Photos of Charlottesville
I am part of the post-War “baby boom,” so I’ve been around a while. But in my whole life, I’ve never heard anything like the amount of talk about “white supremacy” that I’ve heard in the past week. But I’ve lived it. We may soften it to “white privilege,” but the one is based on the other. As a person identified as “white,” I have unconsciously but inevitably been preferred in many situations from the day I was born. It’s unavoidable. But what is avoidable is to remain unconscious of it.
There have been situations in which I could make sure that I didn’t take advantage of my genetics personally. The whole society has already done enough of that for me. This is not, of course, a purely American problem, though I must say that Americans have explicitly agonized over it more than most other societies have—with however limited profit from our often quite theatrical self-flagellation. I must also point out that one of the dodges that the American establishment has often employed is to assume that this is mostly a Southern problem.
Having lived in both North and South, each for substantial periods of my life, I would insist that the problem is equal but different in each place. The lines are increasingly blurred, but the traditional and instructive distinction was put well by someone whom I forget: “The Southerner says to the black man, ‘You can come as close as you want, but don’t come higher,’ while the Northerner says, ‘You can come as high as you want, but don’t come close.'” Both are senseless products of attitudes based on something as meaningless as skin color. Hence, a white supremacy that decently educated people don’t believe in even as we live in a world of white privilege.