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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Fortunate Son


“I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it. If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
-- President Lyndon Johnson, as recorded by staffer Bill Moyers, 1964, while campaigning for the Civil Rights Act


Your privilege is showing

That’s what she said.

I was talking about optimism on Twitter and she cut me off. Your privilege is showing, she said.

Yes, I agreed. My point being that … and she dismissed anything else I had to say and blocked me to prevent any further conversation. And that, as they say, was the end of that.

And that was her privilege, I guess.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.


Your privilege is showing.

Fair enough, I suppose.

I mean, it’s true. I am privileged. I’m white, male, and straight. And more.

What? You think I don’t know that?

Heh heh. Right.

Right.

Let me tell it long, since that’s what I’m best at anyway.

My mom is a child of The Great Depression. And this begins there, in that time.

My mom’s dad kept a journal. Every day of his life, my grandfather would enter at least one line in his journal, the weather, any money that he’d made, jobs he’d done, people he’d met. Unlike his grandson, he wasn’t long-winded. He typically wrote just that one line each day, a brief summary and no more. They don’t say much, each of those entries individually, but taken together they speak volumes. Literally. He left behind a dozen diaries at the end of his long life.

Those journals were passed down to his children when he died. My mother – the family historian – has gone through those books, carefully, years, decades, one line at a time. Scanning them into electronic format, inserting them into the family history. Of course, she lived though much of the events described in those books so there’s not much in there that is news to her.  Rather, the entries serve as prods, reminders, and provide actual numbers, dates, figures, context, a skeleton to hang her memories on.

You see, my grandfather, he didn’t have much in the way of education. He never made it past elementary school, he never had the opportunity.  Grandpa was, well, charitably speaking, strong willed. He knew what he knew and he never had much use for those with fancy educations. Paradoxically, he wanted his own kids to go to school, but then he dismissed anything they learned when it conflicted with his own worldview – a trait that’s hardly unique as such things go, but still aggravates at least one of his daughters many decades later.  When the Great Depression came along, Grandpa had three young children and a wife and not much else. Without an education, or a trade, he was what the history books call a “laborer.” And unfortunately for him, the world was suddenly filled with unskilled and unemployed laborers. All of them with hungry, homeless families of their own.

So, Grandpa did whatever he could. He delivered milk for local farmers. He borrowed teams of horses and tilled fields. He picked apples and dug potatoes. He plowed snow. He did odd jobs, carpentry, digging ditches, whatever he could find. Most times, if he was lucky, he’d get paid in kind. My mom said that the wages for a week’s worth of backbreaking work might be a bushel of potatoes, and that was a good week.

And this is where those journals come in. He logged every bushel of potatoes or basket of beans or peck of apples or whatever bit of money he might bring home.

And so we don’t have to guess about certain things that happened 80 years ago, because he wrote them down.

In 1938, a First Class stamp cost 3 cents, a gallon of gas was a dime, and a movie ticket would run you a quarter.

The average income in 1938 was $1,731 per year. If you were lucky to have a job.

Grandpa? He made $8o that year.

But here’s the funny thing: he was one of the lucky ones.

Oh yes.

He was lucky, even down there on the bottom end of the income scale. Poor. Impoverished. As lean as it was, they made it. They got by. Grandpa didn’t have to leave home and ride the rails to find work like so many others. He was there, home most nights with his family. They had a place to live, with relatives, but they had a place. My grandparents lost a child. My mom and her siblings had to go out back to the outhouse in the Midwestern winter, they didn’t have much to eat, they were cold a lot, but they got by.

They survived the Great Depression.

But they were lucky in another way too.

One day, my mom brought home a friend from school, like kids do.

The friend wasn’t white.

I honestly don’t remember what ethnicity the friend was, not African American, but not white either.

My grandparents were scrupulously polite to their guest. But after she’d left, my mother was given strict instructions to never, ever, bring home such a person again.

And the reason?

My God, what would the neighbors think?

What would the neighbors think?

See, even there, at the bottom of the economic ladder, living hand to mouth, day by day, one precious bushel of potatoes to the next, in the midst of The Great Depression, they still had … that.

They were white.

That moment, seven or eight decades on now, is still vivid to my mom. She tells me that story and she’s still outraged by it. But, it’s instructive. It says much about how our society, the one we live in now, came to be. This wasn’t the Segregated South. This was Michigan. And those attitudes weren’t unique to my grandparents, they were quite common.


You don’t think I know that I’m privileged? You think my own history doesn’t remind me of that?


War followed The Great Depression.

I had an uncle who was a Navy corpsman on the beaches at Normandy, and another who was a Seabee at Midway.

They were just ordinary men, ordinary Americans, who went to fight for their country when called.

They fought alongside black men, African-Americans, who were also ordinary men who also went to fight for their country when called.

My uncles came home to parades and a newly burgeoning middle class, to opportunity and good jobs, brand new homes in the newly created suburbs. The privations of the Depression and war were behind them. Hollywood made movies about them, and up on the screen John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Red Buttons, Eddie Albert and Richard Burton immortalized their heroic actions in the Pacific and on the beaches of Europe.

But the men they’d fought beside? The African-Americans of the 92nd Infantry Division, the Tuskegee Airmen, the cooks and stewards on every navy warship? Those men came home to second class citizenship, to Jim Crow, to discrimination in nearly every facet of their lives. Nobody made movies about them. It never even occurred to anybody do so. Not back then.

Then came the Fifties.

That wonderful decade. That single moment in American history, right? When everything was perfect.

No?

You’re going to tell me about Korea and McCarthyism and Segregation?

I’ll do you one better. I’ll give you a time machine and let you sample the 1950s directly for yourself.

Ever watch Grit? The TV Channel, “TV with backbone.” There are a number of similar cable channels. Here you will find Death Valley Days in perpetual rerun. Laramie, Gunsmoke, Tales of Wells Fargo, Have Gun Will Travel, Stories of the Century, The Rifleman, Rawhide, Wagon Train, and, of course, Bonanza. In between, the movies: High Noon, Shane, The Gunfighter, The Man from Laramie, The Big Country, Bend in the River, Bad Day at Black Rock, Broken Arrow, Hondo, Rio Bravo, Forty Guns, and the classic Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

What do the 1850s have to do with the 1950s?

Well, you see, my mother-in-law lives with us. She grew up back when those shows were popular. She doesn’t process modern material very well, but she remembers Miss Kitty and Marshal Matt Dillon and Jess Harper  and The Virginian well enough. And so we keep the big TV in the living room on the Grit channel, and for much of the day she enjoys the old shows. And if she loses the plot, well, most of those episodes were similar enough that if you miss part of one and pick up another, it doesn’t really ruin the story, even if they are different shows.

What’s this got to do with privilege?

Watch.

Take a day, take a week, and watch. Watch the 1950s.

Every character is white. There isn’t a person of color anywhere in that uniquely American narrative, I know, I’ve looked for them. Every once in a while you’ll get a movie set near the Civil War, then perhaps there will be a black face or two among the cast. Caricatures, either Mammy or Stepin Fetchit. And Native Americans fared even worse. At least the black characters were played by black actors, the Injuns were always white men in loincloths and rouge. Or sombreros and cork, depending on how close to the border things were. And for comic relief, there was always Ching, or Chang, or whatever the lone Asian character in every western laundry was named (I looked up the role in John Wayne’s 1963 vanity project McClintock! Ching, played by H.W. Gim wasn’t even credited, despite having a fairly large speaking role for an Asian actor at that time. Veddy Funnie! Veddy Funnie!). Every stereotype exists on the lone prairie of the 1950s, from wise native sidekick to the endless white women who got themselves raped to death by rutting bucks on the warpath. And those women, a more helpless lot of pearl clutchers there never were. Thank the White Christian God there were all those manly men to keep them safe. Every problem is resolved with a gun or a sound thrashing. Or both. Every week the savages are routed again, and handsome white men saved the day with their trusty six-shooters or that weird sawed-off saddle-gun Steve McQueen carried in Wanted: Dead Or Alive.  If the woman’s man was killed, he was a weak sissy anyway, and by the end of the episode she’d found herself a better one to keep her safe.

Want to guess how many LGBT people you might see? Or disabled? Or Non-Christian?

Decades later, black cowboys appeared, alongside actual Native American actors, maybe even a few strong female characters. But not back then, not in the 1950s, that perfect decade of America.

You watch those shows, in endless rotation, you can see it.

You can see the attitudes and the not-so hidden forces that shaped modern America’s outlook.

The 50s were perfect. If you were white.

If you weren’t, you were invisible. Uncredited.


You don’t think I see it? That the heroes of all of those shows, the heroic narrative that still underlies America to this day and shaped my parents’ generation, you don’t think I noticed that those men all look just like me?


I grew up in the Midwest not far from where my own parents were born.

It was the 1960s by then, Vietnam, Civil Rights, the world was coming apart at the seams.

But not for me.

I lived in a small safe modern town. One of those new suburbs, built in the 50s after the war. I grew up in a new house, one my parents had built. We weren’t rich, not by any stretch of the imagination, far from it. I think everybody in town was better off than us. My parents had some hard times, but we got by. Somehow, like their parents before, they always found a way to make it through. I’m pretty sure my mom went without lunch a few times, so that we kids had enough to eat. I remember a few nights when we ate pancakes, because that’s all there was. But we got through.

And war was a long way away. I had a cousin serving over there, but then who didn’t? The protests in Washington and LA and New York didn’t touch us other than as stories on the news.

More, the race riots in Detroit, Newark, Memphis, and Los Angeles passed us by. It would have been hard for black people to raise a riot in my town. Mostly because for all intents and purposes, there were no black people.  I didn’t know any. There were no black students in my elementary school, none in Jr High, maybe one – a exchange student I think – in high school.

Let me tell you about the first time I encountered a black man.

It was at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Not the new one, but the fabulous old art deco building on Jefferson Avenue, designed by Roger Allen and built by the WPA back in the 1940s. I don’t know how old I was, not very. Five, six maybe. We’d gone on a field trip from school, dozens of screaming First Graders having a wonderful adventure under the bones of the museum’s famous blue whale skeleton in the main gallery. There were other schools there, of course, including at least one black one. Those children were as strange and alien to me as the exhibits. But like us, they were all running to and fro, as the teachers tried desperately to corral us all into our proper groups for return to the buses and our boring old lives back in the suburbs. As I dodged around a display, a huge hand suddenly grasped me by the shoulder and pulled me up short and I looked up startled to see a black man on the other end of that arm. He wasn’t looking at me, he was just grabbing children, trying to gather up his own flock no doubt and I’d gotten snagged by accident.

He had several other children, dark skinned with wide white eyes staring at me, the alien now. He held them by the collars with his other hand and he was shouting to for the rest of the class.

He glanced down …

… and his hand opened in shock, releasing me.

It’s been a long, long time, fifty years or near enough, but I can still remember the look on his face.

He was afraid.

Of me.

Chastised, I scampered over to my teacher. I remember the look they exchanged, white teacher and black. The look on his face while he waited to see what would happen next. There was a nod, mutual understanding, and then we were all headed for the buses.

I don’t know if he ever thought about that moment again, but me? I’ve often wondered about that man, in the years since.

I can still see him. I’m sure I would recognize him today.

I never forgot the look on his face.

A black man who’d accidentally grabbed a white child in a public place in 1967.

While not far away Detroit burned.


You don’t think I know? You don’t think that even as a kid, I knew?


I was a lousy student.

My parent weren’t rich, or even modestly well off.

Everybody I knew went off to college, got married, got jobs, became something.

Not me. I stuck out a few classes at the local Junior College for a few years, worked a few factory jobs, worked in a few restaurants, had a girlfriend or two. But I wasn’t going anywhere.

So I joined the military.

I was able-bodied enough to do so. I had the aptitude they needed.  I didn’t have any better prospects. So I enlisted. Why not?

But it was more than that.

