Check Your White Privilege?

That is the title of an outstanding critique of the "white privilege" meme that has been tossed around recently:

Money quote:

But a significant question facing progressives today is whether the use of the term "white privilege" helps or hurts building the kind of solidarity needed to promote racial justice and reverse runaway inequality.

The danger is that "white privilege" still comes across as an accusation, whether it is meant that way or not. It suggests that you as a white person are harboring racism deep within you, a kind of original sin. Because of your white skin, the power structures consider you normal. You get the benefit of the doubt while others do not because you are born into society's white in-crowd.

This kind of dialogue can also generate defensiveness. No one wants their own sense of justice and fairness called into question. And it raises the perplexing question about what you actually can do to address these privileges.

(emphasis added)

That italicized question is exactly the point I raised in the comment section of a previous post that generated a terrific discussion:

So now what? What can Miss America or "all you white people" do about it?

That's exactly why I suggested Chauncey was shooting at the wrong target. The political elites are the only individuals, and groups, who can make changes at the economic, legislative, judicial and administrative levels that actually impact people's lives.

https://caucus99percent.com/content/listen-white-people

Getting back to the article, the author, Les Leopold, covers some interesting history of the term "white privilege" that includes how it was used abusively by the lefty radical Weathermen. Then he points out that we need to reject the divisive results of identity politics and fight for solidarity:

What is the progressive dialogue today that is comparable to unionized workers rejecting the racial work hierarchy and fighting instead for solidarity? At the very least, we should be clear about what we are asking for. Our goal is not to integrate more people of color into the billionaire plutocracy. We are not asking that Anglo drivers be stopped more often by the police for no reason. Nor do we wish that white suburban schools be degraded.

Rather, we should be demanding that the basic human rights enjoyed by the white motorists and their children be enjoyed by everyone. We should be demanding income and housing policies that reverse runaway inequality, eliminate poverty and promote real integration.

Les Leopold offers a way forward:

Sustained movement building requires a positive vision and an inspiring call to action. It also requires difficult conversations including a frank and open dialogue about the utility of the term "white privilege."

Open dialogue and continuing the conversation is what c99p is all about.

http://smirkingchimp.com/thread/les-leopold/76368/check-your-white-privi...

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Comments

I used to say, "Drive a taxi at 7am on the Saturday of a 3 day weekend and tell me how much privilege white skin gives you." (the CHP has a heightened quota on 3 day weekends and at 7am you will be the only lower working class vehicle on the road)

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A PROUD Hillary hater since 1993

SnappleBC's picture

I understand what that means and it is real and pernicious and I want it fixed. In fact, after some digging into Tanisi Coate's stuff I've become a solid believer in reparations... at least the way he talks about it. I'm not of the opinion that hiding an ugly thing under prettier words actually helps. So I'm in favor of calling it what it is and seeking to educate people that it is not an individual indictment but rather refers to a systemic problem.

I stand against identity politics specifically because it hampers real racial justice.

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A lot of wanderers in the U.S. political desert recognize that all the duopoly has to offer is a choice of mirages. Come, let us trudge towards empty expanse of sand #1, littered with the bleached bones of Deaniacs and Hope and Changers.
-- lotlizard

Meteor Man's picture

@SnappleBC
Remember "Frameshop" over at GOS? Using "white privilege" as a narrative is a horrible way to frame your issue. As for reparations, if any group merits reparations it is Native Americans, who have been fighting terrorism since 1492.

The problem with the concept of reparations is that it prioritizes economics over justice and will never be funded until we turn back the tide of military spending.

Ending mass incarceration and prosecuting cops for violence against the black community is a better place to start. Inclusive affordable housing programs with aggressive oversight to block racial redlining would immensely benefit all POC. The Fight for $15 would directly and immediately benefit female POC who predominate a whole raft of slave labor job sectors.

I don't know how you can leapfrog the intermediate steps and jump right to reparations. The bottom line is that until we slash military spending and start compulsory taxation for the top 10% there is no money to accomplish any other goal.

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Cali Kush: a bowl a day keeps the doctor away.

