The Violence of White Privilege: The Bundy Clan, Dakota Access, the Noose and Donald Trump

When folks normally speak of white privilege, it means a set of social advantages that white people have without even recognizing it. Peggy McIntosh famously described it as a backpack full of “unearned assets.” It is the ability to move about in the world freely without concern over the assumptions that people are making about you because of the color of your skin. It is the ability to assume that your experience is universal.

But white privilege is not simply a set of advantages that white people passively accumulate.

White privilege is not just about being able to browse Pottery Barn without being trailed by a security guard. It’s not just about the ability to screw up in college and network your way to success. It’s not just about the ability to fly a Confederate flag (or a Chief Wahoo pennant) and claim that it’s just heritage, not hate.

No, white privilege also acts. White privilege is violent.

White privilege is about killing and abusing others and getting away with it. It is the grand US narrative that keeps reinventing and revivifying itself over and over — this past week, it has done so with reckless abandon.

The Bundy clan was acquitted for what amounts to an attempted insurrection. Native American protesters of the Dakota Access pipeline were attacked by police in riot gear in scenes that call to mind the violence of Wounded Knee. And we learned that a Black teenager in Mississippi was taunted by classmates who tossed a noose around his neck.

The confluence of these events in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign is not surprising, because many people in the United States are preparing to vote for a white man who disparages African-American communities and nonchalantly talks about sexually assaulting women. A whiteman who never, ever apologizes, a man who, if he were Black or Brown, wouldn’t be elected to his local school board.

Indeed, Trump’s candidacy when juxtaposed with Barack Obama’s underscores two things: the fact that Trump is the most privileged white person in the US and that people of color are held to an entirely different standard than white men are.

For people of color in the United States, open carry is a complicated option (to say the least), protesting is always a dangerous endeavor and knots on ropes carry greater, graver meanings

The only option is to strive to socially acceptable in way that is not always an antidote to theviolence of white privilege.

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me of his friend Prince Jones who had done everything right in life — gone to college, worked hard. And still he was mistaken for a criminal andkilled by police. He was only 25 years old at the time.

We are peering over the precipice in this country with a presidential candidate who reacts and whines and bullies in a manner reminiscent of my children just before dinner. Donald Trump, in many ways, is the zenith of this behavior in the modern US.

Trump is teaching a generation of white boys and girls that they are better than everyone else. His attitude, his demeanor and his tone shout, “I am the only one who matters.” He has a doctorate in white privilege and is instructing and reinforcing a curriculum to both his ready pupils and theunsuspecting public alike.

White privilege means you get to scoff at any notions of political correctness and just “tell it like it is.” White privilege means you don’t have to care about the feelings or lives of others, just as long as you speak loudly. They are learning that white privilege is really white supremacy.

If we don’t counter this education, we can expect more of the same.

Slaver Thomas Jefferson wrote in Notes on the State of Virginia, way back in the 18th century, that he could see the effects of normalized violence, of enslaving Africans, on the white youth of Virginia. Those young people, he wrote,

Our children see this, and learn to imitate it; for man is an imitative animal. This quality is thegerm of all education in him. From his cradle to his grave he is learning to do what he sees others do … The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath … thus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny.

The white children of the early United States were being taught tyranny. They were learning, it seemed to him, that Black lives do not matter.

And so it has been with the genocide of Native Americans, the horrific epidemic of lynching, mass incarceration and the documented police killings of people of color. White privilege reveals itself for what it truly is — not just a backpack of privilege, but one that is full of grenades.