Many years ago, I found myself on a preschool board of directors in which my toddler daughter was enrolled. The not-for-profit school was new, only a year old, and was developing a policy that would establish a schedule offering tuition discounts to families of modest means.
Our meeting was held at the board president’s home, a casual friendly setting which allowed us ample discussion time for the subject. As we plowed our way through the schedule’s implementing wording, I noticed that the mother of another student board member was focusing significant hostility toward me, strongly opposing any suggestions I made. Because of the contention, the board deferred the issue to our next meeting but when I was heading out the door the mother accused me of trying to slant the tuition discount schedule in a way that would preferentially lower my daughter’s tuition cost. In our deliberations I hadn’t even thought of such an effect, but my antagonist was convinced that was my motivation. No matter what I said, trying to persuade her otherwise, she remained firmly convinced of my evil intentions.
The attack blindsided me. I was dumbfounded, hurt, but mostly felt completely helpless. My protestations went unheeded. I couldn’t effectively defend myself, “clear my good name” in her mind.
From my standpoint, she got her viewpoint and conviction regarding my intentions from her imagination. She projected something onto me that had nothing to do with me as far as I could discern. Where and why she conjured that up I had no idea.
And now, decades later, I find that again I’m accused of something that’s been conjured up called “white privilege,” which I never contemplated nor voluntarily participated in. According to the accusation, because I’ve been an unwitting beneficiary of this privilege I’m guilty of racism, at least that’s what Ruben Navarrette seems to imply in his June 12 Gazette column: “White privilege is NOT about how life has treated you but how society, and its institutions…treat you ...and if you can’t see that, then you’ve got it bad.”
Just what is Navarrette’s point, anyhow?
I’ve “got it bad”? Sounds like a disgusting habit about which I should be ashamed, doesn’t it? Since I’ve never known I’ve had it but now having seen the light, how am I supposed to respond? How can I defend myself, clear my good name?
According to the dictionary “privilege” is to give an advantage that others do not have to someone or something.
Just who is giving me this undeserved advantage and what am I to do about it? Am I to examine every behavior I engage in and back out if it appears to incorporate “privilege”, move to another country, become a hermit? That isn’t addressed by Navarrette. He just points an accusing finger of guilt at white people having unfairly benefited from white privilege, implying that as a consequence we’re racist.
If racism is viewing and treating others inhumanely and unacceptably, based solely on their physical, and perhaps social characteristics, is it also racist to receive a benefit solely on the same baseless criteria?
I might feel regretful for such a societal condition, which I do, but that makes me guilty of racism? No. And since Navarrette has made an assumption and flippantly slapped a white privilege label on me simply because I’m white, isn’t that racism?
Tuck Aikin is a retired consumer credit reporting industry professional.