Now that the race card has fallen out of fashion, “White Privilege” has taken its place. Log onto Twitter and
you’ll see White Guilt, in some way or another, is trending and it’s usually perpetrated by white people. With the latest debacle in the Eric Garner case, #CrimingWhileWhite became an instant hit with guilty white people. Essentially, white people convert Twitter into a confessional booth in which they prostrate themselves before social media and confess their past sins in which they broke the law and the police let them off the hook. The assumption is that if they were black, the cops would have either roughed them up or arrested them.
What made the race card honest (And FUN!) was it was a direct attack levied at someone. It actually takes guts to go up to someone and accuse them of racism. Privilege; whether it be race or wealth, is an indirect and passive aggressive way to label someone as a racist without actually calling someone a racist. By throwing out “Privilege” you can’t really prove racism, but it can invoke guilt in someone who might be totally innocent. White Privilege is a variation of the guilt trip- a distorted form of communication normally used within insecure and dysfunctional relationships in order to manipulate one another into getting what they want. If you can conjure up a modicum of guilt in someone, you have that person hooked.
Case in the point, Oliver Friedfeld is a college student who wrote a piece about his mugging experience with what he implied were 2 less fortunate youths. Inter spliced within the piece are my comments.
I Was Mugged, and I Understand Why
Last weekend, my housemate and I were mugged at gunpoint while walking home from DuPont Circle. The entire incident lasted under a minute, as I was forced to the floor, handed over my phone and was patted down.
And yet, when a reporter asked whether I was surprised that this happened in Georgetown, I immediately answered: “Not at all.” It was so clear to me that we live in the most privileged neighborhood within a city that has historically been, and continues to be, harshly unequal. While we aren’t often confronted by this stark reality west of Rock Creek Park, the economic inequality is very real.
Here a couple of assumptions are already made by Oliver. It appears that he has long suspected that his privilege has been lurking behind dark corners and this recent mugging had just stricken the last vestiges of naiveté from his eyes. He already makes the conclusion that these muggers cannot possibly come from HIS neighborhood and, therefore, must automatically come from somewhere less fortunate. How else could you explain such wanton behavior?
Year after year, Washington, D.C., is ranked among the most unequal cities in the country, with the wealthiest 5 percent earning an estimated 54 times more than the poorest 20 percent. According to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, just under 20 percent of D.C. residents live below the poverty line.
I hate to inject partisanship in a non-partisan issue, for white guilt colorblind towards political affiliation, but the city of Washington D.C is run by social justice/care for the poor Democrats. Election after election, D.C is a Democratic stronghold. I’m not saying that when Republicans are in charge, prosperity abounds, but for a particular party that protests too much against such social injustices and unmerited privileges, they really should be beacons of hope, not institutions of inequality. And – I hate to break it to ole Oliver, but the richest and most powerful people in the United States are liberal Democrats.
What has been most startling to me, even more so than the incident itself, have been the reactions I’ve gotten. I kept hearing “thugs,” “criminals” and “bad people.” While I understand why one might jump to that conclusion, I don’t think this is fair.
I am going to chalk this up to the inadequacies of the School of Foreign Service, where Oliver is intended to get a degree, for his inability to understand that when someone mugs someone, it is called a crime. The root word for criminal is crime. That is why you heard that term bandied about Oliver. These people robbed you… robbery is illegal… therefore they are criminals. Just because you do not think it is fair does not change the fact that stealing is against the law. Perhaps when you get your degree from the School of Foreign Service you can make stealing legal, but until then you are going to have to accept reality. “Bad people” is a moral judgment call that people make when people do bad things. They may not, in the end, be “bad people”, but their behavior is considered bad. I think the School of Foreign Service will teach you in your final semester of class that many foreign countries still cling to this archaic notion of private property. We get the term “thug” from the professional assassins in India in the 1300’s. The thugs would insinuate themselves into the confidence of wayfarers and, when a favorable opportunity presented itself, strangle them by throwing a handkerchief or noose around their necks. They then plundered and buried them.
I will submit to you that “thug” in our neck of the woods does tend to conjure images of the stereotypical black male out to rob people. But I assure you, when someone forces you to the ground, pats you down, and takes your phone, this is thug-like behavior. That’s why you heard people throwing these terms around.
Not once did I consider our attackers to be “bad people.” I trust that they weren’t trying to hurt me. In fact, if they knew me, I bet they’d think I was okay. They wanted my stuff, not me. While I don’t know what exactly they needed the money for, I do know that I’ve never once had to think about going out on a Saturday night to mug people. I had never before seen a gun, let alone known where to get one. The fact that these two kids, who appeared younger than I, have even had to entertain these questions suggests their universes are light years away from mine.
How did you know that they were not going to hurt you? Better yet, why would you assume that they would think you were “okay?” I am going to make an assumption of my own in that since you have never seen a gun or known where to obtain one, I fully understand your inability to sense the danger you were in. But for the record, I simply do not believe you are oblivious to gun culture living in Washington D.C where gun violence is prevalent in spite of the restrictive gun laws. The fact that you do not seem to know this might indicate not white privilege, but the mindset ethnocentrism. You portray yourself as someone who cares for the less fortunate but you do not seem to have gotten your hands dirty.
I come from a solidly middle-class family, and, with relatives in Mexico City, certainly don’t consider myself entirely shielded from poverty. And yet I’d venture to guess that our attackers have had to experience things I’ve never dreamed of. When I struggled in school, I had parents who willingly sat down with me and helped me work through it. When I have a problem, I have countless people who I can turn to for solid advice.