Looking back, I had the luxury of being a lousy student. My grandparents never had that option. A bushel of potatoes was important to them, they would never have squandered a chance at education, a chance to get ahead.  My uncles, in that war, they didn’t get the option. They signed up because the country needed them. Those invisible people in the movies of the fifties, the comic relief, the stereotypes, the caricatures in those old movies, they never had the luxury of not working. They took whatever came along, because they had to, no matter how demeaning. That black man from the museum, did he serve? Did he join up? Back when doing so wasn’t an adventure, but a chance at getting killed while peeling potatoes and washing the white soldiers’ laundry?

I don’t know.

But I was good at it.

I joined up as a nobody – like everybody else. Twenty years later I was an officer, with a wife and son and a college degree, the experience of having led men and women in war, and having served with and for men, women, black and white, gay and straight, and with a much, much broader understanding of the world and the people in it. Having walked the soil of six continents, having seen oppression and hate and bigotry and injustice in every corner of the globe – most at the hands of men who looked just like me.

I retired as a Chief Warrant Officer. In the navy, that’s something. People tend to scamper out of your way pretty goddamned quick indeed.  You tend to get only the shittiest of missions, but it’s because those are the jobs only someone like you can do. That’s what they pay you for. The rank commands enormous respect. Uniquely so. And only a small handful ever pin on those bars.

How did I make it so far, when others didn’t?

Was it skill? Experience? Aptitude? Determination? I’d like to think so.

But the military is still to this day overwhelmingly a white man’s world.


You think I don’t know? You think I don’t wonder?


And now, here I am.

Somehow, in some way that I’m not quite sure, I’m here.

Somehow, I became a successful writer.

And I am successful. A hell of a lot more successful than most.  A quarter of a million people read me damned near every day across multiple platforms. I’ve got a loyal fan base that stalks me at conventions and asks for my autograph. They wear T-shirts with my likeness and clutch pens with my logo stamped on the shaft and I can’t make either fast enough. I churn out words, and they get shared (or stolen), across Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and a dozen other platforms before I can finish correcting the typos. Editors and publishers contact me and ask for contributions to their various projects or ask me to give up what I do and join their organization. I know writers who’ve penned a dozen best-sellers, books that have been turned into Hollywood blockbusters, who post comments online and nobody reads them. I post a picture of my goddamned cat, and it’s shared a thousand times.

I often feel like an impostor.

Which is not at all unusual for a writer.

But authors that I’ve read and admired for years, decades in some cases, come to me for help, for advice, for promotion – and I think, goddamn, I should be asking you for advice, and sometimes I do, and they give it and that ain’t nothing because a writer’s time is the thing they have the least of. They do it because we are friends, colleagues, and how in the hell did that happen? I fuck around on Facebook, they write real books. They are writers, I’m a blogger, at best a columnist. And yet, my endorsement can make a book a best seller. And my ire can destroy a person, when a hundred thousand flying monkeys descent on some hapless miscreant who had the temerity to cross me online. And I’ve used that power for both things, sometimes to my shame. I’ve also used it to get a rescue team and a planeload of supplies to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and to raise $15,000 in one night for a family who had lost their father, and for a number of other causes that you don’t need to know about. It evens out.

I worked to get here.

Ten years it took. Of writing every day. It turned into fame of a sort. And into a real job, one that takes all of my time, 14, 18 hours a day, seven days a week sometimes. It pays well enough. Well enough that I could pay for my son’s college tuition (who is a far, far better student than I ever was), well enough that my wife could give up her career and everything she’d worked for and we could move cross-continent to take care of her ailing mother. Well enough that I can help others when the opportunity arises.

Why am I successful at this when so many other more talented writers are not? Is it my skill? My experience? My background? Luck? Happenstance? Right time, right place, just as the world of writing changed?

Why did this new medium, this new publishing model, allow me to jump over writers who’ve been busting their collective asses since before I was born? That’s a privilege I bet you didn’t see coming, but I think about it nearly every day.

Why?

I don’t honestly know.

But you have to wonder if I would have been this successful if I’d been black. Or gay. Or female. Or less than able-bodied. Or less privileged in some way.

You have to wonder if doors opened for me, because of who I am, that would have been locked for others.

I don’t honestly know. Because I’m not those people and I never lived their lives.

I’m white.

I’m male.

I’m straight.

I’m still mostly able-bodied and nimble of mind.

I’m at an age where men become dignified, and women get discarded for a younger model.

I’m certainly not rich and I don’t dare stop working for even a minute, but in nearly every other way, I benefit from this society simply because I am who I am.


You think I don’t know that?


Do you honestly think I don’t know?

The best I can do, is be aware – woke, in the popular parlance of our time – and acknowledge that privilege exists and I more than most benefit from it.


No. No.


Wait.


Wait. No. That’s wrong. Scratch that. That’s not the best I can do.


We were talking about optimism.

A few weeks back, before Christmas as congress went in to vote on the Republican tax reform bill, someone asked me on Twitter, “What can we do!”

Nothing, I answered.

Not a goddamned thing.

It’s too late. The time to have done something was in 2010, when you gave up the House.

The time to have done something was in 2014, when you gave up the Senate.

The time to have done something was a year ago, when you couldn’t bring yourself to vote for the “lesser of evils.”

Now? Now there’s not a goddamned thing you can do. The opportunity, the opportunities plural, have passed.

Please, don’t. I’m not attacking you. Don’t take it personally. I’m sure you did something. My comments were directed at a momentary audience, at a passing situation on social media. They were made as a general statement about a particular situation. So unclench, push away the keyboard, let me finish. Please.

Please.

Your privilege is showing, someone sneered.

How dare you, straight, white, able-bodied man, tell anyone who to vote for? How to be a citizen? How to anything?

How dare you lay this pessimism on us?

That’s what the initial anger was about, they’d taken my pragmatic comment as pessimism.

I’m not certain pragmatism is privilege. But OK. perhaps.

But that didn’t change the fact that men of privilege, those elected to power, were about to pass a law and there was not one goddamned thing any of us could do about it.

But they wanted me to come up with something, and they were outraged when I didn’t. When I produced … pragmatism.

So, that’s it?

Depression, Stonekettle? You’ve given up? There’s no hope?

Hang on, no, I answered. No. You misunderstand. There’s no hope about the tax bill, they are going to pass that. It’s inevitable. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for the future. That doesn’t mean this course can’t be reversed – and by course I don’t just mean tax giveaways to billionaires, I mean the whole thing. Civil rights. LGBT rights. Healthcare. The courts. Social safety nets. Peace. All of the damage this horrible administration is doing to our future.

But it’s going to be hard. We’re going to go backwards first.

There’s no escaping it now.

What you mistake for depression is pragmatism.

And you’re going to have to face it.

But, there is always hope. Of course there is. We’ll recover. We’ll take back our society. We’ll prevail.

That’s what I said.


And if you think they were mad about depression, they were outraged by optimism.


How dare you?

How dare you tell us it will be OK, they said. Fuck you, Cis White Man, ableist, your privilege is showing.

Your privilege is showing.

Well … yeah.

Of course my privilege is showing.

There’s no way to hide it, even if I was so inclined. Which I am not.

I’m not going to lie about who I am. I’m not going to dismiss it, or pretend that it doesn’t exist.

And so, the best I can do is to use that privilege to help others. To write about it. To call it out whenever and wherever. To get it out in front of half a million people. To get the supplies where they need to go.  To raise the funds. To lend a voice. To listen. To be an ally. To be a general if need be.

To be pragmatic when necessary.

Like my grandfather, perhaps my role in the coming fight is to record it, line by line, day by day, so that future generations will know that we were here.

Maybe you’ll cut off conversation and walk away.

Maybe you don’t need me.

But I volunteer just the same.

Why?

Because it’s what I’m good at.

And because optimism must never, ever be solely the privilege of a few.

It should be the birthright of us all.


Cassian Andor: The temple's been destroyed, but she'll be there waiting. We'll give her your name and hope that gets us a meeting with Saw.
Jyn Erso: Hope?
Andor: Yeah. Rebellions are built on hope.
-- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

136 comments:

  1. Well written. I really enjoyed this one, Jim. Our experiences are slightly different and I'm a bit older than you are, having grown up in the Jim Crow south, but I understand the message and have said the same thing to others myself. White privilege, especially white male privilege needs to be acknowledged for what it is and you've done that here. Congratulations. Very well done. :)

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    1. Over the last year or so I have been wondering a lot about our progression of racism in this country, often specifically the Jim Crow south...I try to imagine what it must have been like when colored fountains, schools, and such became a thing of the past....How outraged people were and they were not afraid to show it, how they seemed to feel no shame at their own actions towards other human beings. I wonder how I would have been if I had grown up during that time, because there simply just was no shame.
      Even today...there seems to be so little shame...we (collectively), still seem to see ourselves as better than...still...even though we won't admit it....There is always those commenters who will dismiss this idea of white privilege, because their own lives are hard. They can't see that if comparing apples to apples, they still have whiteness...and even still this gives them keys to doors not available to some shades of *other*.

      My mind drifts to the end of WWII when we made Germany keep their concentration camps as a shameful reminder (while we took down our own camps and left but small placards behind)...We knew what was going on over there well before we invaded, but we didn't care...the only thing we hated more than Jews back then, were blacks, so they were not on our radar. We had signs on our store fronts that read *No dogs or Japs allowed*. We had hate, and we had shame..but we don't seem to own it. I am lately of the mind that the only reason we made Germany keep their camps up in the first place was because their actions came from a religious standpoint...*our religion*...We revisit the autorcities, but never do we do the same to Stalin's Russia (he was responsible for many more deaths than Hitler, but it wasn't a religious things, so it's often overlooked).

      Anyway...I am rambling...but I would love to know a little more about your experience in the Jim Crow south, especially the transition away from it (for lack of a better term)

      Delete
  2. My parents did OK during the depression. My dad's parents were rich, and my mom was in a Canadian boarding school that her mother sacrificed pretty much everything to pay for. I don't think either one of them ever really connected with dirt-poor reality thereafter.

    I watched all those westerns. Every one the networks spewed out, including obscurities like Yancey Derringer and Johnny Ringo--except on Saturday nights when my dad wanted to watch the fights and I waned to watch Have Gun, Will Travel. Paladin was no match for boxing.

    The shows weren't completely devoid of nonwhite characters. The Cartwrights had caricature Hop Sing, and Rawhide had caricature Hay Soos (yup, that's how it was spelled in the TV guide). Burt Reynolds got his butt kicked as a "half breed" week after week. Beyond that, it was Lebanese Michael Ansara playing Cochise.

    I was just a kid (born in 1950) so I never thought anything of it at the time, nor did I think anything about the "colored entrance" to the local movie theater. I sure have thought about that stuff a lot in later years, though.

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  3. Hard to maintain, optimism and hope are, but desperately needed. Hang in there.

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  4. That was as deep and well thought out expression of life that I've ever read. So much of my life as well. I didn't go the military route, but retired after 36 years as a HS science teacher. And seen and objected to all these injustices when I finally recognized them. When you're a fish in water, it might take a while to realize that that you're actually soaking in a toxic stew. Thanks, Jim.

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  5. Beautifully said. I am a bit older than you, and female, but I have some white privilege moments of my own, that remind me of what the mere circumstances of birth can mean in a negative or positive way, through no achievement of our own, and trying to determine how much of any achievement IS our own without that advantage, is hard sometimes. It is also something that has more than once abashed and embarrassed me. What you do, is what you are doing. You are a good and decent person, who never stops thinking, and I thank you for that.

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    1. I taught my children that being white, upper middle class was an accident of birth, that they weren't better than anyone else, just luckier than most.

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  6. Clear as a bell writing, thank you. Roberta - Texas
    FYI - Typos:
    "...Those men came home to second class citizenship, to Jim Crow, to discrimination in nearly every facet of their lives. Nobody made "made" movies about them. It never even occurred to anybody do so. Not back then."

