Baby boomer and millennial son look at white privilege

By Reade Brower and Jesse Brower | Nov 26, 2016

“Whites saying ‘make America white again’ is like millionaires saying ‘make the wealthy rich again.’” -- DaShanne Stokes, sociologist, columnist, political pundit (b. 1978)

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Reade Brower writes: I am of the generation called the baby boomers; I just turned 60 and my future will have fewer years than my past.

My son Jesse, part of the millennial generation, has not yet turned 30 and represents the future; his years ahead will hopefully outnumber his past.

He and I look at the world through different eyes. Perhaps together we can figure out what the Trump presidency will do in respect to commonsense principles. Last week I picked the topic of the election and the future. This week, Jesse picked the topic of white privilege.

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As a baby boomer, I was first introduced during my college years to the concept that not only was there white privilege, but that white male privilege was holding back our country. This happened when a group of feminists stormed our offices at the Daily Collegian at the University of Massachusetts and barricaded themselves inside in a “hostile takeover.”

The battle lasted several weeks and my immediate reaction of WTF was slowly replaced with the understanding that in 1977, while we appeared to be a country based on equality, we weren’t. My take-away from it all was summed up when a woman explained to me two things as I was attempting to negotiate the release of my only pair of shoes, and my school books and class notes that were still under my desk when the takeover occurred as finals week began.

I was unsuccessful at getting them released, but I did begin to understand how white male privilege kept the rest of society down, and a better feel for why. Sharing power (or wealth) is never easy for the “haves”; there is this feeling that keeping the “have-nots” down will keep you strong. It is fear-based, but in reality, this young woman told me, a rising tide raises all ships and men should not fear equality; she promised me it would “set me free.” Almost 40 years later, I can tell you with certainty that she was correct.

When I protested to her over the extremism of holding my shoes and school notes hostage, she was empathetic, but held her ground. She explained the pendulum theory; sometimes when things were out of balance, before we could find common ground, the pendulum must swing from right to left before settling in the middle. She said “that’s the way life works."

“Making America Great Again” was at the crux of the Trump campaign. Many see this as a politically correct way of saying “Make America White Again,” as evidenced by the support of the KKK and others who do not support the human rights movements of our country over the last 50 years, as well as those who do not like immigrants. It is the pendulum starting to swing back to the right, and, unlike the 1970s, it must be stopped. The corrections we need as a society will not come from those who believe that white privilege doesn’t exist.

I equate this to global warming in the sense that the deniers of white privilege are similar to those who call the science behind global warming “hooey” and go about their days with their heads in the sand. They are not all bad people, only people who are afraid to cede anything to the liberal left, calling it the slippery slope in an effort to defend their privilege and take back power.

A rising tide does raise all ships; a concept steeped in common sense.

***

Jesse Brower is my oldest son; 29 years old, he writes from his home in the Boston area:

"With great power...comes great responsibility." -- Spider-Man's Uncle Ben

In the wake of the election, I've been seeing, hearing and feeling a lot of fear and anger coming from all directions, much of which is pointed towards a demographic that I fit pretty comfortably in: the straight white male.

It's the demographic that sided with a straight white man over a woman in the most recent presidential election, and it's a demographic that has allowed me access, consideration and benefit of the doubt that minorities and immigrants have to work a little bit harder for just because they don't fit the same profile as me, a white male with privilege.

My life hasn't always been easy under these conditions. I've gotten a small taste of judgment and discrimination over the years, mostly in terms of my age, messy appearance and poor choice of words. It's silly to even begin to compare these feelings to what it must feel like to be followed around a retail store or to be yelled at in public for absolutely no reason, because these are all things that I have “the privilege” to change if I want.

These white male qualities are not what I've chosen to use, I've built my own self-identity, but it's something that many others don't have as an option in their playbook. How we choose to identify ourselves can influence how others view us, even if it takes longer for some than it does for others ... and I think that this election versus the 2008 election speaks to exactly that.

Character and principle were removed from the conversation altogether in the last presidential election, at least in terms of the positives, and instead were replaced by blanket statements like, "Well she cares! She's experienced!" and "Well he's going to make America great again! He knows what he's doing!”

We seem to have lost sight of the importance of character, which is what I want to use my privilege to fix.

I got a good draw of the cards and because of that people are more likely to listen to me when I speak. People are more likely to take me seriously as an adult, versus writing me off as a thug. People are more likely to give me a chance if I'm nice, versus having to "dress sharp" just to be noticed. People don't follow me around stores like they've done to friends I'm shopping with.

It's extremely important to be honest with yourself if you're in a similar position as I am, because this is nothing to ignore, and is clearly something we need to strive to fix. I didn't ask for white male privilege, but I also can't ignore it if I want my friends to be treated fairly.

I need to speak up more. I need to be a voice of change. I need to ask informed questions, even in uncomfortable situations.

Reade Brower can be reached at: reade@freepressonline.com

Disclosure: Reade Brower is owner of these newspapers. The opinions expressed in his columns are his own, and do not represent those of the newspapers, or their editorial boards.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Lynette Walther | Nov 29, 2016 15:59

As often is the case I appreciate the calm and reasoned columns of Mr. Brower, especially this opinion piece. I appreciate his optimism, and wish I shared it. While we are indeed “all on the same team now,” we must recognize that the “team” is as far from normal as one could possibly be.

In it we have a president elect for whom no less than five former presidents warned against, calling the candidate unsuited and unqualified for the presidency as well as dangerous to the country. We have a president elect with unprecedented, mind-boggling, potential conflicts of interest between the office of president and his far-flung business interests. (We have received little assurance that those conflicts will not be business as usual. In fact there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.) We have a president elect who has said, and continues to exude some of the most inflammatory, insulting and yes, dangerous, comments daily. We have a president elect who claims to know more than all the “experts,” and has eschewed intelligence briefings, and surrounds himself with an administration of know-nothings — or worse yet, individuals bound on the dissolution of our government or the imposition of their religious beliefs or prejudices on the nation. We have a president elect who has called the very tenants of democracy into question and vilified the press, threatening to persecute it and anyone else who dares to challenge him.

This is a “team” unlike any in our nation’s history. This is a team that sends chills down my spine. Yes, the election is over and done with, and now more than ever we need the press to be our advocate for democracy, to investigate, challenge and always question authority. I believe the coming four years will test its mettle. It must remain vigilant, report and dig deep into those tentacles of conflict and abuses of power that many of us fear are yet to come.



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