A while back I was driving a beater car* through my fairly-nice neighborhood. A little white boy, who couldn’t have been more than ten, looked at me as I passed.
“Nice car!” he sneered.
I’ve thought a lot about that in the time that’s passed. Because I wonder what happens to children and adults who are raised with an overinflated sense of privilege and entitlement.
It comes with the white supremacist society. Because white is favored. It is privileged. And eventually people begin to believe the hype even if they are undeserving.
During the presidential election, white supremacy was a constant underlying theme. “People like us,” with the “us” unspoken but understood as white code. I often felt that Clinton and McCain seriously underestimated Obama.
Part of this was because people had difficulty envisioning a black president. Too far from the realm of reality. Even now, I feel a little jolt when I hear the radio announcer say, “President Obama …” Like one morning I’m going to wake up and find out it was all just a dream.
But another part of underestimating Obama was tied to white privilege. In particular, McCain seemed especially confident that the presidency was his and befuddled when it began to become less of a certainty.
McCain graduated at the bottom of his class and ran against somebody who graduated with honors from Harvard Law School. Yet white people talked about Obama’s lack of qualifications. They talked about how he had been an affirmative action admit to university and law school. They talked about how everything had been handed to him simply because he’s black.
Remember Geraldine Ferraro’s comments about Obama? She opined that Obama would not be a candidate for the presidency if he were white. I repeat my response here:
White privilege is the sour grape ability to believe that if a person of color earned anything you perceive to be rightfully yours, it must have been because of their color. White privilege is the deeply entrenched belief that whites really are superior.
The idea that people of color have advantages over white people because of race is a constant, recurring theme that is invoked by white people in order to disparage and discount the accomplishments of people of color. It is so ludicrous as to defy rationality, and yet it stands as a truth for many whites. There are five comments** over at Racialicious about white supremacist behavior, and two people of color already mention having their intelligence questioned by their “peers.”
This is a method to remind you that you are inferior. It does not matter that assertions of your inferiority defy rational thought. Enough white people (and some people of color) will buy into it and act accordingly.
That has been my experience as well. One cohort member repeatedly suggested that I was an affirmative action admit who was otherwise unqualified; this went on in a particularly nasty vein until I suggested that we compare standardized test scores. He did not want to.
Because if he did, and he was found lacking, the illusion of his superiority vanishes.
But what happens when the illusion vanishes?
I started my career at a time when everybody was making money. Lots of money. Like everybody else, I thought we were always going to be on the gravy train. Or, more accurately, I didn’t think much about it at all. I took my earning power and wealth for granted. I took my job for granted.
My assumption was that I could always get another job, because everybody knows that people who work hard are valued and employers will always want them. A frequently repeated story about my great-uncle tells of how he had two full-time jobs during the Depression. The value of hard work. In spite of race. My great-uncle had two full-time jobs despite the fact that he was a man of color.
So when the job environment didn’t suit (I will note that the most common reason was racism), my family members always advised me to quit. They were secure in that advice, knowing that I could easily get another job. And I did.
But life isn’t like that any more, is it?
I wonder about privileged little white boys, who may grow up to find out that they are not living in their parents’ generation. Already we see the effects of a worsening economy. Yet these types of racist delusions allow white people to blame people of color when there are more obvious culprits to blame. Demonize the “illegals”; very little attention paid to the Bernard Madoffs. Claim you didn’t get a job or you have an underpaid job because of that person of color hired over you–this despite your obvious superiority.
White people often speak about people of color as having the “victim mentality.” But if you ever want to hear expressions of “victimhood,” try listening to a bunch of unemployed white men. And remember the consequences for our communities.)
*bought for $1500, driven for 11 years and then given to my cousin.
**obviously this post was written a few days back. Comments now up to 60+.