I grew up the beneficiary of white privilege.
It was my "privilege" to spend my first fifteen years in a cold-water tenement at 131 Beverage Hill Avenue in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. There was no central heating. The tenement was heated by the same kitchen stove on which the cooking was done.
If you wanted to wash your hands or face in warm water, you had to heat a bucket of water on the stove and then pour it into a sink. If you wanted a warm bath, you had to heat many buckets of water and pour them into the bathtub. There was of course no shower.
In the winter, to conserve heat, you closed off the front room of the tenement. The kitchen became our all-purpose room. To replenish the fuel that supplied the heating segment of our stove, you went down to the basement, filled a container with kerosene, then walked up two flights of stairs.
When my young sister needed medical treatment, we had the "privilege" of selling our old second-hand (or was it third-hand?) car, and then living for years without an automobile. But this in turn gave us the "privilege" of riding the bus to downtown Pawtucket to do our shopping. On Friday evenings my mother and I would go to one of the supermarkets then located in downtown Pawtucket, and I, a shrimp of a lad, had the "privilege" of lugging heavy grocery bags back home on the bus. My mother had the same "privilege."
Around 1950, my father suffered a crippling attack of arthritis that kept him out of work and often in bed for a year. At that time we had the "privilege" of slipping from near-poverty into downright poverty. Fortunately, almost miraculously, my father recovered, and as soon as he did he got a job and went back to work, traveling via three buses from our home to his workplace at the distant western edge of Providence.
But in addition to my many "privileges," I had some real advantages growing up in Pawtucket. First and foremost, I had two married parents with a very strong sense of parental duty. They worked hard, they played by the rules, they put family above individual self.
I had some real advantages growing up in Pawtucket. First and foremost, I had two married parents with a very strong sense of parental duty. They worked hard, they played by the rules, they put family above individual self.
Second, I had Pawtucket public schools: Prospect Street School and Goff Junior High School. The teachers, the great majority of them unmarried women, were marvelous. They stuffed my head with knowledge and, more importantly, the desire for further knowledge. Later, when my family had rebounded from poverty and could afford to pay the $100 annual tuition, I went to St. Raphael Academy, a Christian Brothers school with marvelous teachers. (The tuition now is well over $10,000 per annum; and there are no longer any Christian Brothers there.)
Third, I had the Catholic religion and its many Pawtucket churches. The religion reinforced the lessons in good conduct that I had learned at home and at school. It taught me to behave myself, and it taught me to feel guilty when my behavior fell below ideal standards (which it sometimes still does).
Fourth, I had the Pawtucket Boys' Club, which supplied me with friends and with good clean recreation.
Finally, I had the city of Pawtucket itself — "the birthplace of the American industrial revolution," for it was here that America's first textile factory was built in 1790. In my boyhood (the 1940s and '50s) Pawtucket was in the last stages of what may be called its golden age. It was a splendid city for a boy to grow up in — a blue-collar city just right for boys from blue-collar families.
Downtown Pawtucket was vibrant, filled with people and stores and banks and restaurants and movie theaters — plus the Boys' Club. (Nowadays downtown is a ghost town). The streets were safe. Violence rarely went beyond an occasional fistfight. Even though much of the city was densely packed with tenement houses, there always seemed to be plenty of room for kids to play.
Everybody who is not a complete idiot knows and admits that America has a long and horrible history of anti-black racism — 250 years of slavery and 100 years of post-emancipation racial segregation. And everybody, not just virtuous liberals, deplores that history. But everybody who is not self-deceived also knows that white racism is at most a minor factor in the misery that prevails today in much of black America.
If blacks, on average, are worse off than the average white in almost every category of well-being — health, income, education, jobs, and many others — this is chiefly because of an appallingly dysfunctional culture that is pervasive among the black lower classes and tends even to "percolate" upwards into the black middle classes.
The religion reinforced the lessons in good conduct that I had learned at home and at school. It taught me to behave myself, and it taught me to feel guilty when my behavior fell below ideal standards...
This culture fosters and condones attitudes that lead to astronomical rates of out-of-wedlock births (more than 70 percent of black births are to unmarried women), millions of fathers who give little or no support to their children, high rates of crime and violence, high levels of drug abuse, a poor work ethic, very poor academic achievement.
Unless these aspects of the culture are reformed and healed, we may expect that great numbers of blacks will live in misery for the next few hundred years.
The greatest enemies of American blacks today are, in my humble opinion, white liberals who have a vested interest in keeping alive the myth of white racism. White liberals — who by and large are truly privileged, having good educations, jobs, incomes, houses, cars, wine, coffee, etc. — like to believe that all whites other than themselves are racists. For this allows white liberals to feel morally superior to everybody else.
And so white liberals — who dominate the "command posts" of American moral propaganda — the mainstream media, the entertainment industry, and our leading colleges and universities — are endlessly telling blacks that they are the victims of white racism, thus encouraging blacks to feel powerless, angry, and resentful, and diverting them from focusing on their real problem, a dysfunctional subculture.
Dear God, send us some truth.
David Carlin "White Privilege and Other Matters." The Catholic Thing (June 12, 2020).
Reprinted with permission from The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image: Frederick Douglass, his wife Helen Pitts Douglass (seated), and her sister Eva Pitts in the 1880s.
David Carlin is professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America.Copyright © 2020 The Catholic Thing
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