From Kaepernick to Puerto Rico to Las Vegas, White Privilege Is Alive and Well.


In a month rocked by NFL protests, a US island ravaged by a natural disaster, deprivation of birth control coverage for millions of women, and the horrifying shooting of over 600 people, the one thing that stood undamaged was white privilege. At every turn, every person was reminded that white male privilege is the only thing doing “just fine” in this country. Further, all of us were reminded that white privilege responds to challenges with three steps: deny, downplay, disparage. Deny there is anything wrong, downplay the extent of the wrong alleged, disparage the accuser.

When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem, he was making a very simple statement: something has to be done about black unarmed men killed by police officers, with no repercussions to the officers. Fact: he is right, something needs to be done. His gesture had nothing to do with the troops, patriotism, or the anthem (really). It was about black America. And that message got hijacked. When NFL players began kneeling in solidarity over the weekend of October 1, 2017, they too were not saying anything about troops, patriotism, or the anthem. They were very simply asking for black American men to have access to justice. But white (predominantly male) America had to make it about them. This was about patriotism and about the USA. It was about their feeling of disrespect and their feeling that Mr. Kaepernick’s actions were inappropriate. In a world where athletes are asking for black men not to be killed, the response is whether they are doing so in a way that sufficiently protects the feelings of white America. Talk about privilege. One side talks about survival, the other about their emotions. Guess whose message got lost in that toss up? Also relevant was the language used to describe the kneeling. "Ungrateful" and "disrespectful," terms routinely used against women and minorities when they ask to be treated equally. Because asking for access to our rights is "disrespectful." Who are we disrespecting, exactly?

When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, white privilege again reared its ugly and murderous head.  The mayor of San Juan, frustrated at the Federal Government’s undeniable lack of response, expressed her thoughts, directing them at President Trump. Indeed, that was the right person to target. In a now-expected childish and profoundly unintelligent response, Trump responded by attacking the mayor and, more specifically, attacking her as being “nasty” to him, an insult reserved for people of the female gender (see Hillary Clinton, the other “Nasty Woman”). He denied the Federal Government’s response was insufficient (blaming instead the “big water” surrounding the island), downplayed the Federal Government's lack of response (claiming federal response was great) and then disparage both Puerto Ricans (by describing them as lazy, and thereby invoking a racist trope, “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. . . .”) and San Juan’s mayor. Because Puerto Ricans are Spanish speakers, not "white Americans," on an island removed from US mainland, not only were they undeserving of help from their Federal Government, but the person speaking out on their behalf was speaking “out of turn.” It is no coincidence that Kaepernick, NFL players, and Puerto Ricans all ended up on the same side of that label: disrespectful. 

Other terms such as “ungrateful,” “undeserving,” and “greedy” were used to describe individuals asking for better treatment from their government. And that, right there, is the heart of white privilege. All good things are an unalienable right for white America, but they are merely “gifted” on the rest of us, and for that, we should be grateful and silent.

Finally, the Las Vegas shooting took place. From the headlines describing the shooter (“lone wolf” who “loved country music”), to the number of guns he was able to not only purchase but take into a hotel (over 40 at home, over 20 in his hotel room), to the always-the-same defense of gun ownership (the Second Amendment allows them to have all guns, regardless of fire power and danger to others), white male privilege and its “unalienable right” to hurt the rest of us reared its ugly head. While hundreds of families mourned the loss of their loved ones, Bill O’Reilly declared that mass shootings are, “the price of freedom.”  Fox News reported, “In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, some pundits are calling for the shredding of the Constitution and the eradication of our right to keep and bear arms.” The false narrative is staggering and, again, focused on white America’s “feelings” instead of everyone else’s survival. The vast majority of Americans believe in the Second Amendment. The vast majority of Americans also want to be safe, not feel safe—actually be safe. While a gun owner may “feel” safe, data is clear that “feeling” safe because of the presence of a gun and “being” safe because of the presence of a gun are two very different things. They can absolutely intersect, but they don’t do so at the end of a fire arm modified with a bump stock. And the Second Amendment in no way requires US citizens to possess weapons that fire 9 rounds a second. (As an aside, for a country that cares so much about its officers and its first responders, it is also a country that apparently has no problem letting them face down machine guns while everyone—rightfully—runs the other way). The one thing missing is the pattern of “deny, downplay, disparage.”

Well, it is missing as to the wrongdoer in this story, but it is immediately present against people asking for sensible, reasonable, thoughtful gun reform. For those, the tactics are at play: deny America has a gun problem, downplay the problems that do exist, disparage opponents as anti-American for wanting to “shred” the Second Amendment. Familiar, right? Always in defense of white privilege.

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