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Seeing privilege often requires taking the long view
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Seeing privilege often requires taking the long view

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Ask yourself this: What makes a person privileged?

I’m probably not going to be named to any prestigious Who’s Who lists in the immediate future, but I guess, by some people’s standard, I’ve achieved a certain degree of “success”: I have a job, a house, a car that mostly runs. My bills get paid and I enjoy a vacation now and then.

These days, however, some might look at my life and the modest gains I’ve achieved and suggest that at least some of it has been due to white privilege, that lightening-rod concept that has set fire to a million Facebook comment sections and left plenty of television commentators foaming at the mouth.

And to those people, I would very respectfully say just one thing: I agree with you.

Why? Because it’s true.

I can all but guarantee you that no one in my family ever partook in the evils of slavery. But that certainly doesn’t mean that they did not enjoy certain benefits that others did not, simply because of their skin color. Yes, they had plenty of their own obstacles to overcome and earned the right to be proud of what they accomplished. Yes, plenty of other ethnic groups (including my hard-working Irish and Italian forbearers) faced discrimination and prejudice. But, for as many generations as there have been in this country, my family members also could shop in any store, attend any school, participate in any election, pursue any career path and dream almost any dream that they desired. They were able to work hard and reap the benefits of their hard work, benefits that were eventually passed on to me. And it is a privilege.

Being white in America, is not, and has never been, a first-class ticket to a life of ease and luxury. Unless you were born into wealth, there remains just one way to get it: White, Black, Brown or any other shade, you have to earn it. But to deny that it has never had any advantages is to turn a blind eye to historical fact.

Whether you can see my privilege or not, I assure you it’s always been there. And I’m OK with that. It doesn’t mean I didn’t work hard for what I have, or that I never had any hardships to face. It simply means that when it came time to find a seat at the table, my place there was never in question.  

As I heard a wise man mention in an address to a local organization recently, “I’m not here to tell you what to think. I’m just trying to make sure you have all the facts.”

Believing that being white has not historically bestowed certain benefits, or that white privilege as a concept doesn’t exist, simply flies in the face of reason.

Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, changing history — or reality — is one privilege none of us have.

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