Privilege is Not Necessarily Tied to Whiteness

“Privilege” was clearly on display with the recent arrest of Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi. Despite an alcohol level of greater than .08 this story received relatively little attention. When the husband of the Speaker, an 80-year-old senior citizen, is arrested for DUI, it should be a huge story. His arrogance and stupidity put people’s lives in danger. It’s an inexcusable offense. He’s too old not to know better.

Pelosi’s mug shot wasn’t released until some in the media started complaining that he was receiving preferential treatment. The incident occurred on May 26th, and the mugshot wasn’t released until sixteen days after his arrest. According to Napa County Deputy of Corrections County officials, “Mr. Pelosi received the same treatment under that policy that all individuals released from county jail receive.” At least his mugshot was finally released to the public.

Clearly, Mr. Pelosi was provided preferential treatment because of the position of his wife, and one might say, because of the color of his skin. I’m actually not a fan of the term white privilege for two reasons. First, it allows for excuses for failure that’s difficult to dispute and most people are afraid to question, in our toxic environment. It’s an out that says, my position in the world is beyond my control, and I’ve never been a fan of excuses. The second reason being that any country lead by a particular group is part of the privilege. This could be religious privilege, color or race privilege. But privilege is just another term for power. Of course, the group in power has privilege. If you visited countries like Indonesia, Kenya or the Philippines, you wouldn’t experience white privilege. At the end of the day, all people are the same and want the same things. It just so happens that the USA was founded by white Europeans.

If people are good and decent, they want what’s best for their families. A home, enough food to eat and some creature comforts is a good start. Some people want more than others. But it isn’t unique to one group. There are no “good guys” when it comes to privilege. Living well and an advantaged life is preferable to struggling. So, we need to change the narrative. White people don’t need to apologize for being white any more than Germans should have to apologize for their leaders’ murdering 33% of the Jewish population during the Holocaust, as long as they no longer promote those ideas. We can’t remake the past. All we can do is better the present and the future. If any group should be angry, it should be women. They were treated as second class citizens, finally gaining the right to vote in 1920, fifty-five years after the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, was ratified. Even today, women earn 83 cents to every dollar earned by men. That’s an injustice, a privilege, that needs to be rectified immediately.

As Eastern European Jews, my family came from nothing. While we might argue that simply being white is the privilege, I disagree. It did nothing to help my family. My grandparents were barely literate. They lived in the inner city when they arrived in this country in the 20th century. And they stayed there for decades until their children were old enough to work and go to school. They struggled simply to afford food, which is why they enlisted my father, the oldest child, in the Navy at 17 years of age. While one might say that it’s easy for Jews to hide their whiteness, they couldn’t hide the fact that they observed the Sabbath on Saturdays.

We must level the playing field so that all Americans, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, or sexual orientation, have the same opportunities. Opportunities do not equate to guarantees. The preamble to the Declaration of Independence states, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.” It never guarantees happiness. Individuals need to make the effort and people aren’t equal in terms of their abilities. We all have gifts and deficiencies. It’s our parent’s job to see our gifts and to support us in our endeavors.

However, asking those in power to relinquish their power in a Republic is nonsense. No one simply walks away from their privilege, whether in the US, Russia, Germany, Cuba or Nigeria. At least in a Democracy, there is the possibility to affect change. It’s not impossible. In fact, it’s already happening. More women and people of color are serving in the US Congress than at any other time in our history. The Vice President is a woman and a person of color. For eight years our country was led by Barack Obama. Change comes slowly but change is happening.

Looking back at slavery or the holocaust is crucial and should be taught to our young people. But to ask children to in some way understand what happened centuries ago, is silly. They must never forget what is possible in an evil world. But more importantly, they must do better. Those events are over and in order to better our world, we must move forward and create that better world. No one enjoys life by living in the past. It’s one of the great mistakes that so many people make. Zen clearly refers to that very point. If you live in the past or look too far into the future, you can never enjoy the present?

It’s time to move on and assure that opportunities exist whether you’re from the inner cities, coasts, rural communities, suburbs or anywhere in between. When we move past the idea that someone else having something reduces my odds of having something, we will greatly reduce the hatred in this country and the world. In a country like the Unites States of America, there should be something for everyone and no one should be threatened by that ideal. It begins with equal opportunities for all.

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