There is no gold medal in the op­pres­sion Olympics

Albuquerque Journal - - OPINION - ES­THER CEPEDA Email: es­ther­j­cepeda@wash­post.com. Copy­right, Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group.

CHICAGO — The Pew Re­search Cen­ter re­cently polled Amer­i­cans on their be­lief in white priv­i­lege, and the re­sults should sur­prise no one: Though a ma­jor­ity — 56 per­cent — of peo­ple of all races and eth­nic­i­ties be­lieve that white peo­ple ben­e­fit ei­ther “a great deal” or “a fair amount” from their race, only 46 per­cent of whites say they ben­e­fit at least a fair amount from ad­van­tages in so­ci­ety that blacks don’t have. Just 16 per­cent of whites say they ben­e­fit a great deal.

The easy pot­shot to make is to say that whites are so priv­i­leged that they don’t even rec­og­nize how priv­i­leged they are.

Some in my fam­ily have a dif­fer­ent take on it. For in­stance, like the other 40.6 mil­lion Amer­i­cans who lived in poverty in 2016, ac­cord­ing to re­cent U.S. Cen­sus fig­ures, my in-laws are poor. Like 17.2 mil­lion of th­ese peo­ple, my mother- and fa­ther-in-law are white, non-His­panic, which is the largest racial and eth­nic de­mo­graphic of peo­ple liv­ing in poverty.

My hus­band’s par­ents were born in a small, pre­dom­i­nantly white ru­ral town in the South. Both were high school dropouts. My fa­ther-in-law served in the Army, and my mother-in-law had her first child as a teenager. Their early mar­ried years were set to your pro­to­typ­i­cal coun­try tune: with lots of lit­tle kids run­ning around, an am­ple sup­ply of beer and cig­a­rettes, pickup trucks and church.

Then came hard times, when my fa­ther-in-law be­came dis­abled from ill­ness and then my moth­erin-law was in­jured while work­ing a low-wage phys­i­cal la­bor job.

To­day they live in a de­cay­ing trailer home on the out­skirts of a shrink­ing town that used to be pop­u­lated by fam­i­lies flush with good jobs at the lo­cal coal mines.

They’re the kind of peo­ple who shop at Walmart not be­cause they want to but be­cause there’s no other suit­able place to buy gro­ceries within a 15-mile ra­dius. I’ve heard them de­scribe, with dis­gust, the slim pick­ings of fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles avail­able there — a com­plaint that has been echoed in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try — but that’s the re­al­ity of liv­ing in the de­pressed parts of Amer­ica’s Heart­land.

Talk­ing to them about white priv­i­lege is tan­ta­mount to slap­ping them in the face. From their per­spec­tive, they’ve served their coun­try, lived good, hon­est lives and seen ev­ery one of their four chil­dren grad­u­ate from col­lege — and yet they are barely mak­ing it. They be­lieve they’ve never been en­dowed with any mag­i­cal racial priv­i­leges — much less ac­cess to a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s and the in­come to be able to af­ford to shop there.

It’s a valid view­point that de­serves con­sid­er­a­tion — even if it doesn’t prove that racial priv­i­lege doesn’t ex­ist.

A June study from Stan­ford Univer­sity found that dur­ing in­ter­ac­tions with law en­force­ment of­fi­cers of all races and eth­nic­i­ties, “white res­i­dents were 57 per­cent more likely than black res­i­dents to hear a po­lice of­fi­cer say the most re­spect­ful” phrases -- i.e., apolo­gies or ex­pres­sions of grat­i­tude like “thank you.” But “black com­mu­nity mem­bers were 61 per­cent more likely than white res­i­dents to hear an of­fi­cer say less re­spect­ful ut­ter­ances” and use “in­for­mal ti­tles like ‘dude’ and ‘bro’” as well as “com­mands like ‘hands on the wheel.’”

In a new study that will soon be pub­lished in the Jour­nal of the Euro­pean Eco­nomic As­so­ci­a­tion, re­searchers from Bri­tain and Italy found that when re­ceiv­ing re­quests about ba­sic in­for­ma­tion such as hours of op­er­a­tion, lo­cal govern­ment of­fi­cials through­out the United States were less re­spon­sive to African-Amer­i­cans than they were to whites.

In the dis­cus­sion about who has it harder in this coun­try, oth­ers might note that the crowd that gath­ered to lis­ten to coun­try mu­sic in Las Ve­gas was not spared from vi­o­lence even though such mu­sic tends to draw a pre­dom­i­nantly white au­di­ence. In fact, some peo­ple ac­tu­ally re­joiced pub­licly about the slaugh­ter specif­i­cally be­cause many of the vic­tims may have been — pre­sum­ably, by be­ing coun­try mu­sic fans — gun-lov­ing Repub­li­cans.

Are you see­ing my point here? No one wins the op­pres­sion Olympics. The re­al­ity is that ev­ery­one is dis­crim­i­nated against by some­one. Ev­ery­one has some kind of priv­i­lege — whether it’s be­ing able-bod­ied, free from men­tal ill­ness, hav­ing a sup­port­ive fam­ily or sim­ply be­ing happy with his or her lot in life.

Does it re­ally mat­ter whether we think we have — or lack — some priv­i­lege rel­a­tive to oth­ers? Does it move us for­ward in any mean­ing­ful way?

Per­haps it’s time to stop fo­cus­ing on how our par­tic­u­lar priv­i­leges help us and start think­ing about how to use what­ever priv­i­leges we may pos­sess to make oth­ers’ lives bet­ter — re­gard­less of whether we agree with their pol­i­tics.

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