I fail to see the connection between your middle-class family and relatives in Mexico City. Am I to assume that your core belief of Mexico City is one of poverty when, in fact, it is a fairly rich city? I do not know your relatives and they probably are not well-to-do, but you have just blanketed an entire city with a stereotypical label. Maybe white privilege does exist! With plenty of white-assumption to spare, you have prejudged your attackers that surely they must have come from less fortunate backgrounds than I for surely no one of my stature or higher could engage in such behavior. Dude! Check your privilege.
When I walk around at 2 a.m., nobody looks at me suspiciously, and police don’t ask me any questions. I wonder if our attackers could say the same.
First of all, you only have a couple of years to “walk around at 2 a.m.” before that really starts to affect you the next day. Secondly, you know why the police do not look at you suspiciously… “We live in the most privileged neighborhood…” By that admission alone, and your prejudgment of your attackers, you know that you live in a safe neighborhood and they do not. Stop wondering if your attackers “could say the same.” Based on your false sense of guilt, you know the answer.
Who am I to stand from my perch of privilege, surrounded by million-dollar homes and paying for a $60,000 education, to condemn these young men as “thugs?” It’s precisely this kind of “otherization” that fuels the problem.
Since this entire article condones prejudice, I will make some formulations of my own. I suspect that of the $60,000 that your education costs, you are not paying for much, if any, of it. If you were footing the bill then you would not be having all of this guilt because you were putting in the hard work of paying your way through college. And you are not surrounded by multimillion-dollar homes; you live amongst multimillion-dollar homes that you yourself do not pay for? If you worked hard and paid for your surroundings, then you have some misplaced guilt about the injustices of the world. Or, perhaps you do pay your way and are indeed independently well off but are hoarding your wealth for your extravagant 2 a.m. lifestyle. If this is the case, you are projecting your own failures to help the less fortunate in society at large while simultaneously trying to take moral credit by writing about your experiences being mugged.
The reason you cannot call these attackers thugs, or at the very least criminals, is because you do not perceive them as your equals. If a person of affluence was trying to take advantage of them, I have no doubt that you would describe them as criminals and something akin to a thug but that’s because you know that this person, being of high regard, should know better. Based on what I am reading, you see the less fortunate as less responsible because of their plight and that is one of the most demeaning things you could do to someone.
There’s a quote from economist Thomas Sowell that I think applies to your sense of guilt and willingness to convict a segment of society as “privileged.” If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago, and a racist today. See, by treating crime equally, you actually treat people equally, whether it is someone you suspect is less fortunate than you or one of your peers from your study group.
Young people who willingly or unwillingly go down this road have been dealt a bad hand. While speaking with a D.C. police officer after the incident, he explained that he too had come from difficult circumstances, and yet had made the decision not to get involved in crime. This is a very fair point — we all make decisions. Yet I’ve never had to decide whether or not to steal from people. We’re all capable of good and bad, but it’s a whole lot easier for me to choose good than it may be for them to.
You make an assumption again that criminal activity precludes being dealt a bad hand. I think that I can use that logic to defend insider traders who con millions out of hard-working people. Perhaps they, too, have been dealt a bad hand. That police officer was trying to enlighten you by saying that he came from difficult circumstances and he was not impressed by your cognitive nuances on crime and poverty. Maybe he was offended that you would have such a warped belief that less fortunate people tend to engage in criminal activities. Check your privilege!
If we ever want opportunistic crime to end, we should look at ourselves first. Simply amplifying police presence will not solve the issue. Police protect us by keeping those “bad people” out of our neighborhood, and I’m grateful for it. And yet, I realize it’s self-serving and doesn’t actually fix anything.
While I agree that self-reflection is needed to tackle a complex issue as crime, to “look at ourselves first” implies that we are the direct cause of wealth disparities. You first, Oliver! What are you doing to the less fortunate to make them take such desperate measures?! Your ethnocentric slip is showing if you think that the police keeping out bad people only serves you; it serves the entire community. Police are really there to make sure that the law is enforced. Their main priority is not to change society… it is your personal responsibility to privately give your time and money to alleviating pain and suffering – and it is your responsibility to rally your family, friends, and community to the cause, and not let the government solely take care of the problem.
When we play along with a system that fuels this kind of desperation, we can’t be surprised when we’re touched by it. Maybe these two kids are caught, and this recent crime wave dies down, but it will return because the demand is still there, and the supply is still here. We have a lot, and plenty of opportunities to make even more. They have very little, and few opportunities to make ends meet.
If you do not do something to deal with the demand, then dwindle your own supplies of wealth; that way no one will mug you in the future. Or, YOU can tackle the problem. You said it yourself, “We have a lot, and plenty of opportunities to make even more. They have very little, and few opportunities to make ends meet.” Go out into the world and make as much money as you legally can and give most of it away.
The millennial generation is taking over the reins of the world, and thus we are presented with a wonderful opportunity to right some of the wrongs of the past. As young people, we need to devote real energy to solving what are collective challenges. Until we do so, we should get comfortable with sporadic muggings and break-ins. I can hardly blame them. The cards are all in our hands, and we’re not playing them.
My intent is not degrade Oliver but to attack his notion of white privilege because, believe it or not, I believe it exists. But to behave like the rubes in the Crucible and accuse people of the WHITE PRIVILEGE witch-craft serves no purpose except to inform minorities that you are not like one of those white people. As comedian Sherrod Small jokingly said, “Y’all all the same.”
Oliver Friedfeld is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.
White Privilege actually does exist but this method of righting injustices has nothing to do what solutions but alleviating bad feelings. Watch out or you could be next!