Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part letter on race.
We are now seeing what was done by the right wing to “white privilege” and “Black Lives Matter,” happening to critical race theory. The right wing is avoiding the issue, deflecting and demonizing it. It’s a fierce denial and an unwillingness to understand or face reality. It’s using blankets to cover up all the mirrors and forbid any open discussion on what makes the right wing uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, this misinformed closed-mindedness has found its way into Congress. Kudos to Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who had the courage to push back against this closed-mindedness during a congressional hearing and to school members of Congress on being open-minded and understanding. In the words of Gen. Milley, “What’s wrong with understanding?”
The right wing has a very funny way of taking anything and twisting it and demonizing it to attack the left wing.
Let’s try to understand: Is white privilege real? If so, does it persist? How pervasive is it?
I have seen many attempts to explain “white privilege” by analogy and by anecdote. I will say that the word “privilege” is problematic in that is off-putting to whites in general, but particularly those who fit in the category of those who are in denial and are unwilling to entertain any such notion of privilege. As such, the concept of white privilege is misconstrued to mean that whites are given everything for free and they don’t have to work hard for what they have. (Note: there was a time in history when white privilege was more tangible, as in only whites were allowed to vote, or allowed to own land, or given homesteads, etc. but that is not what we are talking about in today’s context.)
To me the phenomena labeled white privilege is real. My description or explanation of it is simply the “manifestation of racial bias.” However, it is not only practiced by white people and it is not only limited to whites. I will call it “racial privilege.” White people have been the large majority throughout U.S. history until only very recently. So, it is only natural that the prevailing racial privilege would be white privilege. But I have also seen Black privilege and Hispanic privilege and Asian privilege, too.
To demonstrate that white privilege indeed is real, we can look at the criminal justice system. Studies have shown that Blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated in comparison to whites; and Blacks and Hispanics receive far harsher punishment for the same crimes than whites. In light of all the viral videos of Black people being brutalized by police, we see the opposite in how whites are treated as they are apprehended or confronted by police. Dylan Roof and James Holmes had both shot and killed many people, but when they were apprehended, they were given the benefit of the doubt and calmly and peacefully taken into custody. Blacks who were under suspicion for much less serious crimes were not given such benefit.
I recently saw a video of two white males using lacrosse sticks to repeatedly bash a patrol car occupied by a police officer. The officer sat in his car and did not take action. Would it have been the same result if the perpetrators had been Black males? Then there are countless videos of police confronting armed whites in a far different manner than they confront Blacks who are unarmed, or who have a cellphone in their hand and who were shot and killed because the officer “thought” he saw a weapon. So in this context, does white privilege exist? As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding.
Peter J. Santos is from Hågat. He is an attorney, an Army JAG officer, and a former Guam police officer.
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