SnappleBC's picture

@Meteor Man

I want to end up at racial justice. But I know I cannot start there since right now I have no political voice. So first, we need to fix the oligarchy problem. That will take care of problems like continuous war mostly on it's own. That leaves room to get on to fixing other issues like racial injustice and yes, it also leaves room for us to bicker over who gets to go in what bathroom. But the first step must be to reclaim democracy for the people. After that, slashing the military budget is a no-brainer since it will free up funds and it's morally reprehensible.

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A lot of wanderers in the U.S. political desert recognize that all the duopoly has to offer is a choice of mirages. Come, let us trudge towards empty expanse of sand #1, littered with the bleached bones of Deaniacs and Hope and Changers.
-- lotlizard

divineorder's picture

@SnappleBC ....

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A truth of the nuclear age/climate change: we can no longer have endless war and survive on this planet. Oh sh*t.

Eagles92's picture

@SnappleBC For a few reasons.

First, it's true: white people, in many circumstances, enjoy an unearned privilege that others do not. This exists outside of economic concerns for the most part. If a working-class white person and a working-class black or brown person are stopped by the cops, who do you think gets an immediate benefit of the doubt? Cops don't ask to see pay stubs.

Second, it causes one to think. Honestly, I was never aware of my own privilege until I encountered the term in a training I attended while working in a nonprofit. Completing the exercise outlined here ripped the veil of blissful ignorance from my eyes and caused me to look at the world in a completely different -- some would say woke -- way. I still enjoy white privilege. And I'm not even close to being fully woke. But this has been an eye-opening launch toward what I hope to be a journey of better understanding.

Third, I believe that the experience described above creates true allies. When we can fully appreciate, and acknowledge, the lived experiences of others, we can work together to effect positive change.

This is not an endorsement of identity politics, but an argument for intersectionality. We can simultaneously work together -- finding common ground across race, culture and economic backgrounds -- to achieve equality for the 99 percent, while also acknowledging and fighting against the very specific institutional structures that have historically marginalized, and continue to marginalize, those who do not benefit from white privilege.

(I of course leave out the fact that yes, it's a term that has been weaponized to create backlash among white people who are unwilling or unable to engage in critical introspection).

Great essay. Thanks for launching the discussion.

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snoopydawg's picture

@Eagles92

People cheered when Hillary asked them if 'breaking up the banks' would curb racism.

Hillary Clinton Suggested Breaking Up the Big Banks Won’t End Racism and Sexism. Is She Right?

“Not everything is about an economic theory, right?” Clinton said, kicking off a long, interactive riff with the crowd at a union hall this afternoon.

“If we broke up the big banks tomorrow—and I will if they deserve it, if they pose a systemic risk, I will—would that end racism?”

“No!” the audience yelled back.

Clinton continued to list scenarios, asking: “Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community? Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”

This person was asked what she thought about this. I love how she answered this. I recommend reading her whole reply to Hillary's defection for what people needed from her presidency.

MOE: When I saw this quote on Twitter, I just stared for a few minutes, as if into the abyss or at a really gross zit under a magnifying glass. I didn’t want to know the “context” because the statement itself defecated all over the very idea of context.

Obviously, no one ever promised a piece of legislation would “end” hate and injustice. Anyone even notionally sincere about battling the prejudices and cognitive dissonances that oligarchs and overlords have forever promulgated to divide and conquer humanity understands that “racism” and “sexism” are not forces you can arrest with a pen.
~

When I finally caved and read the full speech, I found a veritable orgy of straw men, each catering to some crucial segment of the Democratic coalition.
~

The thing is, we were never dumb enough to sign on to this gutted, soulless, leveraged-buyout version of the Democratic platform.

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a longtime oligarch eugenics plan is already well underway

earth is the insane asylum for the universe

SnappleBC's picture

@Eagles92

I watched how Democrats like to play the game over on DKOS. When they have no real rebuttal then they start arguing about labels. They'll argue that your label isn't real (neoliberal) or that you don't know what it means or else they'll simply adopt it (progressive).

The bottom line is that I see playing the label game as a losing strategy. It's THEIR strategy I'd rather play by my rules. I'd rather stay in a reality-based mindset rather than start playing their phantom word wars.