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    1. (tagging on as I don't have comment privileges)

      Wonderfully written. Lots of things resonate and we can all use a reminder.

      Another typo - when a hundred thousand flying monkeys descent (descend) on some hapless miscreant who had the temerity to cross me online.

      Delete
    2. ....Go back to your Nazi esque editing school and let the flawed humans be human. Just sayin'

      Delete
    3. Cheyenne,

      Jim requests that people alert him to typos, etc. They are NOT being snarky.

      Delete
  7. Excellent essay. Thank you for writing it. Here I am, a white privileged woman married to an Hispanic man given a life sentence for an accident 21 years ago, full-time unemployed student working on a Masters, and I can still see my privilege. My extended family cannot see their privilege as they get angry about those that take the knee at football games, as they deny climate change and say it's made up by evil liberals, as they go to church and read their Bibles thinking they are so much better than everyone else. Last night as my elderly parents were watching John Wayne and complaining about how good the old days were, my husband was in prison where the heat doesn't work and his cell was 34 degrees. The disconnect is unreal. All I can do is what I am doing - pursuing higher education to work in criminal justice reform at the legislative level someday. This white woman is not going to back down. I will be the voice for those that have no voice, or die trying.

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    1. I love your reply Deborah. The last two sentences had me wanting to stand up right here in my living room and applaud, I felt your conviction in my heart.

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  8. I think that's what enrages me the most about this entire regime - it was entirely preventable, and ignorant and/or bigoted and/or arrogant people chose not to, and now we all are in the shit. I don't think I'll ever be able to forgive that. People are going to suffer and die from this. People already have. And all because some people couldn't see past the ends of their own stuck-up spoiled noses and be pragmatic.

    Brilliant as always, sir. You are indeed a much-needed voice of light, reason, and pragmatism in these new dark ages. Thank you.

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  9. Powerful and important, as almost always! I am a few years older, joined the Navy in 68, worked hard in Tonkin Gulf for 4 years then went to college, got a job, lived a life.
    I try to be as aware as possible for my fellow beings - human and otherwise. grew up in Richmond, CA - next to Berkeley when it was quite crazy. I got into SF starting at age 10 and have always tried to be optimistic, but it has not always been easy. I don't want to ramble too much here, but what you do is very important and I will keep reading every damn time!

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  10. Clear as a bell writing, thank you.
    Roberta - Texas

    FYI- extra word in sentence:
    "Those men came home to second class citizenship, to Jim Crow, to discrimination in nearly every facet of their lives. Nobody made *made* movies about them. It never even occurred to anybody do so. Not back then."

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  11. Thank you. I am one of those who found you a while back, and am grateful that I did. You bring just enough optimism and pragmatism to keep me sane (or at least give me hope).

    Hope you have a great year. Heck of an article to start. Thanks again.

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  12. The badgering and badmouthing of someone's perceived identity is tedious, J.

    If you speak the truth (and you do), what difference does it make what mouth it came from?

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  13. I would sometimes watch television with my paternal grandmother. She would become angry whenever a black person appeared on the screen. "They could have found a white man for that job! They didn't need to hire that negro."

    She somehow understood that all the jobs belonged to white people.

    She felt personally under attack that a fine program like "The Carol Burnett Show" was shoving an act like The Ernest Flatt dancers down her throat. "Some of them are negros. Negros dancing with whites. That's not right."

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  14. I write my personal truth quite often on FaceBook. I have fewer followers than you and someone might ask why I do it? I do it because it matters to me. Not all of my posting is political. Much is lessons learned and sometimes learned in a hard way. If I can touch people and get them to think and perhaps act, I have done what I set out to do and if nothing else it clarifies my thoughts. Thank you for your honesty in your writing and your poetic use of prose.
    Kim Fox

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  15. One typo. Probably should be : I can still SEE him. ‘See’ is missing.

    But an excellent essay. I can identify with a lot of it. Which isn’t what makes it excellent, but it resonates, and it makes me think.
    I recognize my privilege (minus the ‘male’ part) and I try to use it to improve the world. I also try to recognize it in a mindful way and listen to others who have less privilege. My ideas of improvement are not always improvements. But we have to try to be better. I believe we will be better, eventually.

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  16. Jim,

    You repeated 'since before since before' in the paragraph discussing this new medium. Otherwise, brilliant as usual.

    Ric Lee

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  17. I'm an old Jarhead been around the block, and the world, more times than any one human being should. About 20-25 years ago I stated, publically, that I was a "Middle-aged white male, EVERYTHING is my fault." Where I grew up and when I grew up the Black kids had their own school, a one room rock building with no heat no air conditioning and no play ground while I rode the bus to a nice new brick school with a cafeteria and sports field. When I speak of "White" privilege people get angry, white people. they don't realize that for us the bottom line in the eyes of all authority we automatically get the benefit of the doubt. Why, because we are white. My children and grandchildren and great grandchildren are, as we say, "A mixed multitude" and one I am blessed to have watched grow and grasp ethnicities, sexualities, and various levels of prosperity to their hearts with abandon! I enjoy your perspectives and appreciate your abilities as a Word Smith. Yes...our Privilege is showing.

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  18. I got out of the service in 1970. Stopped getting haircuts. Took a trip to see some country after a 4 year hitch. Went down south. I was a long hair. Loaded up the wife and kid and meandered along the Gulf taking in the sites. Saw some absolute poverty. Cleared a bench at a gas station in a small southern town. A sittin’ on the bench at a gas station. Didn’t want no hippie gittin’ gas. Rand me outta their town. Drove with more situational awareness after that. Got to the Florida panhandle. Thought the worst was behind us. Stopped at place for some fried chicken! The restaurant was empty in the mid afternoon after lunch. Gave our order and didn’t pay any attention to what was going on around us. Talked about our journey thus far. Lost track of time. A young black kid, maybe 9, dressed in spic and span white wearing one of those little white hats was bussing tables. He had been getting closer to us and without looking up he said in a very low whisper, “Mister! You need to get out of here!” I casually looked around and saw behind my wife all the white staff lined up across the room glaring at us. There may have been a couple of patrons. They weren’t happy. They had been like that for a while. I calmly said to the wife, “Leave. Now!” She started to say something about not having our food yet and then saw what was going on. We grabbed the baby, our stuff and headed out the door. I looked back and the kid kept his head down and cleaned up as if nothing was going on. I will always remember him and the courage he had. That still just knocks me back. My god I hope he grew up and made it out of there. Even with all that I still had my white privilege.

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    1. A chilling story. It tells us the depth of the ignorance and hatred lurking in some parts of America. It's still there.

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    2. I'm glad you were able to escape and that boy had the opportunity to warn you so you could. I have a similar story, only I was a horrified observer. It was in an upper Midwest state, early 70s. Two "long-haired hippies" came into the bar I had gone with my father in to get a bottle of pop. I was maybe 6 or 7 yrs old and very excited to share that drink with my father and as a result, oblivious to what was happening just a few feet from me until I heard the raised voices. Five or six of the bar regulars bristled up the instant the hippies walked in. They allowed the men time to walk up to the bar and begin to ask for a beer and then the loudest, meanest regular said, "Boys, sure looks like you need a hair-cut." The regulars grabbed the hippies and held them still while cutting their hair with jackknives and then tossed them out on the street outside the bar and told them "You picked the wrong bar to walk into with your long hair. Get the hell out of town and don't come back!" Almost 50 yrs later, the memory still makes me want to cry. While my father didn't participate in the hair cutting, he didn't do anything to stop it either. I'm not sure why. He was a big, strong man, former golden gloves boxer. He probably could have stopped it. I don't know why he didn't. I truly hope the boy who warned you made it out of that environment and the world didn't knock the bravery out of him.

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    3. My story isn't violent but equally traumatic to a 10 y/o white girl in a small town in Oklahoma. I was on the small, short-lived city bus along with 3-4 other passengers when it stopped to pick up a small, elderly black lady. The simple act of her walking past all those empty seats to the farthest corner of the bus shook me to the core. That is when I knew this was wrong and I would never be quiet. To this day at 76 years of age I still see her face and I am filled with the same heartbreak and rage....so little has changed.

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  19. Thanks, Jim. Great post as always. {{hugs}}

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  20. Kevin Locke BullingtonJanuary 4, 2018 at 11:13 PM

    I really hope to buy you a beer some day

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  21. Once upon a time, I wanted to be a writer, but it turned out I didn't have the drive or the discipline. Words failed me. I settled for reading and admiring those who had the drive and discipline and the courage to say the things I wanted to say, and to say them with the eloquence and imagination and the goodness of heart that made it seem as if they were speaking directly to me. Words did not fail them.

    You, sir, are one of those writers. Thank you.

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  22. I think the problem with the word "privilege" is that most people think of something that is obvious and clear (being first in line, getting the biggest, freshest piece, etc.). They have a hard time recognizing the privilege associated with even having an opportunity, with being recognized as existing, because it is so interwoven into their very existence and they can't imagine a world where it doesn't exist for them.

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  23. Quite often, when reading your thoughts Jim, I think the privilege is all ours.

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  24. Jim--one of the things that makes me crazy when it comes to discussions of privilege is that there are times (as you've described here) where the fact that one is privileged is used to shut down an argument. In the world I'd like to live in, everybody's arguments would be judged solely on their merits, rather than on who is making them. But the fact of the matter is that even within my own family, I get shut down if I dare stick my neck out on certain subjects. And the best I can do when that happens is consider (to myself) that in some ways, this is the experience that those who don't have privilege are forced to undergo on a regular basis.

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    1. Ah, yes, what a world it would be if everyone (and his arguments) were judged on his merits. I believe a certain Dr King hoped for just that some years ago. My experience is that few genuinely wish for all to be judged on their merits -- rather, they wish that they, and the group(s) with whom they identify, would be judged on their merits, if not in excess of same.

      -- EMH

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  25. Incredibly well said Jim and you definitely started off 2018 with a bang. Love the Rogue One quote and this one about Hope has always been my favorite.

    "Dear Red.
    If you’re reading this, you’ve gotten out. And if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further. You remember the name of the town, don’t you? I could use a good man to help me get my project on wheels. I’ll keep an eye out for you and the chessboard ready. Remember, Red. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. I will be hoping that this letter finds you, and finds you well.

    Your friend.
    Andy."

    Shawshank Redemption

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  26. We have an eerily similar background. Same state, same age (roughly), parents who grew up during the Depression. My maternal grandfather was a carpenter by trade but did whatever came down the pike to survive. We laugh about one grandfather who was a Conservation Officer and the other who was a poacher. My mother said that she ate so much cheese & venison during the Depression that she'd never eat either again and, to the best of my knowledge, she never did. Yes, very similar right up until you joined the Navy. Coming up more rural though, I never met a black person until I was an adult. Our paths diverge at young adulthood. As a woman in rural Michigan, in the early 70's, careers were fairly limited. Nurse, hair dresser, secretary, wife/mother. As a matter of fact, those are the jobs that my older sisters chose. They all received technical training to fill those positions. I was the first in the family to get a college degree but that was many years later, after my children were nearly grown. I understand about recognizing our privilege. I see it too. There have been many times that I've felt guilt because of it. I've never feared for my sons lives when they walked out the door or drove down the road because someone didn't like the color of their skin. My daughters were never treated like they were LESS because of their race. Gender, yes. Race, no. I too realize that we will, fate willing, have the opportunity to repair whatever is damaged by our current government and I think that many of us wonder what our role in bringing about that change will be. I know that I'm getting tired. I don't have the passion to stand in the cold anymore, protesting whatever heinous law is coming up next. The want is in me but my bones get cold real fast these days. I'm a pretty good idea person and organizer so maybe that's were my contribution to the cause will lie. This is how we, kids who were raised by those who truly struggled, cope, I think. We DO. We find a job that needs done and we DO. That, right there, is hope. We just keep doing and it'll all come out in the wash.

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  27. Excellent read - particularly for those who don't recognize their privilege. Thank you, Jim.

