Of Price and Privilege

If I May

As a Human Resources professional, I routinely field questions about diversity and inclusion programs, work-life balance issues, gender pay practices, and, most recently, the concept of privilege. Rational conversations that incorporate verifiable data and each party’s experiences can increase our collective understanding. Unfortunately, we rarely hear from the rational or the well-informed on social media. Such settings often reduce these complex issues into sound-bite propaganda.

A Flawed Argument

For while, this video has been making rounds on various social media sites. It shows a well-meaning, self-righteous adult lining kids up for a footrace for $100. Before beginning, they are read a series of statements and are allowed to take two steps forward for each that applies to them: “If your parents are still married.” “If you never had to worry about your cell phone being shut off.” etc.

He then goes on to publicly shame the “white kids” who are, after the exercise, standing in front by noting that their head start had nothing to do with their actions (true) and the only reason they “win” the race of life is because of this advantage (assumption).

Design Problems

There are at least two design problems with the exercise that make it and the concept of privilege fundamentally flawed.

  1. Sample Size: Sure, the white and black kids in this grouping were neatly separated to make a point, but if they posed the same statements in a different neighborhood, the results would change. My old stomping grounds would have a rainbow of people lined up in the back and front.
  2. Tool Validation: Any professional who works with surveys knows that design and validation are key. The statements seem to provide an advantage, but how are they weighted and ranked? And what elements were left out? Sure, having parents who are still married may seem like a good thing, but what if one is a substance abuser or is physically or emotionally abusive? Is that still an advantage? Change the questions, and you will change your outcome.

Beyond design, this video and its message is harmful by:

  1. Promoting Stereotypes: Sorry, not all black kids come from bad homes and tough circumstances. Not all white kids have the best of things. As I noted in my TEDx talk, each person brings his or her own backstory, and it’s never as neat as a four-minute video can portray.
  2. Projecting Blame In the Wrong Direction: What’s the point of making Aaron feel guilty about A-A-Ron’s home life? How can that child influence choices made by a third party before he was even born? Instead of misplacing blame, we need to promote accountability.

The Privilege Fallacy 

Privilege is a nonsensical term employed by those who want to appear “woke” without actually doing anything. It does nothing to influence behavior or promote change. Instead of hyper-focusing on theoretical privilege, we should begin discussing the very real concept of Price — the cost children incur for their parents’ poor decisions.

Here’s the brutal fact. It’s not some mythical “man’s” fault if your father knocked up a teenage girl and split, if he chose drugs over education, or the racetrack over a job. We have to stop looking at and blaming the past for our problems.

I’ve seen the poorest places in the world, areas that would make any American hard luck story seem like a paradise. And I’ve seen people from those areas come here (legally) and, within two generations, be counted among the “privileged” ranks. How? They work to ensure their kids are at the front of the line and set up to race well.

Accountability Matters

It’s time for native-born Americans of all races to adopt the same perspective and to look forward. We must each acknowledge reality, take accountability for our situations, and work to provide a better future for our kids. Paying today via intelligent choices and hard work reduces the price paid tomorrow.

It’s all about where we focus our energy and who we tout as heroes. We all know the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: “A couple of guys who were up to no good started making trouble in my neighborhood. I got in one little fight, and my mom”…completely abdicated her role as a parent.

The Fresh Prince’s fictional parents made choices that put him at the back of the line. They increased the price he’d have to pay for success.

But where’s the spotlight on the Uncle Phils of the world? Why isn’t everyone hell-bent on showcasing the values of hard work, delayed gratification, service, sacrifice, and family loyalty that he readily displayed? Apply the same assessment noted above to his kids and they’d be at the front of the line. Is that black privilege? No. Different choices. Different outcomes.

Privilege, if it is real, is certainly relative. We all chase the next level — the American dream of having our kids do better than we did. But progress comes from lifting yourself up, not by pulling others down. We each have the privilege of paying the price of success. For that, we should be grateful.

Tim Toterhi is a husband and dad based in North Carolina. He writes write philosophical fiction and snarky humor. Read more at www.TimToterhi.com

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