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A lot of wanderers in the U.S. political desert recognize that all the duopoly has to offer is a choice of mirages. Come, let us trudge towards empty expanse of sand #1, littered with the bleached bones of Deaniacs and Hope and Changers.
-- lotlizard

@Eagles92 You could not be more wrong. Am I correct in assuming you were raised in the comfortable class? Your perspective bespeaks the ignorance of that class. White people do not as a group enjoy unearned privileges. Unearned privileges are primarily a product of class. Your notion that white working class people get the "immediate benefit of the doubt" is flatly ignorant. And the notion that cops don't see a "pay stub" (as if that's the determinative and sole indicator of class) is flatly ignorant. There are many indicators that make one a police target- the car you drive, your appearance, your presentation- in short, your class. Comfy class white people tend to experience police targeting/hostility only if they act like an aggressive asshole. That is not the case for those in the working class.

The fact that you needed a "training" session to become "woke" to privilege indicates that you have taken a lot of privileges for granted. Just because you were uninformed and unconcerned about inequity in america does not mean that others suffer from the same ignorance. Those less privileged live in a world where they are acutely aware of the range of privilege in our society. They see the advantages some white people take for granted (ahem) but that is beyond their reach. Something as simple as seeing the differences between schools/class offerings/facilities is something the less advantaged are keenly aware of.

Most importantly, the white privilege framework works for you because it erases the advantages some white people enjoy in favor of a dishonest leveling of the experience of the most advantaged white person with the least. Whose interest is served by this? Perhaps another training session will give you the answer. White privilege erases the inequities that working class and poor whites experience in america and thereby divides people. When someone like you tries to lecture a working class white person about how much easier they have it in dealing with the cops you expose a rank ignorant condescension that elicits nothing more than a fuck you! and a desire not to be associated with you. One would think thee last election would have taught some lessons. Go out and meet the white working class, learn about their experiences. That might help with your overweening sense of entitlement.

Ah, but the virtue signaling feels oh so good, doesn't it?

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Eagles92's picture

@orestes @orestes You know nothing about me, but seem happy to offer a sanctimonious lecture.

As you may have noticed had you read ahead, my goals align with MM's and DMW's -- we just happen to disagree on the usefulness of a specific term. And were having a respectful discussion about that.

Thanks for the attack, though.

EDIT: Let me reiterate that you know NOTHING about my background or class. You know what they say about ASSUMING things, don't you?

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Wink's picture

@SnappleBC
Not that it doesn't exist. Not a fan of "identity politics" either.
"White privilege" goes all the way back to 1620. So, yeah, hit me with that charge.
Identity politics? I don't even know what that means. Sounds like something Hillary and the DNC made up as another way to lose elections. Apparently worked.
All these cute little political phrases do is divide. They do damn little to unite.

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the little things you can do often are more valuable than the giant things you can't! - @thanatokephaloides. All about building progressive media. (-1.9) On Twitter @winkradio.

TheOtherMaven's picture

@Wink
Everybody always forgets about Jamestown, but its history is even uglier than Plimoth.

1619 was when the first African slaves arrived at Jamestown and the colonists were faced for the first time with the question of what to do about them.

1607 was when the first ships landed - and the colonists were not long in getting into serious trouble with the residents.

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There is no justice. There can be no peace.

@SnappleBC Yes,white privilege is pernicious. It's a pernicious tool used by comfortable class whites to erase their active participation in racial injustice and inequity. White privilege is not an empirical fact; it is a framework. A framework that effectively flattens the role and impact white people have on racism based upon their socio-economic power. It is convenient to erase the very real differences in the perpetuation of racism by the comfy class and the abject poor. In the comfy class eyes, not only is the dirt poor Appalachian equally "privileged," s/he is also identified as more racist than his/her white betters.

Under white privilege, the benefits of (and exclusion of others from) educational, healthcare, experiential and work opportunities is of no concern. The culprit is some inchoate "institutional racism" that benefits the poor just as much as the wealthy. The access to educational and employment opportunities exploited by the comfy class are to be looked away from. Nothing to see there.

Scratch the surface of a white advocate against "white privilege" and you will find in 9 out of 10 cases a person raised in the comfortable class (what thomas frank would call the professional class). There's an ugly reason why this is the case and it's called the perpetuation of inequity for their personal benefit.