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  28. *starts the "slow clap" ... bravo, Jim, bravo!

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  29. I truly enjoy your writing style, Jim. I poured myself a pint of my favorite beverage (today that's Tangerine Express by Stone Brewery), leaned back in my comfortable desk chair, and then proceeded to read.

    Excellent essay.

    It brought to mind some of my own past experiences.

    Like you, I'm privileged. White, male, straight. (And a few years your senior. Just a few.) Your essay brought back memories of my youthful encounters with people of color. Unlike you, I was born in the south. My parents divorced (my mom ran away from my dad while he was at work, because the night before he had pushed the barrel of his handgun into her belly threatening to kill her... again... and that time she believed he was truly serious), so she and I moved across country to southern California to live with relatives. (I remember traveling across country on a Greyhound bus, the novelty of using lady’s restrooms—since I was only five and my mom was not about to let me out of her sight—and carrying the only toy I was allowed to bring along: A stuffed replica of Cecil the seasick sea serpent that “talked” when a string was pulled, and which I wore around my neck the entire trip.)

    After we settled in, my mom started dating and eventually married a nice man that raised me as his own son (the man whom I consider my father). But before they were married, when they were still dating, he took me down to a local park with a lake where people were racing motorized remote-controlled miniature race boats. I’d never seen such a thing. It was amazing! One boat, which was particularly fast, was owned and operated by a black man. I was so impressed with his skill and prowess, that I yelled out, “Wow! Look at the n*gger’s boat!” My future step-father pulled me to the side and whispered, “We don’t call them that name. It’s hurtful.”

    I was perplexed. And embarrassed. I could tell by his reaction that I had done something wrong, but I didn’t know what. I’m sure the black man heard me, but he didn’t react. He just steered his boat to shore where he was standing. He picked it up and appeared to make some minor adjustments. We turned and left.

    Where I was raised in the south, black people were called n*ggers. Everyone I knew, my family and friends and people at church, used that label. I didn’t think of it as a racial slur. (Hell, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a “racial slur.”) For me, it was no different than calling me a white boy. It was just a name. A matter-of-fact identifier. No different than calling a man a “man,” or a woman a “woman.”

    But while that experience alerted me to how names can be hurtful, it wasn’t until seven years later that I experienced my while privilege.

    My step father and mother decided to spend our vacation driving across country, from California to the south, to visit my mom’s relatives. While driving through the south, I remember us approaching a four-way stop. Another car to our right had already pulled to a complete stop, clearly 5-10 seconds before us. A long, long time before us. As we pulled to a full stop, the other car just sat there. My father motioned for the other drive to move through the intersection first, but the other driver, a black man, just sat there. After a few moments, my father proceeded through the intersection as the black man just sat there. Afterwards, my father sarcastically said something to the affect of, “Well, I guess he knows his place.” My mother responded that it’s sad the other driver felt he had to let us go first because we were white.

    I don’t know whether our “whiteness” was why the black driver waited for us to proceed through the intersection first when it was clear he had the right of way. But that experience, along with my memory years earlier of the black man with the race boat, never left me. And it made an impression on me. As a white person, I learned I was privileged, afforded certain “respect” and treatment by non-whites. And I didn’t like it. I didn’t think it was fair.

    And I hate that it still exists today in the U.S.

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  30. One of your best essays. Sad, poignant, not sure if I have the right words.
    I'm older than you, raised poor,in rural PA. My dad was a dreamer, failed farmer turned factory worker making Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee frozen pizzas, while mom worked as a cleaning woman/maid for the "rich ladies" in town. She was the hardest working person imagineable, feeding 7 of us by growing & canning our food at night after 10 hour days scrubbing & ironing for others.
    The only people of color I encountered as a kid were the Puerto Rican migrant workers who harvested tomatoes in the summer for the factory, & were housed in pure squalor by the Mennonite farmers of our church.
    As a teen in the 60s the war & protests & riots were all too real to me. Friends died in the war. My older brother lived in Detroit in '68.
    All I wanted was to escape my parents' fundamentalist religion, so I ran away at 17, tossing away a journalism scholarship to NW. I landed in LA in 1969, lived in the barrio of East LA. It was where I could afford to live, & I'm fortunate for the experience.
    My awareness of my privilege came gradually. I resented being called elite after struggling to get my nursing degree while caring for my family. I fell for a man with 4 children from a marriage to a sweet, damaged alcoholic. We raised them together, but it took many years to achieve some level of financial stability. So, yeah, being dismissed as elite & privileged was & is something to process. But, I'm white, educated, financially secure, straight, & yes, privileged in this society.

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  31. My parents were also children of the Great Depression. How I cam about was rather interesting, as when I was born at the end of the '60s, my dad was in his mid 40s and my mom in her late 30s. I suppose I am (sorta) a Boomer, but I will always be grateful for the work ethic and compassion that was passed on to me.

    I grew up in the state of Hawai'i (rather surprised that I joined the Army and not Navy, as because you kinda grow up with the USN if you are paying attention.

    Growing up there gives me quite a different perspective as I was, as a white kid, a minority. Now to be fair, so was everyone else, as no ethnic group had a majority. What was evident that people were separated, it seemed, more by class than anything else. That said, many, MANY areas were gentrified, and there were very few white kids where I ended up going to school (there were a total of three in my 7th Grade class). That said, I is equally true that I did not have the institutional blocks that many African and Hispanic Americans often face - something I noticed immediately when I moved to the Mainland.

    Note Bene - I am not saying that I am somehow less privileged than other white males (especially since I live south of the Mason-Dixon Line), nor do I lament where I grew up. In fact, growing up in a place a wonderfully diverse as Hawai'i ended up making me far more tolerant of other peoples, religions and many, many other things.

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  32. Very well written and understood.i fit in a couple of the groups that are descriminated against and I do not blame anyone.i see it as their view based on there experiences. I remember my grandmothers out house and whispers of things i was sheilded from.I wasnt until I was bussed to a white school at age 8 that I knew that I was so hated by people that didnt even know me.Some of these kids were just doing what they were told by their parents but realy felt bad about what they were doing. Being in my position as the one of the few if us blacl kids made me a stronger better person. I presented with Love no matter how i was treated and still do. I too joined the military (USAF) IN THE 80's. The military was good to me. I managed to demand my respect so I didnt even know if i was targeted for discrimination or not. After all this time, i am now in 3 groups that you mentioned in this article and stull refuse to be mistreaded.

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  33. I like my white male privilege. I like it a lot, it's just fine and dandy with me. I'm not embarrassed about it, I'm not ashamed of it, I think it's fine and right, and the way things ought to be. I just happen to solidly, firmly, emphatically believe that it shouldn't be a *privilege*, and it's the way things ought to be for EVERY-damn-body. It shouldn't be privilege, it should be *normal*, it should be what everybody gets.

    I don't feel any obligation to give it up, and I'm not sure I would know how to... but it takes nothing from me to acknowledge that there are lots and lots of people who have never had it, who don't have it now and are not likely to get it soon or soon enough. And if I can find ways to pass it on, to share it, to use it to provide a little shelter, a little moral support to someone who does not have it, I try to do it. I'm not interested in giving it up, I'm interested in seeing that everyone else gets it. Too.

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    1. The thing about white male privilege is that we CAN'T give it up, even if we wanted.

      We can't give it away, but we can share it and let others borrow it. (And never ask to have it back.)

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  34. Mr Wright, under the circumstances I think you use your privileged position in the best possible way, and hopefully you are reaching through to a few that would not otherwise ever reflect on these matters.
    I have read your blog and FB posts since before the election, and I hold your integrity as high as I value your thinking and writing.
    Thank You, and keep it coming!

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  35. Jim, I just shared you column, this is what I said: "Latest Jim Wright column hits me dead-on perfect. For a long time, I've been trying to write a piece that walks around, babbles a bit and addresses my white male privilege in a thoughtful, warped, heartfelt, pragmatic, sad and hopeful. Thanks, Jim, for circles and turns you weave in this piece. Man, I have had every one of those feelings. Well-done, sir." - Mike Perry, San Angelo, Texas. mikeperry2000@gmail.com

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  36. You manage to say what I feel, every dam time. Thank you for this.

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  37. Great column, Jim! I was born in the early forties, got out of high school in 1960, and so I experienced the fifties much the way you described. My high school in NW Washington DC was segregated not by decree, by careful school zone gerrymandering. We had one black girl in the student body. As I recall, she was treated with respect and had friends in school.

    There are only three teachers I remember well:
    One was a black female history teacher, another a black male chemistry teacher, and a third a white female physics teacher. The two black teachers I remember not just because they were black teachers, and as such a rare breed for our high school in the fifties, but because they were both the two best teachers I ever had! Alas, the physics teacher I remember because she was one of the worst teachers I had ever experienced.

    At any rate any notions of white supremacy I may have harbored were shattered, and then doubly shattered by the the Republican president’s of this century!

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  38. Great as always.The similarities in the beginning were as if had you visited with my parents and steped foot in their home at one time or another. I was born in 75' so there may be a bit of an age difference between us but my 86 and 82 year old folks had "grit" tv on daily. It's been 1 year since my last tough as nails episode, yet the words of my determined Democrat leaning father still ring true.

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  39. If you were to self publish your essays on Amazon I would buy that book just to have this essay on my bookshelf. I can recall a few others that I'd like to have in that book, but this one most especially.

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  40. There are moments when I almost wish I were enough of a hapless miscreant to inspire you to another column like this.

    But then the fear takes hold, and the moment passes.

    Nefarious Wheel / Kelley Johnston

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  41. Thank you for this Jim, it is brilliant. As I read I thought of my Dad, 8 years old when his father died, and the Depression started, the oldest male of 7 children, and my heart ached. Born in 1951 in Virginia, I also knew nothing of those considered "other," until I watched those brave children, heads held high, on television, daring to walk through the doors of a "white" school, as my father cursed, and I cried, because I did not understand. I learned, and I swore my children would NEVER be raised to hate. My daughter-in-law has called me a serial Facebook poster. Well, I guess I am. She made me feel ashamed for a little while. But, I have learned a lot in the past 67 years, watching the same **** happen over and over and over again, and Facebook is the medium through which I can reach people. This post, this awesomeness, gave me the courage to continue, and I thank you with all of my heart. What you write is far more important than a book, so many don't even read books anymore except in digital form. You talk about life, Our lives, Everyone's lives, and this is what we need more than anything right now, sanity, mixed with wisdom, candor, and the courage to speak your Truth. "Whenever one person stands up and says, wait a minute, this is wrong, it helps other people to do the same."

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  42. My husband (also a white male, for the record) once admitted to me that he can’t watch Dances With Wolves anymore because he’s ashamed of what I might think about him and his heritage.

    That surprised me, I have to admit. My husband has brought me a great deal of happiness, we’ve been inseparable since the day we met. I can’t imagine life without him. And yet, he worries that I, a Native American woman, might hold a grudge against him, a white male, for things his ancestors did to mine, long before either of us were born.

    I don’t blame him for his privilege. He didn’t choose to be born who he was, and neither did I. And I don’t expect him to sacrifice any of the opportunities that his heritage granted him. There are benefits to being a minority woman who ALSO displays a talent for math and science, and you better believe I extracted every ounce of opportunity I could from them. I wasn’t even made to feel guilty for doing it.

    Being privileged is not a crime. It’s what you do with that privilege that matters. Telling privileged people to shut up (and I’ll be frank: I’m one of the privileged these days) solves nothing. We need to stop shaming people for the privileges granted to them and instead focus on ensuring everyone else gets those opportunities too.

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  43. The way I was raised there are no meaningful differences between men and women, and people regardless of skin color. The hardest lesson I had to learn as an adult was not everyone has that option, and far too many people live in a world where I represent a potential threat to them, or a shared history of oppression. My goal is to remain mindful of this and to try to not make it worse.

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  44. Thank you, Mr. Wright. Your honesty cuts in the best of ways.

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  45. Spot on truth as always Jim - thankyou.

