I recently read a promotional op-ed article about something called a “White Privilege Conference.” I must say that I take great exception to the existence and promotion of such a conference. I am white and come from a town of mostly white, hard-working Americans. My direct ancestors came to this country with barely two nickels to rub together, worked and toiled in coal mines, on railroads, and in factories until they could get enough money together to send for their wives and children. They didn’t have much but learned how to live responsibly and frugally, going without many luxuries and no “safety net” to save them when things got tough. They worked unbelievably hard and earned every penny they made.
My entire life, most of the people I’ve known have gotten up every day and went to work in the hot, dirty, dust-filled factories in my hometown, as did most of their parents before them. Everything they have, they worked for. Although some in my family have been more successful than others, most have made an effort to live responsibly and within their means. I was never lacking of anything, but I was also not spoiled. I began working when I was 15 years old and have worked ever since. I’m currently a janitor. I didn’t get my job because I’m white; I got it because I showed up every day, worked hard (part-time until I was hired full-time), and showed that I could be an asset to the organization. In fact, I can’t think of anything that I’ve gotten in this world that either myself or my family didn’t work for.
To me a “White Privilege Conference” is extremely counter-productive; it goes completely against Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of being judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character. In fact, our society seems to be increasingly obsessed with highlighting race, gender, or sexual orientation whenever the opportunity presents itself—at times even going out of its way to do so. (That’s my experience, at least.)
I could go on and on about the problems and challenges of those who struggle around or below the poverty line—and offer some possible causes and solutions—but for now I only wish to say that a “White Privilege Conference” isn’t, in my opinion, part of the solution; it only adds to the problems. It divides and separates us, and in the end creates an environment ripe for negativity to flourish. It creates, in my opinion, a false narrative that can then be used against certain persons or groups of people in numerous negative ways, creating new wounds in the process.
All of us, regardless of race or gender, deserve better.
Excerpted from Them and Us: A Philosophy of Freedom by Adam Soto