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At a time when overt racism was tolerated, I took a lot of abuse and in some cases placed myself in dangerous situations to combat racism. I find the notion of white privilege to be unhelpful, divisive intellectual Onanism, and, ultimately, racist, resulting in more racial divisiveness than unity. The way forward for working people in this country is to realize that racism is being used to divide us, to embrace each other and work together toward common ends. That will end racism much more quickly than upper middle class hand wringing.

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thanatokephaloides's picture

@Roy Blakeley

I find the notion of white privilege to be unhelpful, divisive intellectual Onanism, and, ultimately, racist, resulting in more racial divisiveness than unity. The way forward for working people in this country is to realize that racism is being used to divide us, to embrace each other and work together toward common ends. That will end racism much more quickly than upper middle class hand wringing.

In very deed!

The whole "white privilege" thing, or nearly all of it, is used by the people of color in the top 1% to silence working-class inter-racial solidarity. They'd rather have the hand wringing by their white peers than risk anything of substance changing for us 99%ers.

But we won't accept that any more. Diablo

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"Some members of the government are now investigating opioid pain killers but they are investigating the wrong thing. Despair-masking drugs are not the problem. Despair is."
-- featheredsprite

Wink's picture

@Roy Blakeley

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the little things you can do often are more valuable than the giant things you can't! - @thanatokephaloides. All about building progressive media. (-1.9) On Twitter @winkradio.

@Roy Blakeley It's worse than hand wringing. It's a concerted attempt to avoid personal responsibility for perpetuating racism by consuming so many actual (not inchoate) privileges in american society. The comfortable class does not compete fairly with the rest of us. They use the very real advantages only they enjoy. When I came of age as a working class kid in halls of one of the country's best colleges, privileged white people acknowledged their privileges and felt some healthy guilt/insecurity about it. Now they deny it exists.

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Wink's picture

@orestes
Harvard student - with all the "white privilege" that goes along with being a 3rd generation student - think less of a fellow black student classmate with a similar HS gpa, sat score? Or would s/he not think a whole lot about it and go about their business as a 3rd generation student?
I think the 1st generation Harvard student, 50 years ago, might have been taken aback. The 2nd gen. student in the '90s not so much, and today's 3rd gen. student not at all.
Not suggesting that "white privilege" no longer exists - the 2nd gen. Harvard student still likely to hire a white candidate over a black candidate. Just suggesting that the white is not as white as it once was, maybe now more eggshell, and that the privilege is less so. Not gone, nor going away soon. But going away.

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the little things you can do often are more valuable than the giant things you can't! - @thanatokephaloides. All about building progressive media. (-1.9) On Twitter @winkradio.

detroitmechworks's picture

It's not privilege to have your rights respected.

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You can't expect to wield Supreme Military power, just cause some corporate tosser lobbed a contract at you!

Meteor Man's picture

@detroitmechworks
That's a ten strike DMW.

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Cali Kush: a bowl a day keeps the doctor away.

Eagles92's picture

@Meteor Man Sounds too much like "All Lives Matter" to me.

Perhaps I have a different relationship to the phrase because it was first introduced to me by black and brown people who sought to foster true understanding.

We can either view such terms as divisive, or as descriptors for a sort of self-examination that builds bridges.

Like it or not, but black and brown people are much less likely to have their basic human rights respected in Amerikka than white people. Trying to "sow unity" by erasing the concept of "white privilege" erases their lived experience and sends a message that we don't actually understand, or care to understand.

YMMV.

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Meteor Man's picture

@Eagles92 @Eagles92

Sounds too much like "All Lives Matter" to me.

The folks at the Human Rights Campaign would probably take issue with your analysis Eagles92:

http://www.hrc.org/

I also take issue with your claim that "erasing" the term "white privilege" denies someone's lived experience. Neither Les Leopold nor I wish to "erase" any phrase, we simply question the effectiveness of how it is used.

I sat in with BLM at L.A. City Hall and fully understand and support the goals of BLM. I just disagree with this particular tactical approach.

The concept of "white privilege" suffers from the same linguistic, political and cultural flaws as identity politics; it is easily manipulated by right wing culture warriors.

In addition, from the article I cited to:

The Weathermen used a style of “criticism-self-criticism” sessions, also called “Weatherfries,” which were described by the author of Bringing the War Home as “the most harrowing aspect of life within the collective.” Based on Maoist struggle sessions, these were used to root out subconscious racism and sexism within their own psyches. Individuals were reportedly hazed for up to twelve hours without a break until the white radicals confessed their deep white supremacism, homophobia and misogyny to their fellow white radicals thus achieving catharsis through their own admission of guilt.