    Very minor nit you may want to fix :

    He held them by the collars with his other hand and he was shouting to for the rest of the class.

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  46. I started life with one strike (female) and acquired another later (disabled). At the same time, I know that because I'm white I can pass and that my privilege-- firmly entrenched in things like a traffic stop that is only about my dead tail light, shopping without being followed around the stores--hell, not being SHOT for living my life--is always with me. Shamefully, I only realized the extent of that privilege as I became more crippled. The fears of a disabled person and the vulnerabilities that were exposed as I dealt with doctors and the public since getting a handicap tag have made me more determined, in concrete and action-oriented ways--to do what I can to improve things for all of us.

    Optimism may be a luxury of privilege, but it's also not easy, and right now it's about the only thing I can think of that will dig us out of this mess. Nothing will change if you believe it can't. And damned if I ever DID do things the easy way--ain't gonna start now.

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  47. Thanks Jim. I grew up in a suburb of Detroit. Other than getting my grandma, who lived by the state fairgrounds, out of town, the '67 riots did not touch us. I was a lazy student, even though I should have been better. My parents were (are) not well off. I teach, and when I get sick of one school, move on to another. We moved to Florida from Michigan 3 years ago and found jobs immediately. I've told people I am lucky. Privaliged may be the more appropriate term.

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  48. Once again, your writing simultaneously tears my heart out, and gives me hope. Being white, cis, middle class, I am well aware of my privilege and do what I can to recognize and mitigate the effect I have on everyone else. Being female does give some perspective on what it’s like to be treated unfairly and it’s wrong. We have so much work to do. As you point out, our current situation was preventable and I am not sure I will ever get over the shortsighted and selfish people who put us here. It enrages me that people can’t be bothered to participate in democracy.

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  49. Jim, you do use your privilege, as do we. People come to follow you because you are a good writer, but, at least in my case, I first began to follow and share your stuff because of who you are. Because I and probably others, once decided to share your opinion because we thought that as a straight,white,military,male you might make inroads with those who won't listen to anyone else. "Hey, this guy looks like you but has figured out how to care about people unlike him, maybe you should try" sort of thing. I don't know how often it worked, but now I just enjoy reading you every day and getting a chance to think

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  50. A truly superior essay, Jim. So thought provoking and every word ringing with truth.

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  51. "What would the neighbors think?" was my supposedly liberal, Democratic-voting, very well educated mother's touchstone for deciding whether or not something was moral and good. Imagine my shock, back in the sixties, when I agreed to go out with our very well-spoken, kindly young postman and my parents melted down. He was black. What would the neighbors think?

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  52. Well said. For me, one of the saddest things about being 60 is thinking back about how insulated we were as middle class white suburban kids. Our lives would have been far richer and more complete had we grown up, as my children did, in an integrated neighborhood. It was no big deal when my kids brought their black, asian, and hispanic friends home after school or went to their homes to hang out. But they all lived in the upper middle class area we did.
    I choose to think that having them living there as being progress.

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  53. “Where there is ruin there may be treasure.” Rumi

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  54. I often try to figure out what makes people tick. Why do they insist on keeping the curtain closed and NOT seeing the man behind it?

    I read your stuff because you are my family, but with an open mind. You are my optimism of what they "could" be. I am intelligent enough to know that they are not ever going to develop an open mind, but I've seen dramatic change happen in people I've written off, and the hope is there.

    "With great power, comes great responsibility..."

    I think that's why people keep flocking to you. You are and have been a powerful man most of your life, yet you use that power make the world better rather than to destroy--like we see so many do on a daily basis.

    I appreciate your time. I appreciate your words. I'm a nobody who stumbled onto you by complete accident and years later still look for your words on a daily basis.

    Thank you for the privilege of entering this part of your world. You are appreciated.

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  55. Perhaps someday Dr. Martin Luther King's dream will come true:
    "...that [his] four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

    I share his vision and desire.

    You have many gifts Jim, and IMO chief among them are humility and decency. I think you have been judged by many followers for the content of your character and not by the colour of your skin; as demonstrated by the fruits of your hard work and earned success.

    I grew up as a child of Austrian parents who emigrated to Canada in those 50's you talk about. They spoke with a Germanic accent. We lived at one point (when I was 2 or 3 years old) next door to a Jewish family. What's left of our families remain cordial friends to this day. It still mystifies me how that could have happened, except that my parents and the Jewish family were people with humility and decency.

    I don't ever remember any bigotry on either side or from the broader community. (Though, to be honest, I don't know what my parents experienced at work or in the grocery store. They never spoke about any bigotry they might have encountered.)

    It has been my privilege to grow up among people who judged based on the content of character and were thankfully not warped by the times and circumstances and consequences of war that seem to have never stopped echoing down through the generations.

    As Amanda Marshal sang, "Everybody's got a story that could break your heart."

    I'm just a rambling stream of consciousness now so I'll end this.

    But one final thing I will say is that pithy, ignorant internet snipers who shoot from the hip have terrible aim and virtually never hit the mark because their minds and eyes aren't open enough to see THEMSELVES as clearly as you see you.

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  56. Bruce Cockburn, in Lovers in a Dangerous Time, that you have to "kick at the darkness 'till it bleeds daylight".
    As long as we all keep kicking, it'll bleed. And someday, the darkness will stop bleeding and just whither up and die.
    Keep kickin Chief.

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  57. One way to strip away some of the 'white privilege' is fight for those who are marginalized. Do it in a Red state or county.

    It's probably not fair but, if you are not actually doing SOMETHING to fight for equality, you are perpetuating the problem. A white male disabled vet single dad with 5 kids is a pretty good platform. That said, I take my fair share of doors slammed in my face, ridiculed behind my back and railroaded constantly. It really makes one appreciate the few brave people who gently guide me in the right direction. The occasional person who advocates for me. Pulls strings or bends the rules and gives me their time.

    There's not many ways to put oneself in another's shoes. It's especially difficult if oneself is the complete opposite of another's experiences. I know the difference between right and wrong and have a fair amount of brains and a soul. That's a good start and I work from that foundation.

    Fighting for minorities is not for the weak at heart. If you wish to avoid confrontation, vote. Vote for folks who are for and fight for equal rights.

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  58. You are a contemporary of mine. In 1967, my father was at war and I was entering Kindergarten. The most jarring, revolutionary acts for my family were about to happen. First, my father's best friend was killed in Vietnam on December 13, 1967. Christmas would never be the same. Second, Dad would be assigned to ACSI and would serve as a Presidential briefer. He loathed Nixon and despised Agnew and was nauseated by Westmoreland's disinterest.

    Trusted almost no one but Haig and Kissinger in the administration.

    Never voted for a Republican President again. Ever.

    We were lucky, even privileged.

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  59. I support the motion to have your essays in book form on Amazon.

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  60. I was so fortunate to have been raised by a Mother who understood white privilege and always drilled into my head the mantra That if given equal opportunity all can succeed in life. When I was 8 years old, she handed me Uncle Tom’s cabin and told me to read it. Now so many years later, the ldeals she instilled in me have been passed on to my children and grandchildren. I am proud of their understanding of just how much the color of their skin afforded them such privilege, and how they need to stand up and be counted for those who strive everyday just for their basic rights.

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  61. Excellent. One of your very finest essays. Thank you.

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  62. Paragraph beginning "Looking back," final sentence: "when" is repeated: "Back when when doing so wasn’t an adventure, but a chance at getting killed while peeling potatoes and washing the white soldiers’ laundry?"

    -- EMG

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  63. Strong, clear, and perceptive from beginning to end. I lucked out considerably in being born in a New Jersey town that was diverse (for that time and place), primarily blue-collar and middle-class, kind, and aspirational, and then going to a college in Pennsylvania that had committed itself to social causes and global awareness and also to minority access. As an English major I got to look through hundreds of other eyes, in other times and other places, and understand that my "truth" was not the only, or the superior, "truth." So I especially appreciate the value and urgency of this post. I also have an old high school acquaintance who from time to time feels the necessity of "share"ing an obnoxiously snide bit of doggerel called "The Days That Made Me, Me." It's a celebration of those 'Fifties you describe so well. Evidently not all the kids I grew up with in that nice town were looking around as much as I was....I am going to post a link to your post and hope he follows it. (I assume many of my friends will follow it, but he needs it in a different way.) Thank you so much.

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  64. This might be one of your most powerful essays yet.

    The "you're so privileged" retort - while true at the surface - seems to be a danger in that it keeps those who should be natural allies, and who should network to leverage their individual sources of power, apart. It causes folks to limit their information sources (and access to political and social power) to the smaller collection of "similar thinkers" (what Granovetter called the strong-tie (or close tie) network) while cutting them off from the larger network with information and sources of power that might be useful in confronting the problem(s) that will be faced in the future. Pragmatists, I think, understand this on an almost instinctive level - the need to identify the problem(s) at hand and to access the resources available, including those outside of their immediate network of connections, to "do what needs doing."

    It will be vitally important to adopt a pragmatic view of the world as the large system effects manifest themselves. The actions being taken by the current administration (and by allies in Congress) will take time to show their true nature (much as some of the negative effects on the middle class now have root causes in actions taken during the Reagan administration). The tax overhaul is an example: the short term benefit of a few dollars more in a paycheck (coming before the midterm elections) may make people feel good in the moment but the real impact will not be shown until 2018 income tax returns are filed in 2019. Basking in the momentary glow of a few dollars will result in a longer term impact that might be more negative.

    Hopefully the pragmatists in the center of the curve will gain ground against the "purity seekers" on the ends of the curve.

    Thanks again for a wonderful and thought-provoking essay.

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  65. We all lie to ourselves about privilege. Sometimes, some of us come clean, admit and understand it. I have memories of the riots of the mid '60s in Columbus, OH and what I heard family and friends say about "them," about "those people." About that time I started 4th grade in a new school and sat in classes with some of "them." I realized that Jimmy, Robert, Skip, Gwen, Larry and Mary (the twins) all were decent people. Manuel was nuts, everyone agreed. We got along, and I just sent my sympathies to Robert, who just lost his father. And I understood even then that things weren't as fair for them as they were for me.
    A few years later I was a sailor in military journalism training at Ft. Harrison IN. Several classmates were college grads, many had attended some college, and I was a knucklehead 18 year-old who wondered if he would succeed. Several of "them" were classmates, including Dwight, a thoughtful young poet. We all read each other's stuff, and Dwight's was as good as, if not better, than mine. Yet the instructors were particularly hard on him, especially a certain JOCS, who also was one of "them." Dwight washed out and entered the fleet in the deck division of a destroyer, instead of as a Navy journalist. I completed the print, broadcast and shipboard television classes, passed my E-4 exam while I was still in Indiana, and avoided mess cooking when I entered the fleet. Yeah, I understand privilege. I got to work in my ship's television operation, publish the newspaper and newsletter, etc. while Dwight became familiar with a chipping hammer and swab.
    Because of my Navy journalism experience, I used my GI Bill to earn BSC and MA degrees in video/film writing and documentary production. I worked in that field for a 30-year state government career. Semi-retired now, I have had and continue to have a decent life. I sometimes wonder how Dwight fared in his Navy career. Privilege: I know what it means.
    Today, one of "them" is a fellow government retiree, friend and cycling partner. We were riding on a public road once when a carload of, let's just call them rednecks, called out the usual derogatory terms for "them." I expressed my anger to Steve, who told me not to worry about it. He said he'd heard it before and no matter how angry he got, nothing was going to change the minds of the fellows in that car. I realized then that no one had ever insulted me as they had just insulted Steve, and that I didn't have to go through life dealing with that garbage. Yeah, I think I understand privilege.

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  66. You use your priviledge and your words to speak up, to remind your audience of continuing injustice, and that is indeed something. You could use your priviledge to remain silent, and many do.

