This guy is being ridiculous on a couple levels, but I’m posting this because it’s such a telling illustration of white privilege and its implications. It’s such a copout to attribute Detroit’s 15% unemployment to the people who live there, or to cite instances of welfare fraud as cause for scrapping the whole welfare system, or to stigmatize a whole population of people because “they can’t read or use computers” as if that’s THEIR fault. It astounds me when I hear an otherwise intelligent person say “Well my grandpa came to this country from Europe with nothing and he pulled himself up by his bootstraps and made something of himself. What’s that welfare queen’s excuse?”
1. People (especially those bastions of privilege that fall in the 16-24 year old age bracket who don’t have jobs, pay taxes, or contribute to federal infrastructure in any substantial way other than through spending the allowances their parents give them…spare me) have no business passing judgement on a mom with five kids who’s on welfare, or a guy who has been in and out of prison since age 16, or even a crackhead lurking in an alley. Know why? Because more often than not those who judge come from idyllic backgrounds that insulated them from crappy education systems, absent parents, bad neighborhoods, systemic violence and abuse, drug addiction, crime, and poverty. I myself am a product of privilege, which is why I try my best to recognize how my background influences my perspective and then check it when my privileged background would otherwise incline me to judge someone harshly.
2. For those we often label as lazy, stupid, unmotivated, or otherwise deserving of their destitution, the notion of “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps” is a sad, sick joke. It’s easy for a white kid who’s great-grandpa immigrated here in the early 20th century to talk about the land of opportunity and the American dream. My ancestors came here at a time when the domestic job market was booming. While some of them were Irish, they managed to get jobs and unfailingly ranked higher in the employment pecking order than did blacks. Systematic oppression eliminated the possibility of an American dream for minorities, and even now as some people like to claim our society is “post-racial” (you know, since we have a black president and all), the implications still resound. To make matters worse, industrial jobs (the first stop on my ancestors’ journey to prosperity) have all but dried up in this country, and with the god-awful condition of American public education, there is no foreseeable way to correct the skills gap between the undereducated poor and the high-tech jobs that are becoming the backbone of our economy.
3. Of course there are those who cite people like Obama and Oprah as counter-arguments to my claims about how our perspectives are distorted by privilege. To me, that just sounds like blatant tokenism used to ameliorate white guilt and justify non-support of programs intended to help all the non-Oprahs out there. Let’s get real. Obama’s and Oprah’s life trajectories are celebrated because they are anomalies. Obama and Oprah absolutely cannot be used as synecdoches for the collective experience of American minorities.
If I sound a little ticked, it’s because I am. There’s so much I wish I could say to people who engage in such reprehensible victim blaming. Unfortunately I’m usually so aghast at the blindness afforded by white privilege that all I can manage is a mild “haha check your privilege” or else risk sounding like a crazy.
Okay, end rant.
PS – Does anyone know how I can blur out the person’s name in the above Facebook exchange? I don’t want to get sued or anything.