Granted, that's a little extreme, but it illustrates the difficulty of achieving "catharsis" with guilt shaming.

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Cali Kush: a bowl a day keeps the doctor away.

Eagles92's picture

@Meteor Man It's what I most enjoy about this space.

I'd write more, but am hopping on the road for the holiday. Wishing you and yours the best. Ultimately, our goals are the same.

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Meteor Man's picture

@Eagles92
For sure, for sure. As long as we all push in the same direction and keep fighting the good fight.

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Cali Kush: a bowl a day keeps the doctor away.

Wink's picture

@Eagles92 @Meteor Man
And toss the phrase around every paragraph as they do on ToP and it loses any significance it once may have had. And, like a lot of politically correct nonsense it becomes weightless. Same with identity politics.

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the little things you can do often are more valuable than the giant things you can't! - @thanatokephaloides. All about building progressive media. (-1.9) On Twitter @winkradio.

detroitmechworks's picture

@Eagles92 Demanding that somebody do an incredibly large amount of self reflection and examination of history to understand WHY the term isn't a slur is beyond counterproductive. It's essentially saying to the average white person: "You are wrong, and you are ignorant about why you're wrong, and unless you subscribe to my worldview, YOU WILL BE ALWAYS BE WRONG."

The end goal is exactly the same as mine, at least I would hope so.

Basic Human Rights for everyone.

That's not hard to understand and easy to see the injustice. A man is being treated like scum because of the color of his skin? His rights are being trampled on. Anybody can see that it is a very clear and unambiguous wrong. Those who cannot see the wrong have deliberately blinded and/or deluded themselves into thinking that some people are better than others.

"All Lives Matter" is only offensive because people have CHOSEN to take it offensively. The idea that all humans are worthy of respect and life should not be a controversial one. I think that the lives that we snuff out daily in the middle east matter. However, the media has declared unless you hold ONE ethnic group above all others you are racist.

If I didn't know better I'd suggest that those who demand that we continue to talk about privilege of ONE group have another agenda than justice for all.

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You can't expect to wield Supreme Military power, just cause some corporate tosser lobbed a contract at you!

Meteor Man's picture

@detroitmechworks
We need to Unite To Fight!

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Cali Kush: a bowl a day keeps the doctor away.

thanatokephaloides's picture

@detroitmechworks

"All Lives Matter" is only offensive because people have CHOSEN to take it offensively. The idea that all humans are worthy of respect and life should not be a controversial one. I think that the lives that we snuff out daily in the middle east matter. However, the media has declared unless you hold ONE ethnic group above all others you are racist.

If I didn't know better I'd suggest that those who demand that we continue to talk about privilege of ONE group have another agenda than justice for all.

How Piratical of you to say that!!

Smile

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"Some members of the government are now investigating opioid pain killers but they are investigating the wrong thing. Despair-masking drugs are not the problem. Despair is."
-- featheredsprite

detroitmechworks's picture

@thanatokephaloides I'd like to point out that many pirates later became Americans...

Far as I'm concerned, I'm just a pre-Constitutional Purist.

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You can't expect to wield Supreme Military power, just cause some corporate tosser lobbed a contract at you!

thanatokephaloides's picture

@detroitmechworks

While a bit romanticized... I'd like to point out that many pirates later became Americans...

No need to point that out to this lifelong Jean Laffite fan!

Smile

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"Some members of the government are now investigating opioid pain killers but they are investigating the wrong thing. Despair-masking drugs are not the problem. Despair is."
-- featheredsprite

dkmich's picture

@detroitmechworks

All it does is divide and create resentment. It is why Bernie's economic agenda crossed so many bridges to the left, right, and non-declared. Given Obama and Holder protecting the banks and destroying the homeowners, the issue of two Americas in the criminal justice system, one for the rich and one for the poor and disadvantaged, was an easy fight. Instead BLM, no matter how justified or well meant, turned it into a racial issue and teed it up for the right to use as a weapon.

I am beginning to feel the same way toward feminism. Another weapon to be used in the identity wars.