    My anecdote is different from the others, because it comes from Germany in the 30s. When my professor told us about watching the Jews march to the factory to work in the mornings and back to their barracks in the evening. And everyone knew that they had no choice: not about living in a virtual prison, not about working all day in the factory, not about marching silently through town, nothing.
    And no one, not one person, ever spoke about it.

    She was a child surrounded by silence, because if no one spoke of it, then it wouldn't happen to them. And she told us this story because, to her shame, she had been silent as a child, so she spoke as an adult. She would have been proud of the Antifa.

    Our past, our horrible racist past, isn't so far behind us. It's still there. And it's time to use priviledge to expose it, to talk about it, to shine a light on it, so that we can be the better citizens our country needs.

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  67. If you say things people don't want to hear, they will use any weapon that comes to hand -- relevant or not -- to justify shutting you up. "Privilege" is just another weapon.

    The answer to "You don't understand, you're not a [fill in the blank]" is "No, twit, but I have eyes and can see, and imagination and can think." Which, of course, are both "privileges."

    -- EMH

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  68. Wow! I so understand this great piece, Jim. Well done. Well done.
    In the early 60’s, I was 11 and brought home my first black friend. He was a professor’s kid and a great dancer. The white boys wouldn’t dance so this guy was a hit amongst the girls and he was black. Exotic. We weren’t at all wealthy, but the only blacks I knew worked for us and raised us. After the kid left, my father, whom had been fairly nice to him, tossed the glass he drank out of in the can and threatened me with hell fire if I ever brought one of those home again. I spent a large part my life trying to understand that. I got there a long time ago and am so aware of the privilege of my whiteness. Hell. No one ever turned me down on an apartment because I was white.
    Optimism has saved my ass many a time. I love you for yours. We need more of it.

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  69. My asian, adopted (now adult) children taught me about white privilege. Seeing how differently they were treated, how different their expectations were, how even seemly inoccuous comments like "why aren't you better at math" can grind on a person.

    And this a relatively diverse, socially liberal community.

    Thanks so much for acknowledging white privilege. I've had so many arguments with my fellow privileged whites about it that I often feel like a scold.

    Yet, in spite of it all, my kiddos are on trajectories to be even more successful than either Mom or Dad. Yes, there is abundant reason for optimism.

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  70. Karen Schmeelk-ConeJanuary 5, 2018 at 11:23 AM

    I really liked this. I have friends who are verging on despair and I try to think of ways to bring them back from the edge. Finding something to do, anything, to help your fellow man, to reach out to those with less privilege and give them a chance is helpful. I have a friend who would rage on FB, but finally joined friends at a protest on disability rights in DC. He actually seems calmer now, like, by being part of that protest and keeping up with the group has given him direction. You are never going to be able to help everyone, but pick one thing that you're passionate about and do something.
    I've got the white privilege, the background of having borderline poverty childhood that was alleviated by a strong push towards education. My grandfather grew up wealthy, but a year or so into medical school the depression hit and his family lost everything. But even though he struggled with poverty (and alcoholism), he still taught his kids 'upper-class manners' and attitudes, and the onus was on them to get back to where the family had been. Nobody on that side of the family has made it to wealthy, but my generation all went to college, have good jobs, stable lives. I wonder how much his attitude of, we may be poor, but we're sure as hell not going to act like it, drove his kids to not accept staying poor. And I wonder how to give that kind of hope to people who historically haven't had that.

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  71. You, sir, are a goddamn treasure and your work helps me keep from eating the business end of a pistol when this new horrible reality we're in becomes too much (so, yeah, pretty much daily, then). Thank you. Donated.

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  72. You are a fine writer, Sir. I agree with you point about optimism. There will be conflicts that we can not win, evils that will happen and which we will have to undo later if we can. The path to success for a sane and liberal world is persistence. There will be points that we will need to concede because we can not do otherwise but we must remember that a wrong has been done and must be repaired if possible.

    The victory of sense will come if we do not give up... but we much choose defensible points and recapture what is lost when there is opportunity.

    I am sorry to use military language. I am not a military man. I never served. However, this seems to me to be a war of ideas and morality. It is not a war against the American people. Most of them are just folks, some smart and some dumb but ordinary people. The fight is against those that lie to the American people and to us all.

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  73. Beautifully conveyed, Jim!
    My parents grew up during the Depression. From my father, I heard stories of travelling to Washington to pick apples (they made enough money to pay the taxes & keep their 40 acres in Missouri). When they got back to Missouri, they farmed and made it through.

    From my mother, I heard so many stories of her alcoholic father who managed to keep food on the table by selling wood, and having his children pick cotton. Mom saw some horrible things happen to the black people there in the 'bootheel'. Mom's family was considered "poor white trash" because they lived in the black neighborhood and did business with the black folks. She always told me the black customers were the best at paying their bills.
    Mom's mother died when she was 3. Mom tagged along with her Dad when he delivered wood, and the black women would invite her into the kitchen while the wood was being unloaded. There were certain words that were never allowed to be uttered in our house, the N-word was at the top of the list. And everyone, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. - everyone was welcomed into our house.

    Yes, I am a highly privileged white woman and I do my best to use that privilege for the good of all of us.

    Thank you, Jim, for your optimism, pragmatism, and for keeping the tally.

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  74. "But you have to wonder if I would have been this successful if I’d been black. Or gay. Or female. Or less than able-bodied. Or less privileged in some way."

    As an autistic woman, I appreciate that you acknowledged being nondisabled as a source of privilege. Very few progressives do so. However, there's a problem with the way you describe disabled people like me as "less than able-bodied." Would you also describe me, an asexual woman, as "less than male" or "less than straight"? Would you describe a person of color as "less than white" or a trans person as "less than cisgender"? I assume you would never use such phrases and that you can easily see how offensive they would be! But can you also see how it's just as offensive to describe people like me as "less than able-bodied"? I am disabled; that does not make me less than abled people in any way.

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    1. the way you describe disabled people like me as "less than able-bodied."

      That's not what I said.

      But you have to wonder if I would have been this successful if I’d been black. Or gay. Or female. Or less than able-bodied. Or less privileged in some way.

      The context of that particular comment was within the description of my own past. I.e. my military service, and specifically the criteria for it. The benchmark for entry into the military is being fully able-bodied. In my field, even something as simple as mild color-blindness was a disqualifier (Sailors in general have to be able to tell colors apart, otherwise they can't distinguish the navigation lights of ships at sea, disaster follows. Intelligence people have even higher requirements for what should be obvious reasons).

      Degrees of ability very much determines fitness for service. Whereas degree of race or gender do not (generally speaking).

      When I said "less than able bodied," I was not referring to any group of people. Nor was I using the term "less than able bodied" as a slur or as a substitute for "disabled." Nor was I suggesting it as a measure of relative human value. Rather I used the term to describe to my own fitness for service at the time I enlisted.

      If I had been in any way less than able bodied, I would not have had the option of joining. That fitness gave me options. Options others didn't have.

      My military service had a significant impact on the rest of my life. Specifically, in the context of the paragraph where the phrase was used, I was referring to the idea that my own military service directly influences my ability to be a writer now.

      Hope that clarifies my comments // Jim

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    2. Until just now, I didn't even think it was a put down. Never crossed my mind.

      I'm disabled and less than able bodied, not fit to be around usually and was a frequent floater on a Navy boat. Some people don't like labels, are sensitive, never served etc. I'm with you on the military/civilian way of life. Two different animals. That said, only the military side of the equation is truly capable of understanding civilian life and military life. Civilians who've never served can't put themselves in the same boots as a military person. Especially the "once a Marine, always a Marine" thing. You get institutionalised...lol

      Yeah, if these folks only knew what we call eachother in the corps. Grunts and WO's are not a sensitive lot. There are no princesses.

      I can interpret "Less than able" as a perfectly "able" person so drunk they can't speak or walk very well as a result.

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  75. since this is moderated, you don't need to post it, I just wanted to let you know how moved I was, and that I want to share with you what my life has been as a mother of bi-racial boys, and my grand children, and growing up in the 60's, I have a very involved story, and I want to write to you coherently, but my room is 50 degrees in this arctic blast, and I have fibromyalgia, which makes it seem like I am wearing a snow coat. Thank you for your well written articulate blog, I just discovered. I call myself a resister sister, and reading you has given me hope, and optimism, without which I would have been broken a long time ago. Thank you.

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    1. BTW, thank you for your service. I meant to say that earlier.

      I am not sure if you can share/see this link to you tube, but this was video of the assault on my sons, in Oneonta, NY, in the 21st century, 2009. It is a medley of cell phone and eye in the sky, I still have all the original video, with sound, this isn't so clear, because I had to refilm it off my computer, I didn't know how to use flash drives or anything. My boys were not doing anything. A mob jumped my son, while his brother was with his girlfriend on the corner. When the police got there, the mob left, and the police took over the beating. At that point my older son approached, saw his brother, and asked if he could just take him home, and they jumped him, beating, clubbing and kicking him. He is a twice decorated vet, Ranger trained Paratrooper, 2 Purple Hearts, and they slammed him to the ground. He begged them to let him up. They point blank pepper sprayed my son after he was subdued. I can't even watch with out crying. We used to be paid actors in a theater company against discrimination, my boys did PSA's when they were still little, we have marched in parades, fought to clean up our neighborhoods, and this was what it boiled down to. They were the wrong color in the wrong bar in the wrong town. I have been persecuted also, in ways you can't imagine. By family who were closet bigots, by "friends" who blanched when they met my family. We were denied housing, jobs, even schooling. But I will fight for equality until my last dying breath, and it is because we are making a difference, one soul at a time. Here is the link. and yes, I will write my book someday, bc as an infant, a FEMALE infant, my mother tried to kill me and went to jail (I remember it). I have a lot to say, but that is for another day. I was so moved by what you wrote, your honesty, saying what I have been saying for over a year, when I realized "it" would be elected, and I couldn't change a single misinformed mind. Thank you. https://youtu.be/ZeyevCQu7fQ

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    2. The name of the video is Rogue Cops of Oneonta-Bad Cop Worse Cop.

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  76. I recently watched an interview of a UC Berkeley Sociology Professor (whose name escapes me, and, being somewhat tech illiterate on social media, I cannot locate) by Robert Reich (former Secretary of Labor). She had become interested in finding out what motivated Trump voters, Tea Party people, and others of that general persuasion, so she moved to the reddest part of Louisiana. She spent much time getting to know them and trying to determine what drove their hatred of people of color, immigrants, etc, etc. According to her, the anger and hatred seemed to arise from the feeling that those groups were "line jumpers'. In essence, they were saying that "We have patiently waited our turn but 'those people' were 'jumping the line'." getting the perks that were viewed as "unfair". "Barack Obama gets to go to an elite Ivy League school 'on my dime' while I and my children don't." Going back to the LBJ quote you opened with, all they see is these undeserving folk "jumping the line", while their "white privilege" evaporates.

    I spent 6 years in the NAVY (1960 - 66) and knew a few CWO's during that time. They were the best to work for, and far better than many of the higher-ranking commissioned officers I tried to steer clear of. During those years, I worked with many people of color (Blacks, Filipinos, etc). Aboard ship we were close, working together, playing together, eating together, but liberty was another matter. Everyone went their separate ways. I once wanted to go with a group of blacks to a club that had a jazz band, but was discouraged (by a black friend) from going because it might not be "healthy". Message received. I guess one might call that "black privilege".

    Keep up he good work, Chief. You write what I think, almost every time.

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    1. I believe the author is Arlie Russell Hochschild, and her book is "Strangers in Their Own Land". I highly recommend it.

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    2. The sociologist is Arlie Russell Hochschild and her book "Strangers in Their Own Land" is a fascinating read.

