A failure of white privilege

Melvin B. Miller | 1/11/2017, 10:20 a.m.
Political pundits have not yet offered an acceptable explanation of why many of those who had voted for Barack Obama ...
“Man, I guess that white privilege didn’t come my way.” Photo by Dan Drew

Political pundits have not yet offered an acceptable explanation of why many of those who voted for Barack Obama would years later vote for Donald Trump. Perhaps the answer lies in the failure of white privilege to function as expected. There is a mistaken assumption that white privilege must always involve racial discrimination.

The American Dream is often stated as embodied in the principle, “If you work hard and follow the rules, success is assured.” That always has been true for only the oligarchs and their friends and family. Prime professional and business opportunities have been readily available only to the male graduates of the Ivy League and other top universities. Other graduates of any hue need not apply.

This pattern of privilege excludes all but a few African Americans as well as most educated whites. Some blacks seem to believe that there is a conspiracy to exclude blacks; however, there need not be organized rejection — it is automatic. For a while after the Civil Rights Act was passed, some blacks asserted that whites in power plotted to establish impediments for blacks to prosper. Sociologists later conceded that blacks were actually the victims of “benign neglect.”

As long as whites were enjoying the benefits of so-called “white privilege,” they could support any political party that made it happen. But when economic circumstances caused a deterioration in their status, it was easy to find fault with blacks. A dynamic remedy was required.

In the 1950s only about 5 percent of Americans age 25 and over had attained a bachelor’s degree. That percentage has now risen to about 32 percent. Employment opportunities for college grads have been less promising as their numbers increased and it became clear that “white privilege” worked best only for the upper class. “We are the 99 percent” was the slogan of those who were not from those families in the top 1 percent with incomes of about $343,927 or more as of 2014.

Add to the above factor the number of those employed in manufacturing who feel threatened by the changing economy, and the number becomes substantial. Trump also was able to encourage the bigots to vote for a like-minded public official. That aspect of the campaign created the appearance of the dominance of racial prejudice.