Thank you, Alexander Dolitsky, for raising some questions about white privilege and what it means.
There is no doubt that he like many poor white immigrants, struggled, paid dues,worked hard for what they have and contributed much to our country and society.
The term “white privilege” was not coined to make recent white immigrants ashamed. It is not a racial slur. It describes a particular historical reality in our country. Another way to look at white privilege is as the flip side of Indigenous and Black un-privilege: The un-privilege of having your land violently stolen, your language and culture devalued and your children kidnapped and sent to boarding schools in order to break the back of your culture. Or the un-privilege of the shelling of Kake, Angoon and Wrangell by the U.S. military in the fall to destroy food supplies so that people would starve in the winter. All distant history, except the un-privilege of the Douglas Indian Village being burned, along with nets and fishing gear, by order of the City of Douglas, in 1962, during your lifetime and mine, while the people were away. Or the un-privilege of enduring centuries of slavery, decades of post-slavery racist terror designed to prevent you from voting. Or living where you want, or thriving economically. Or enduring more recently, mass imprisonment of Black men and ongoing racist police brutality. The end result of all that un-privilege is a vast disparity between white populations on the one hand, and Indigenous and Black populations on the other, in terms of wealth, health status,longevity and political power. That is what “white privilege” describes.
Similarly, Black Lives Matter is not a racist expression that white lives don’t matter, but a statement about the history of our country in which Black lives have been systematically devalued by whites, and by white-controlled economic and political institutions. It is not the other way around.
It is unambiguous, and “All Lives Matter” doesn’t cut it. The path to All Lives Matter lies through Black Lives Matter.
Thank you to Mr. Dolitsky for initiating this discussion.
• Michael Tobin is a retired emergency physician and climate emergency activist.