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  77. Let's face it. No-one likes being told that they are helpless, in the case of the tax bill. No-one likes being told 'I told you so' when you point out that apathy and Cambridge Analytica put the current preznit in power or that apathy put the current Senate in power.
    You were a CWO. That means your bullshit detector is the finest the Navy can produce. You are going to upset people by telling it like it is (which is a privileged thing to do). Some people also confuse telling it like it is with telling people what to do.
    The first real encounter I had with privilege was when it was explained to me what happened in To Kill a Mockingbird. The black guy died because he had pity for a white family. I was oblivious and it had little impact at the time. I am older and wiser now, and I guess more woke (if you will), but sometimes I still need to be pulled up on my privilege, I miss stuff, or I just dont think things through well enough before I open my mouth.
    There are many people who do not perceive privilege, who deny that they have it, who do not understand that it layers. The caricature is of course the poor cis white male living in Virginia saying it's not real because it's not working for them.

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    1. I like your comment and wanted to follow up with a thought (this is neither a correction nor an argument. So respectfully:

      "The caricature is of course the poor cis white male living in Virginia saying it's not real because it's not working for them."

      The troubling bit is that you're both right. It IS real, AND it's not working for them.

      A black friend of mine told me a long time ago that he discovered at an early age that the only color that really counted was GREEN. The color of money. That it isn't everything, unless you've got none of it. It's part of what's missing in the national narrative. White privilege may not make attaining that any easier, but the lack of privilege sure as hell makes it harder.

      ~Alexi

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  78. I'm still reading, but wanted to take a moment to comment on that first bit, about your mother's friend.

    One of my first girlfriends was Jamaican. Dark as night. I, on the other hand, am so white that if I were near the shore at night, ships would get confused as to where the shoals might be.

    My parental encounter goes almost the same as your mom's: All smiles and warmth, until after this girl went home. Unlike your grandparents, my parents didn't forbid me from bringing this girl by again, but they gave me a serious talk about 'some people'. "Some people might think...", "Some people might say...". They just wanted me to understand that there are 'some people' in the world. That Jamaican girl, and others later, continued to visit and they were always welcomed with warmth and kindness. Life was rough at times, but I was raised by good people.

    Back to reading. :)

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  79. I keep saying I'm going to sue Jim for reading my mind and publishing my thoughts. This is the most blatant mind-theft yet. Now I know how Jim feels when people "share" his stuff.
    Seriously - I'm a bit older and grew up in the "Ozzie & Harriet" decade. I've often ranted that post '60s people have no idea of what the "golden age" was like. That is, when America was "great." Being a WASP(male) I was clueless, and even today still learning just how clueless I was. And how privileged.
    I grew up in the big city (Philadelphia), but with a bit of rural connection too, so there were more parallels than not. Great job of capturing it all!
    Thinking watching "Ozzie & Harriet" back to back with "All in the Family" would be interesting.

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  80. In 2009 I took a course in grad school on class, power and privilege. It was an eye opener. I am a white female. I’m privileged in some ways and not in others. I remember being intrigued as white men in my class identified they had never realized the reality of privilege. What sticks in my mind is a few even reported they then felt guilty about it and how ignorant they had been. It was a very mixed gender, race, and income diverse group classroom each day. It was one of the best classes I’d ever taken, with the most long felt impact. You have written this so well. Thank you.

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  81. All things pass, both Good and Evil.

    'another old White man'

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  82. Thank you for another amazing essay. As much as I value and appreciate the years, risk, blood, sweat, and tears that you put into your Navy career, I think your writing during during these past years has been just as great a service to the nation. Thank you for all you have done and continue to do.

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  83. Thank you, Mr. Wright. Your columns are not only thought-provoking but stirring. If I may make one comment, though -- you talk about joining the military as a choice in what had been a life without much direction. That is a choice many people have made, and it's an honorable one for most. You also talk about all the people who stepped up to volunteer during wartime.

    Please don't forget that the largest number of wartime military personnel between 1941 and 1973 were drafted. Draftees dominated the ranks in World War Two, Korea, and Vietnam. Especially during the Vietnam era, economic privilege shaped the armed forces. Draftees were more likely to be those from working-class and lower-class economic backgrounds, who could not qualify for deferment. Blacks and Hispanics ballooned the ranks, coming from lower economic strata on average.

    The middle-class largely went to college, if they had even the barest of brains to qualify for admission, and worked hard to stay there until after the draft ended in 1973. The upper-middle class and upper class, of course, had no problem getting into college, whether on good grades, friendship with the college establishment, or bribery. If they for some reason couldn't manage college, or graduated before the draft ended, a friendly doctor could testify to a young man's bone spurs that somehow manifested themselves after four years of playing baseball in college.

    As important as the enlistees were through those three conflicts,the draftees played a huge part not only in the fighting but in the changes they brought to the nation after returning from war. Cassius Clay said, "I ain't got no quarrel with those Vietcong." Neither did hundreds of thousands of other young Americans, but 58,000 died, nonetheless.

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  84. My mother grew up in TN. My grandparents believed that everyone should have the same educational privileges (they were both teachers), but social mixing was not 'right'. They moved to WY when my mother was a young adult. She taught me that no one was superior to me and I was not superior to anyone else. I consider this to be one of the greatest privileges I hold.

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  85. Jim , I don't always read your essays/blog but I am glad I paused at this one. Your Michigan upbringing as I have said before is similar to mine.. I was actually riding around on a public bus the night Detroit was burning with my best friend who was attending college at Wayne State. I think I have a few years on you. the youngest of 8 children and the only one who attended college on a NROTC scholarship. I am sure you have encountered numerous midshipmen in your 20+ year Navy career so don't hold that against me! and yes CWO is a very rare breed and in my short 7 year tour as a pilot in an F4 Phantom on the USS Kitty Hawk, I NEVER MET A CWO who wasn't the smartest and the best of the best! Congrats on a successful career. But back to the essay. I was particularly fascinated with your description of what WHITE privilege really is. Your comments and analogies really resonated with me, I have 2 grandchildren both adopted through public foster child programs , both black, and both born to drug addicted mothers. I love them dearly and I am frequently faced with defining to other white people what white privilege is and why the Black Lives Matter movement is not what they think it is about? When one really looks at their upbringing and their background as you and I have done I think I have seen it (white Privilege) for years and just have not been able to articulate what it means in our society. I grew up in rural Michigan, Battle Creek, I served in the Navy, Vietnam, I attended college in the deep south during the civil rights movement, Auburn , Alabama, 1963-67. I have traveled all over the world for business and pleasure and having lost my first wife after 37 years of marriage to Alzheimer's at the age of 61... I am now married to a Korean who is 22 years my junior yet far wiser than I will ever hope to be. I am so glad that I have connected with you and I want to tell you who much I value your essays and insight. They usually are 100% in tune with my own beliefs! Frighteningly so....OFTEN! If I didn't know better I might think we are brothers with a different mother? Keep up the good work and keep doing for others in this world . It is the most entertaining and rewarding of all endeavors! GO NAVY,, GO Michigan. and from one pragmatic optimist to another . Happy New Year

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  86. I was glad to read this essay, and very glad that you do the Facebook and Twitter thing, because it obviously gets your dander up, resulting in essays such as this.

    I’m delighted to hear of your success! Wasn’t aware of that, but your website has up until now been my only exposure to your writing.

    Your words stand on their own, in black and white (ha ha). That’s one of the best things about writing prose or fiction: it’s not fleeting, as spoken conversations often are, and given the tendentiousness in which those conversations can often occur. You can measure every word.

    And you gave good advice for writers. Just do it. Every day. My uncle advised me to write just one page every day, it doesn’t matter what you write, but after a month you’ll have thirty pages of writing. Your grandpa maybe did a sentence a day, and ended up with twelve valuable volumes!

    Alas, I didn’t take that advice of my uncle, and I I’m the poorer for it. So you’ve inspired me, and I thank you for that. Thank you Jim.

    I hate this, I’ve never done it before, but hell, I’m able to communicate with one of the most important and best essayists I’ve ever encountered. I think your line “We weren’t rich, not by any stretch of the imagination, far from it. I think everybody in town was better off than us,” should have read “better than we.”

    I don’t know, grammar changes, maybe that’s okay now. For example, I only learned recently that putting “An” before a silent consonant, such as “historical” or “Hispanic” is no longer “required” in “proper” English. An “a” is okay.

    Now I have to research the rule for vowels, sad grammatical tyrant that I am. It’s my mother’s fault. Damn you, Mom!

    You’ve painstakingly gathered a family with your writing. I read a lot of the responses, and I’m glad to be a member.

    So, when are you running for office? : ))

    Leroy

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  87. My maternal grandparents were, I believe, somewhere in their teenage years during the Depression. I say this as they raised me through most of my early childhood so they shaped a lot of stuff about me.

    One thing they did was send me to private schools, kindergarten through 3rd grade. Just small local church schools. Why? I don't remember who my Grandmother was talking to, but I know I was in the room. When asked why I went to the private school it was because the local elementary school was 'over run'. They'd lived in that neighborhood long enough to see it go from majority white, to I think a near 50/50 split between white and black when they moved away in the 80s. Now that area outside of Atlanta is probably closer to 90% black if not higher.

    Racism was definitely something I was exposed to. Not the cross burning kind of racism. But the 'we don't invite them into our homes' kind. The races don't mix socially kind. Oh my grandmother had no problem having a black maid come in once a week to help her keep the house clean, but she would never invite a black woman over for coffee. I, being the kind of child I was, made friends with the only black girl in my class. And I wasn't allowed to invite her to my birthday party or over to my house to play. Nor was I allowed, of course, to go to her house.

    Back then I didn't get it. It took a few years before I understood that my grandmother didn't like black people. In fact, that little girl I made friends with. Ran into her a few years later at a different school in a different part of Atlanta. I was with my grandmother and I remember a sense of panic when this girl recognized me. I didn't want my grandmother to get mad at me or say something rude. Oh man... if I could go back in time and talk to my younger self. I could have used that girl's friendship that year. I've been tempted to see if I could find her again... anyways.. I have a reason for this comment.

    I can't say when I heard the term white privilege for the first time. But I vividly remember the first time I noticed when I was on the receiving end of it. I was in my early 20s. Taking part in some job training via Job Corps. The campus where I was was 95% black. There were perhaps 4 or 5 white girls, then a handful of asians who I want to say were Korean but I never asked.

    There was an opening for a little job on campus. Basically answering phones, filing, copies, your general low level office work. There were other girls in the class I was in who were a lot more... studious... than I was. I freely admit. My head was elsewhere. When we were supposed to be doing assignments out of work books, I was writing character histories for a live action role play group I was a part of on the weekends. But I was still chosen for the front office job when there were others who were more qualified. Or at least they worked harder.

    So even though I grew up dancing in and out of poverty I received benefits from my white skin and if you want to get into classism too, I've gotten jobs because of my elocution on the phone with the hiring manager. Born and raised in the south. I've lived in trailer parks. Piled in with family because there was no where else to go. But because I lack a strong southern accent that also gives me a leg up. I sound respectable.

    The world would be a better place if more white folks could see their privilege in action. To see that it actually is a thing and recognize it for what it is. Then maybe we could finally dismantle this systemic racism thing.

    Oh! A final foot note on my grandmother. I have to admit I was kind of relieved that she had her stroke before my biracial kids were born. That way she could just enjoy her great grandchildren for who they are and not be bothered by the color of their skin.

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  88. I grew up in small-town Ohio in the 1960s and 1970s, where generally one town was white and one nearby was black. So I was pretty oblivious until 8th grade, when a black gentleman came to speak to my class (can't remember about what). What struck me was his rich voice and the beautiful, translucent, pearlescent pink palms of his hands. How I envied him those hands! I used to say I was "colorblind," though now I realize that it can be considered dismissive of the experience of black people. What I mean is that of course I can see their skin is darker than mine, but I still find it hard to understand how others think that makes us paler ones any better humans or more deserving.

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  89. Sometimes staring into a mirror, trying to gain perspective is a futile project. Futile in the sense of trying to see beyond ones own vision.
    As was said in Caddy Shack, "be the ball"

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  90. Your words resonate powerfully. It's why you're a success. The voice is one of honesty; of having thrown caution to the wind in order to get to the very heart of the matter. To the truth.

