granted that racism does exist. Peoples is peoples, and they will hate and oppress each other for any and all reasons. I suspect it is rather less of a problem than the most vocal make it out to be, but I have no problem accepting that either racism or its residual social structures do, in fact, limit opportunity for a significant number of people of color.
What I am more skeptical of is the claim of “white male privilege.” Inherent in the phrase is the implication that I, as a white male, should be ashamed of that fact. It is implied that I am somehow responsible for the evil actions of previous or current white males with whom I am not in any way affiliated. I must be ashamed of the bad white men, but I may not claim distinction or take pride in the good and heroic white males. They were only good and heroic because of their privilege.
The reason I am skeptical about the white male privilege claim is because of my life experience. Let me summarize for you:
I grew up on a farm. My dad made less than $30,000 dollars per year, and my mother was primarily a stay-at-home mom. They home schooled six children on that budget, as well as taking in dozens of infants for short term foster care. When I graduated high school at the age of 17, I had a college fund of $3,000, which I had earned working for my grandfather on the farm. My parents could contribute nothing to my college education. I knew nothing of scholarships or loans (home schooled, no guidance counselor), so to pay for college I joined the Army Reserve. I liked the Army so I went active duty and tried out for Special Forces. I failed. I failed through my own fault, because I was too much of a loner and had poor social skills. I went back to the regular army and spend the next three years and two combat deployments working my way up in the ranks, learning some leadership and some social skills, mostly by failing at things until I got it right.
I went back to Selection and passed. I made it through the Q-course with distinction, although I almost failed at that too. I served three years in Special Forces, if not spectacularly at least successfully. I got my degree by taking online classes at night for two years while on Active Duty. After I got off Active Duty and got married I went to community college for a year to prepare for my Master’s degree, which I will start in the summer.
That masters degree will be free, paid for by the post-911 GI bill. I will be 33 years old when I start my career as a PA.
My point is that even though I came from an under-privileged background in the world’s eyes, the fact is that really I had the only privileges that do matter. My parents could not give us the financial and social support that they would have liked, the bastions of so-called “white male privilege.” Instead they gave us something better.
They gave us a worldview that included personal responsibility. By that I mean that when I failed at things in my career, I was not able to blame anyone else. I could not blame my parents, my society, the government, a dominant race, anything. I failed because I did not have what it took.
It is not a comfortable worldview. No one likes to look in the mirror and realize that you suck. However it has the advantage of providing options. I cannot change how I was raised (wouldn’t want to, by the way). I cannot change society, or the government, or my race, but I can change myself. I have an all but unlimited capacity to be everything I need to be, by the grace of God. So when I fail, because I accept that it was my fault (negative responsibility) I also accept that it is within my ability to fix that failure (positive responsibility). I can analyze what went wrong, figure out what I need to do to fix that, and decide whether or not it is worth the resources. I might decide that it is and spend the next 3 years working on it. Or I might decide that it isn’t and drop it. Either way, the choice is mine to stand by and accept the consequences.
Because another thing that my parents instilled in me was the knowledge that money doesn’t matter. Status doesn’t matter. All those things we didn’t have as children, they don’t matter. What matters is becoming a saint. All my successes and all my failures are incidental to the real story of my life, which is the story of God’s Mercy and my salvation.
This takes me outside the “white male privilege” debate, but it is also why I don’t necessarily agree with those who want to shame whites and males for being “privileged.” A worldview that includes taking personal responsibility for your life is not a privilege, it is part of being a whole human being*. The tragedy is not that some people have more of it, but that some people have less of it. If you see yourself as a victim, perhaps it is not society, or the government, or your race that needs to change.
Perhaps it is you.
*Of course, with any amount of success comes a responsibility to use that success for the good of other people. So those who are rich or “privileged” in the worldly sense have a responsibility to use that privilege to benefit others who don’t have it. I am skeptical whether legislating that is beneficial… or even feasible.