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*donate *follow us on Twitter *like us on Facebook *dump Google

gulfgal98's picture

@dkmich @dkmich that makes Bernie's message work. While I believe that "white privilege" exists, it is being used as a cudgel to continue to divide us. Like any other similar frame, it is a negative. What Bernie's message did was to unify people on common grounds. All people want to be able to feed their families, have quality healthcare, earn a living wage, have clean water and air, and feel safe in their communities.

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"I don't want to run the empire, I want to bring it down!" ~Dr. Cornel West "...isn't the problem here that the government takes on, arbitrarily and without justification, an adversarial attitude towards its citizenry?" ~CantStoptheMacedonianSignal

lotlizard's picture

@detroitmechworks  

I think that the lives that we snuff out daily in the middle east matter.

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@Eagles92 Yet you erase the varied experiences of white people. Physician, heal thyself.

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@detroitmechworks

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@detroitmechworks Yes, but, apparently, the Enlightenment is dead.

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Only the DUMMICRATIC party would use a term like this to insult a important block of voters who has bankrolled and turned out for them for years.Im talking about organized labor or UNIONS!There isnt anything more insulting to a person who has busted their ass,broken their bodies laboring at hard work in all types of terrible worksites to be called privileged.
I wish I could take some of these assholes that use this term and make them work in 110 degree heat in the hot Nevada sun for a summer or climb on a elevator that takes you a mile down in a coal mine to labor like a mule loading coal,Or spend the day in a packinghouse lugging beef.This IS HARD DIRTY WORK that shortens life for those who do it.These people are not PRIVILEGED!They EARN what they get!There aint nobody giving them ANYTHING!If they dont go to work their familys dont eat NOBODY says hey your white were going to just give you a salary.
This term WHITE PRIVILEGE might pertain to the NEW 1% Democrats that have never put in a day of work in their life and have too much time on their hands to think up ways to destroy the middle class.GO AHEAD CALL A IRONWORKER PRIVILEGED AND YOU WILL BE PICKING UP YOUR TEETH!

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DW

@LEFTYFRIZZLE Right on!

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The oligarchs dance when the underprivileged accuse others of having too many privileges.

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Mike Taylor

Exactly! The term 'White privilege' implies that basic human rights are a privilege rather than a right applying to all and throws the onus into those incapable of doing anything about it.

On the other hand, it's difficult to bring understanding to those having a different life experience than those suffering under appalling abuses due to perceptions, behaviours and prejudices frighteningly common within a sick culture and artificial divide propagated and maintained by PTB controlling corporate media.

In order to 'normalize' discrimination - meritocracy - among a society, it's necessary to begin with those who a large number of the population can be convinced to accept as being 'less worthy' than/'dangerous' to them. The numbers of victim-categories can thus be enlarged more easily over time, while Those Who Matter can expand the privileges they claim by depriving others of their rights.

It still essentially comes down to class structures based on economic and other predation, placing darker-skinned (instantly identifiable as vulnerable prey of the 'Justice system' without adding any Stars-by-law to their clothing) people at the bottom and a very few at the top, the rest of The People being strewn variously down the food-chain, depending on their potential individual usefulness (or annoyance level) to TPTB.

The sort of people who can relate to the 'White privilege' concept - whether or not they agree with 'the White Man's Burden' variation (guilt for having still retained, based on skin-tone, some shred of the rights which all Americans have been Constitutionally guaranteed and of a smidge more of the human rights accepted in civilized cultures as being basic to all, when others haven't) which this calls up - to see and sympathize with those whose rights are most trampled and lives most distorted/at risk due to the issues this term undeniably calls attention to are, however, arguably those least likely to contribute to the problem.

And what's worse, it increases the artificially created divide-by-skin-colour, as this is not then presented as citizens standing up for other citizens - for themselves, as a whole - but emphasizing 'us vs them' class- skin-tone differences and, also importantly, creates guilt among lighter-skinned Non-Billionaire-Americans for not yet having lost their right to Breath While Walking - unless, of course, joining America's Most Vulnerable by becoming homeless or disabled in any fashion without being wealthy.

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Psychopathy is not a political position, whether labeled 'conservatism', 'centrism' or 'left'.

A tin labeled 'coffee' may be a can of worms or pathology identified by a lack of empathy/willingness to harm others to achieve personal desires.