    You've handled "white privilege" by fully acknowledging it and without personal apology. It's the finest of lines.

    You DO benefit from "white privilege" even though you never asked for it, do not demand it, do not expect it and know it's unearned; and the flip side is the unfairness of other's suffering is the result of this system you neither created nor condone. It's an insightful piece.

    To me "white privilege" has always simply translated as "There but for the grace of God go I".

    Keep it Jim. We need your voice.

    ~Alexi

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  91. Great column Jim - as usual! One small correction. In the paragraph that starts "But the men they'd fought beside?" - the last sentence in that paragraph is missing a "to" between "occurred" and "do", I think: "It never even occurred to anybody do so." Sorry, in the middle of proofing a friends full-length book and it's hard to turn that off. :-D

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  92. Your essay, excellent by the way, reminded me of an experience that left a deep impression on me. While on deployment to Eritrea I drove an Eritrean soldier home from Karen to the capital Asmara. The young soldier invited me to meet his family when we arrived at his house. His mom set out some coffee and sweets as he introduced me to the rest of his family. Something was said and we all laughed. His little sister, maybe 6 or 7 years old, screamed and hid behind the couch. The young man and his dad went to find out what was the trouble. She said, "I didn't know white people had teeth." At that moment I became aware that I was a privileged white man. Not just because of the little girl's reaction but because I had never seen myself as an other.

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  93. First longer essay I've read from you. Bravo, well done. I'm sure "she" would never get it. Blocking is so much easier. Thanks for responding anyway.

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  94. Jim, we REALLY need you to run for office. Any office!

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  95. Your words on the struggles of family in the Depression made me think of my own Grandfather who I never knew. His name was Frank and he was a subsistence farmer and.....Moonshiner, killed by a Revenue Agent years before my own Father was drafted into WW2. This essay is truly some of your best work, prize worthy and touching as well as inspiring and motivational !!

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  96. Sometimes people ask me why I'm so cynical. Why I'm so sure that people, in spite of my hopes, will happily do the thing that benefits them and fucks over everyone else. Why I so rarely trust anyone as far as I can throw them.

    Because it's the only way I can get through the day.

    Because here's the secret: it's a dodge. If Everything goes wrong in my cynical world, if something doesn't go as expected, you know what that means?

    Someone was kind. Someone thought of others at the same level as themselves. Someone did the right thing. Something went right, something worked out, someone didn't get fucked over so someone else could make a buck.

    When my cynicism is wrong, it's not because something bad happened. It's because something *good* happened.

    Which makes things going right and me being wrong really special, precious occasions. Cynics don't take good things for granted. We know better.

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  97. An absolutely fascinating and must read about white privilege. Chief Wright knocked this out of the park!👌👍👏👏👏👏👏

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  98. "And those women, a more helpless lot of pearl clutchers there never were. Thank the White Christian God there were all those manly men to keep them safe."
    Ha! As a female child of the 1950s, to whom television was a new and wondrous thing to be consumed with wide eyes, I still clearly remember that up until the age of about eight I stubbornly clung to the wish to be a cowBOY, not a cowgirl. Cowgirls never had any fun, they were left behind before the action started and never included in the marvelous shootouts that resulted in the good guys winning every time. I wonder if those TV shows planted the seeds of feminism in some of us?

    At the other end of the timeline, I'm keenly aware of my privilege when I interact with the police in my town, who are uniformly professional and polite to me, a white, middle-class homeowner. I honestly think most of them would treat anyone in the same manner, but I myself never had to wonder how they would treat me.

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  99. Simply outstanding. Pancakes for dinner triggered memories. Funny thing was, I didn't know it wasn't a treat. I thought it was. And fry bread, made by my 1/4 Cherokee grandmother whose father was the son of a white man and a Native woman, born on The Cherokee Nation in 1897. But when my grandmother was born in 1918, in Southeast Kansas, 20 miles north of "the res," there was no pride in having Native ancestry. My great-grandfather was race isn't listed on my grandmother's birth certificate.

    On another note, we were a long way from poor. I was raised by my grandmother and her second husband who was a journeyman electrician and proud member of the IBEW. Of course, in Kansas, construction work can be seasonal, and there were strikes and layoffs. It wasn't unusual for him to be home a lot during January and February in a hard, cold winter, when building was shut down. We were better off than a lot of people, not as well off as some. We got by.

    With the occasional treat of pancakes or fry bread for dinner.

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  100. Many fear how deep the insanity in the human species runs.
    Is the self destruct gene strong? Is there hope for anyone?
    These people in power only listen to the language of greed;
    While refusing to hear cries of the many in need.

    Where conservatives have organized for an overall, unified onslaught on liberal culture, liberals are fragmented into isolated interest groups based on superficial localized issues: labor, the rights of ethnic groups, feminism, gay rights, environmentalism, abortion rights, homelessness, health care, education, the arts, and so on. This failure to see a unified picture of liberal politics has led to a divided consciousness and has allowed conservatives to employ a divide-and-conquer strategy.


    As the GOP attack the intelligence agencies. Watch as our international alliances are destroyed and see this nation torn apart internally by disinformation and the deliberate efforts to feed hatreds, fears and divisions in the name of power and personal wealth, it is difficult to comprehend the depths of such betrayal.


    https://johnpavlovitz.com/2018/01/04/tribe-give-damn/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=facebook_page&utm_medium=John+Pavlovitz
    The Us, is made of human beings whose compassion even extends to hurting people that they appear on the surface to have little in common with—and the Them defined by people who only care for those they deem “their own kind.”
    The Us, is made of human beings who believe every person has the right to live where they wish, to marry who they choose, to profess the faith they subscribe to—and the Them is made of those who believe themselves to be the arbiters of such things.


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  101. I've been thinking a lot about your final quote, Jim. I always thought rebellions were build on rage--the I'm-mad-as-hell-and-I-won't-take-it-anymore kind of anger or the I've-got-nothing-more-to-lose rage. It'll require some thought before I can come around to hope as a motivator.

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  102. As a Canadian white gal pushing sixty, thank you for your essay. And thank you to all who commented with their own observations and experiences. I'm starting to feel like the sooner North America gets the white bred out of us the better we'll all be for it.

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  103. What a remarkable piece of writing. Good work, Jim. If I could share something as well... Growing up somewhat differently in Canada, here our un-privileged have primarily been our first nations people (not that other racism doesn't exist as well, but it seems they get the worst of it). Being born where I was, on an east coast island that had had its original inhabitants completely wiped out (God, just imagine that) hundreds of years earlier by both direct and indirect actions of my ancestors... I didn't see the full extent of racism against native peoples until I moved out west to the prairie provinces. I've been horrified ever since. Canada had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission complete its work and release their findings, specifically about an abomination called the Residential School system (taking native children away from their homes and raising (abusing, starving, killing) them in a "white" culture - all for their benefit, of course). But there are still so many people who don't think it could possibly have been that bad for them. Or that "good things" happened there too so it washes out. Or worse, that the native peoples brought the repercussions on themselves. Or that their own tribal leaders are to blame. What bunk. A few years back I saw a news story about a native man who waited in a hospital emergency waiting room until he died of a completely treatable condition. The staff had all assumed he was drunk and not one of them checked on him. This to me is what white privilege represents - no white person in that waiting room would have had this happen to them. So when I see acquaintances of mine forwarding little pieces of snark on Facebook mocking "white privilege", frankly it disgusts me. But I've never felt that I had enough of a handle on what the term means to explain it properly. Now, thanks to you, I do. Keep up the good work, fellow pragmatic optimist.

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  104. The American people want action. Trump represents action, for better or worse. Who the hell believes in hope nowadays? Comfortable, middle class progressives? The insane? America is too far gone to keep relying on hope for the future.

    It must be difficult feeling optimistic with Trump in office and emboldened racists cheering him on. But that's what you get when you spend eight years of power promising hope and change, and fail to deliver. That's what complacency can get you.

    The old hope of voting the Dems back in charge won't work this time around. More shocks to the system are on their way.

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  105. Shared on FB without comment, because there really isn't much I can add here.

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  106. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this.

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  107. Depressives, like pragmatists, tend to be reality-based.

    I also grew up in a small town, next door in Wisconsin, but it's an old town, with a great many old families and a stark divide between old money, new money, and no money. And coldly racist in a way you don't really find in the South.

    Watching the mythical 1850s on TV in the 1950s did a lot to shape American culture to this day, I think. It's too bad so few of the portrayals were actually true-to-life.

    Thank you for yet another good, provocative read.

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  108. Mr. Wright, your writing’s always been good, but of late your writing surpasses previous peaks with a regularity that is both astonishing and inspiring. This piece gets to the heart of white privilege, and you deserve kudos for doing so with grace and awareness and understanding and compassion. Take a bow, sir - you have earned all the accolades this piece will get.

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  109. The first time I learned about Buffalo Soldiers was when Yaphet Kotto did a guest stint on The Big Valley. An exception to be sure, thanks very much for your essay.

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  110. Thank you Mr Wright.
    I have spent a few days now thinking about my own white privilege.
    My knowledge and understanding of it comes from a very different place than yours but in the end we stand on very similar ground.
    I'm mixed race- half my family is brown. I'm not. While I carry the bone structure and build of my mother's Sugpiaq forebears , my skin is white. With one notable exception my experience in life is greatly different than that of my brown relatives. I have seen that, lived that my whole life. I'm very aware of the doors which are open to me , without question, the opportunities I've enjoyed, even as a woman, which my relatives do not have to this day unless they explicitly ask, demand, and /or fight for them.(Even then the opportunities may not come for them)

    I chafe at the insistence by so many that there is no institutional framework which favors all white appearing folks when I live it daily next to my brown relatives.

    I accept the responsibility the knowledge of my privilege requires.I have since I was a small child, beaten and broken nosed, by a much larger child who demanded that I acknowledge my mother could not be my mother because she was brown.
    Part of that responsibility is to keep plugging away, to maintain hope, to cultivate allies, to stand in solidarity - to fucking vote and be counted , always- that the social and political rights white people take for granted are extended to our whole human family and the the privileges are extended to all.

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  111. so what if the memo is accurate. Also what is your opinion on "the Program." That was started as intelligence gathering tool to prevent acts of terrorism and was enhanced under the Obama administration.

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  112. Looking back now at age 75, I see the turns in the road that brought me to this place and time. My father was born in 1890 in Mississippi to sharecroppers and 9 siblings. He left home at age 14 and ended up apprenticing himself to a carpenter in Chicago. My mother was born to a stern English mother who ran boarding houses for "businessmen" in Cajun country in south Louisiana and a father who was Irish, a timber estimator, and a bit of a drunk. She was the youngest of six girls.
    My father came back to the south, worked on the railroad, fought in WWI and married my mother and took her to West Texas where he built ranch houses, formed the first carpenters' union , took my mother to a farm in Arkansas through the depression, and then opened a large grocery, service station/cafe during the oil boom in east Texas. I was their only child. A white child of privilege with parents who were
    leaders in their community.
    Thanks to them, I am a community activist, leading two large and very active organizations . I was brought up to respect, to welcome, and to live on an equal footing with all people of every race, every nationality, every religion, gender, and ability. I also remember the 50's vividly and the racial inequality and prejudice that were so apparent. But that was balanced by my parents' attitudes and my home in which everyone was welcome and was "family". Until I read this post from you, I had not thought for a long time about how great the wealth I was given by my parents . . . . the generosity of spirit, the open-minded, open-armed love for everyone , the pragmatic views of what great gifts come from true diversity in communities, in schools, in business, etc. My father was not a man who admired or participated in organized religion. My mother and I went to Sunday School together. But from them I also learned respect for the religious views of others and forged a belief set of my own.I also learned what it meant to have the "courage of my convictions" , to stand up for what I believed in, and how to bring a diverse population, like my current neighborhood, together to create changes for the benefit of all.
    Thanks for writing this column. I read it with pleasure.

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