“Don’t ever tell me we Americans live in a classless society. It’s a dirty lie. Most of us spend our entire lives looking up to and admiring athletes, celebrities and people with lots of power and money. We rarely insist they play by the same rules as everybody else. After all, they’re special. And we’re not.” — David T. Young in 2012 column
My dictionary defines privilege as:
- “A special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.”
- “Something regarded as a rare opportunity and bringing particular pleasure: I have the privilege of awarding you this scholarship.”
- “Absolute privilege — (in a parliamentary context) is the right to say or write something without the risk of incurring punishment or legal action for defamation.”
- “The right of a lawyer or official to refuse to divulge confidential information.”
- “Chiefly historical a grant to an individual, corporation, or place of special rights or immunities, especially in the form of a franchise or monopoly.”
- Verb — “exempt (someone) from a liability or obligation to which others are subject.”
I have written about privilege before on Townbroadcast, but I confined it to the political variety. This time I’ll examine privilege in the social and economic arena.
I thought about it while walking in Wayland and seeing a motorcyclist driving on the old interurban, on which there were many signs clearly posted, “No motorcycles allowed.” Unless the lad was illiterate, he deliberately ignored them. He did so because he believed he could get away with it.
His behavior is the same as people who litter our roadsides. I see evidence of their crimes daily if I walk and wonder what compelled them to toss the McDonald’s wrapper, juice box, fireworks remnants, etc., to the ground. Is it laziness, privilege (because they can) or thoughtlessness? Virtually no one is arrested for littering. And if authorities tried, they would be accused of practicing Nanny Government.
So many motorists talk on their cell phones while driving, even though we’ve been told by police that it might cause more traffic crashes than drunks. We do it because we can.
Police and military personnel have privileges, a fact that came to my attention when Grand Rapids cops were given free the United Church of Wayland’s leftover sausage rolls at festival. Then there are restaurants that will serve meals for free or reduced prices to cops and military personnel, but not to the common rabble. Don’t forget Wayland’s public relations campaign signs declaring, “We stand behind the thin blue line… Just say thanks.” Do teachers, doctors, EMTs, nurses and other public servants get the same?”
The Wall Street banking crowd was privileged in that none of them were arrested for stealing public money, losing it in a casino captalism scam, and then forcing taxpayers to bail them out.
Just as with littering, so many of us are guilty of driving faster than the speed limit… because we can. Those who observe speed limits are targets for road rage.
I don’t like church parking lots with special choice places “Reserved for pastor,” but they’re privately owned and not taxed.
Circuit Court judges like retired Richard Shuster in Barry County and George Corsiglia in Allegan County who were abusive and showed nothing but contempt for any defendant in their courtroom. I personally witnessed it.
Cornerstone University almost kicked me out of the high school holiday tournament because I objected to its discriminary policy of not allowing stats to be seen by written media until after it had been perused first by broadcast media.
But the Grand Rapids Press and later MLive.com has extended favoritism to the Santa Claus Girls, giving them front page coverage every issue between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It has that right because that’s the GR Press’ sponsored charity, not the American Cancer Society, the United Way, the Red Cross or others who scramble for any crumb of publicity they can get. MLive and television news media give far more coverage to Art Prize than Festival, I am told because the former generates more money and it’s led by a member of the DeVos family.
Of course, money drives everything. As Clarence Darrow said, “Justice is like sugar or salt. The amount you get is regulated by the amount of money you have.”
I don’t have to explain the well-to-do’s choice first-class seats on the plane or the very best seats at athletic ballgames. They’re rich. They’ve earned it.
One instance that nearly cost me my job was my refusal to write an extensive feature story and take pictures of J-Ad Graphics President John Jacobs’ daughter’s girls’ freshman basketball team, which went 18-2 one season. Middleville’s freshman team went 19-1 at the same time and we didn’t do a story and pictures about them because it was long-standing policy to give the best coverage to the varsity.
Mr. Jacobs said he didn’t care, he wanted a story and photos and he owned the joint. Was it only because his daughter was a team member? Does a bear defecate in the woods? Some of my colleagues defended Mr. Jacobs by asserting what he was doing was being sweet to his daughter.
That reminded me of when Gov. Jeb Bush had his daughter check into rehab rather than be sent to prison for serious drug violations. Jane Doe and Jo Blow go to jail or prison. Bush’s daughter, however, gets special treatment. Rush Limbaugh escaped prosecution for his addiction to Oxycontin. He didn’t serve a day behind bars, like so many bothers.
I’ve heard a lot about white privilege. I believe it exists, but privilege is a disease that is so widespread in America that we don’t even recognize it.
Author Peggy McIntosh of Wellesley College wrote a book about it and listed 46 examples of privilege. Right-wing blowhards dismissed her out of hand, but she presented a lot of evidence. She wrote, “Some people benefit from unearned, and largely unacknowledged, advantages, even when those advantages aren’t discriminatory.”
She was right.
This unpleasant fact makes Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan’s immortal “Like a Rolling Stone” so relevant about how so many revel in the fall of the privileged and mighty:
“One upon a time you dressed so fine, threw the bums a dime… didn’t you?
“People call, say beware of a fall, you thought they were all… kiddin’ you.
“You used to laugh about, everybody that was hangin’ out.
“Now you don’t talk so loud, Now you don’t seem so proud. About havin’ to be scroungin’ your next meal.”