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Thursday, May 15, 2014

A "Check Your Privilege" dialogue

In order to understand what this phrase "Check Your Privilege," means, I have asked a self-described radical far-left-wing African-American studies drop-out to have a conversation about white-privilege. He would like to remain anonymous but has allowed me to disclose his first name. So with no further ado, let's get to it.

"Good Morning Elijah. May I call you Eli?" I wanted this discussion to be pleasant and informal.

“You can call me E-li-jah. That’s my name. And yeah, it’s morning, but ain't nothing that great about it.” Elijah apparently wanted to keep his distance.

“Great! So let’s get started. Tell me, please, what does white privilege mean to you?”

“Well, first of all, it’s not what it means to me per se, it’s just what it means. If I asked you to pass me the bread, you don’t have to find out what bread means to me. We both just know what the f**k bread is.”

“Perfect. Well let’s pretend that I’m from a primitive island and that I have never heard of “bread.” On this entire planet, surely you’ll agree that there are in fact people who not only have never had bread, but also have never even heard the word. So getting back to white-privilege, would you be so good as to define it for me?”

“Fine. I don’t know the scientific definition, per se, but what it means is that fifteen cars drive past a cop, and fourteen of those cars have whites, and one car has a black man driving, and all of them doing 65 in a 55. That cop is going to pull over the black man every time.”

“So what you’re saying is that white-privilege means cops are racists?”

“Yes, but not just cops, all white-people are racist. That why we call you crackers. Because we don’t never want to forget that you put collars round our necks and cracked the whip to make us work, like we was animals.”

“It sounds like what you’re saying, E-li-jah, is that phrases like “white-privilege,” and “check-your-privilege,” are code-phrases, meant to remind white-people that we are all racists.”

“Well yeah, you know what I’m saying. It’s like some of you don’t even know you are racists but you do things, you talk in that way that white people talk, like you’re better or something. It’s just always that white attitude you people have. Like coming in here all happy and saying shit like 'Good Morning' 1. For white people it probably is a good morning, but black people know it’s a shitty morning, and it all go downhill from there.”

“What I hear you saying, is that you don’t like white people. You don’t like the way we talk or that we’re optimistic about the day. You think we’re all racists even though some of us don’t know it.  Is that’s what white-privilege means to you?”

“No! Man you people don’t listen! Check-your-privilege means that you had every advantage. You never went hungry, getting on the school bus already thinking about what they was serving for lunch, and waiting for four hungry hours before you got it. Then going home to a roach-infested apartment in the projects and having some kind of soul-food bullshit for dinner. You probably got a computer for your 2nd birthday and “mommy and daddy 1” sat down and helped you program it or some shit.”

“So, to you, “white-privilege” means having good parents who provide a clean home, food to eat, help with schooling, and oh yes a computer. Aren't there black children living in nice neighborhoods, with food to eat and gee-whiz even a computer? Conversely, aren't there white children who do live in the projects, go hungry some mornings, eat something cheap and nasty for dinner and don’t have a computer? It sounds to me like white-privilege means your own fury that some white kids have parents with a decent job.” (Elijah tried to overtalk me at several points while I was trying to get this statement/question out, but I ignored his interruptions and plowed on undeterred. When I finished I wasn’t sure how much of what I’d said he had actually heard, but this was his response, nevertheless.)

“White-privilege means that we—blacks—are still suffering the effects of forced slavery and Jim-Crow segregation. How are we, who've been treated the way we were, for four-hundred years! all of a sudden supposed to just jump up all happy and shit? Yes Suh, Massa, I’ll gets that done right away suh. I’s real grateful that you gimme this here project to lives in and these here hominy grits to eat on! Yes suh massa! I’s real grateful to you! 2

“E-li-jah,” I said—that was how he pronounced his name if you’ll remember—“E-li-jah, how old are you? No, it doesn't matter. You’re not four-hundred years old. You’re not even old enough to remember separate drinking fountains. Maybe your grandparents remember it, but you didn't ever have to use a separate bathroom or sit at the back of the bus. You claim some kind of debt owed on suffering you never lived through. It sounds to me like “Check Your Privilege,” means since you’re black and I’m white, I’m just supposed to accept—without any kind of argument, debate, or analysis—every shitty excuse you come up with for why it was fate and beyond your control that you’re such a complete and utter failure. (He tried over-talking me again of course. I finally had to pull out the bullhorn I keep under my chair.)

At this point he got up with a disgusted expression muttering something—probably racist and obscene. Well there you have it. “White privilege,” and “Check your privilege,” mean whatever the radical left-wing provocateur want them to mean. They are in their own way as nasty and demeaning as the N-word, and just as the N-word was meant to silence and degrade blacks 150 years ago, something similarly nasty has been concocted to silence dissent and degrade white people today.

[1] Making fun of crackers—Elijah had a way of speaking and acting when he spoke certain words and phrases. The words were uttered in a particular way that I felt was meant to be insulting to me. It reminded me of a black stand-up-comic mocking white people for the way they talk, with back straight, chest puffed out and head tilted forward. To me it seemed as though it was meant to be a parody of an old white lady, who’d just seen a rat.

[2] Making fun of Uncle Tom—Elijah seemed to have infinite contempt for black entrepreneurs and blacks who work in private enterprise and are successful. He had a sing-song way of mocking their speech and portrayed them with lots of grandiose arm-waving, and much bowing.  Finally he topped off his mockery with his over-the-top condescendingly poor grammar and manner of speech that he imagines “house” slaves used to talk like 150 years ago.

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