Bill O'Reilly, spewing his usual surrealistic nonsense, claimed on his show that white privilege does not exist. Charles Blow wrote a response
in the opinion section of the NYT:
Why would it be harder for blacks to succeed? Could interpersonal and, more important, systemic bias play a role? And, once one acknowledges the presence of bias as an impediment, one must by extension concede that being allowed to navigate the world without such biases is a form of privilege.
That privilege can be gendered, sexual identity based, religious and, yes, racial.
When one has the luxury of not being forced to compensate for societal oppression based on basic identity, one is in fact privileged in that society.
Obviously, I agree with this -- as far as it goes. But Blow has, in a way, lied by omission. Gender, sexual identity, race
-- what is missing from this list?
Money. Background. The accident of birth that may or may not place one within this nation's de facto
is the key factor (if you will forgive that O'Reilly-esque word) which commentators like Blow routinely ignore.
Our refusal to discuss class explains the continuing appeal of guys like O'Reilly and the other Fox newsers. Right wing propagandists address an audience of poor, working class white people who do not feel "privileged" at all -- in fact, many of them feel that they've been screwed. They're resentful. They have a right
to feel resentful, because they know that the fix is in and they are probably never going to get anywhere in life, no matter how hard they work.
The right-wing media infrastructure exists for one great purpose: To convince the white underclass to direct their rage at any target other than the class system.
On Fox, class is
a permissible topic of discussion -- but only when the target is a liberal who happens to have some money: The Clintons, Al Gore, Michael Moore, the Kennedy clan, Hollywood celebrities and so forth. If you are liberal and affluent, the Fox crowd will sneer at you endlessly -- but if you are a Republican, you can light your cigars with $100 bills while pissing on homeless people, and Bill O'Reilly won't say a word against you.
If Fox ever takes notice of Charles Blow, they can -- and will -- attack him on the basis of class. The attack will be obnoxiously hypocritical, but they will do it anyways.
Yes, Charles Blow is black, and I'm pretty sure that he did not come from money. (He grew up not far from where Bonnie and Clyde were shot.) Because he is black, he no doubt faced all sorts of unfair obstacles as he climbed up the ladder. But right now, he happens to be a well-educated New Yorker who has worked as an Art Director for major publications. He can get a piece into the New York Times, which you and I will never be able to do. He wears a suit and tie, and no doubt feels comfortable ordering food in fashionable restaurants. In short: He seems to have a fairly secure place in the upper middle class.
(Of course, the ruling
class will never invite him in. Someone who has worked his way into upper middle region will never get more than the occasional glimpse of what the patricians are doing. That's all they ever let you see: The occasional glimpse.)
Now, please don't misunderstand me: I'm sure that Blow worked hard to attain his position in society, and I feel confident that he deserves everything he has.
But let me paint a picture in your mind. Imagine Charles Blow in a face-to-face meeting with an uneducated, inarticulate white guy who just lost his job at Walmart. Maybe that guy lost his temper with a customer, or maybe illness and family tragedy caused him to have too many absences. For whatever reason, this unhappy Wally World alumnus has spent the past couple of weeks at home, simmering and stewing and drinking beer -- and probably watching a lot of Fox News.
Now imagine Blow -- resplendent in Armani, his belly filled with panzanella salad from URBO -- telling that white guy: "YOU are the one who is privileged, because your skin is pale."
Can you see the problem?
We need to figure out a way to talk to that ex-Walmart employee. Charles Blow doesn't know how to do it. In fact, I suspect that anything Blow would say is likely to piss that guy off.
Yes, white privilege is real. Yes, white privilege no doubt has made life in Ferguson and many other places infuriating, unjust, and intolerable. But an even more important problem in our society is class
privilege. We'll never get anywhere until we can address that topic.