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The myth of white privilege clouds reality of white entitlement

“Things were getting out of hand in the skirmishes between the alt-right and what I would describe as the outside agitators who wanted to encourage violence.”

– David J. Toscano, Virginia House of Delegates Democratic Leader

Let’s stop calling it white privilege and call it what it really is, white entitlement. I’ve grown tired of people going on and on about so-called white privilege. The dictionary definition of privilege states that it is “a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most.”

What many call white privilege is not some kind of right that white people deserve based on something they’ve done to deserve this right. It’s acquired at birth by those with white skin. The early European colonists claimed this privilege by violent suppression and murdering of the indigenous population of this place they supposedly “discovered.” They cleared space by killing those in their way. There is no disputing this. In fact, the nation celebrates this murderous rampage against the people then known as simply savages.

Later came the idea of justifying these actions by using the term manifest destiny. They claimed God wanted them to have the land they were stealing by hook and crook. This Christian nation plundered the original nations of North America with no apologies. They did not see it as something other than what they deserved to have. If these so-called savages were not going to develop the land, they did not deserve it the argument went. These privileges evolved into entitlements. To define terms once again, to entitle is “to give (a person or thing) a title, right, or claim to something.”

The operative word is “give.” This is what the events in Charlottesville are about. These individuals and their boundless quiet supporters are seeing things that they assumed would be their birthright not being given to them as freely any longer. Well actually they are still there, but others (immigrants and people of color) are receiving some of these things that white people have grown accustomed to having exclusively. The alt-right is about expressing this loss of entitlement. When Trump spoke of “making America great again” he was talking about giving whites what they had grown accustomed to being given.

It’s not white skin privilege. Most privilege is earned or deserved in some way. When I served in the military, officers had privileges that enlisted members did not have. They earned these privileges by becoming officers. Those with higher credit scores earn the privilege of lower interest rates because they’ve done a better job managing their credit. Although both of these examples may be seen as unfair, something led to these privileges being granted.

Have whites been granted privilege based on something other than murdering natives, enslaving Africans and natives and subsequently devaluing their lives with discriminatory systems and institutions being created to maintain this status?

When the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement demanded equal treatment and equal protection under the law, they were met by fierce resistance by whites. As the demographics of our nation shift to a darker hue, the resistance takes the form of which we’ve just witnessed in Charlottesville. These people are not fringe racists and fascists. They speak for many. The growth of these types of organizations began with the election of Obama and has spiked under the age of Trump. Some use the language of dog whistle politics to express the same views. Toning down the language does not equate to changing the message. There are enough of us that can read between the lines to understand clearly what is being articulated.

Dr. King and his followers were labeled outside agitators. The counter protesters in Charlottesville were called the same by the Democratic minority leader of Virginia’s House this weekend. Anything that appears to tilt the playing field in the direction of fairness is considered agitation.

White people have enjoyed the entitlements bestowed upon themselves by this nation for so long that they see it as something they deserve. Not simply a privilege but something that their forefathers handed down to them. The movement which took the nation by storm during our most recent presidential election, a white backlash to eight years of a black president is rearing its ugly head.

Those who want to describe Colin Kapernick as some horrible person are the same people who call the Black Lives Matter movement terrorists. The same president who speaks ill of those protests, refuses to call these white terrorists around the country what they are. He instead says those on both sides are at fault for Charlottesville.

This is by definition what white entitlement embodies. You reserve the right to define things how you see them and demand that the rest of us accept your definition. No one learns the depths of the massacre of the native population or of the injustice of placing them on so-called reservations where they are by far the most impoverished people in this land. No one seems to see the irony in taking the land from these people by overwhelming military force and calling it settlement of the West.

Not many know the details of the Homestead Act which until 1976 gave this stolen land to mostly white people at a Walmart like discount. Social Security and unemployment insurance was denied to most black people for nearly twenty years by white entitlement. The benefits of the GI Bill were denied to blacks by white entitlement. Mass lynchings were allowed by the nation on a massive scale by white entitlement.

If we’ve learned anything from the events this weekend and the presidential response it is that those who want to maintain white entitlement have spoken loudly. They are willing to beat, kill and maim to get their entitlement. This is not new. This is American history. Those who have been its victims have been shouting this from rooftops for years. Will this weekend wake up the silent masses of whites, even those who call themselves progressives to the reality of how we’re moving into a very dark place? Change is the only constant in life. Can white people handle this change?

About The Author

Reggie Jackson

As the Community Relations Writer for the Milwaukee Independent, Reggie Jackson covers a range of African American issues. He is also a former Board Chairman of the Dr. James Cameron Legacy Foundation, which is the parent organization of America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM), and currently serves as the museum’s Head Griot (docent).

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