Seattle to Boston. There’s a nice long highway that goes door to door. 3,099 miles. And at the end of the race: WEALTH! You can define what that means to you. Just know that all you have to do is get to Boston.
I’m going to drive my four-year-old F150, towing my three-ton trailer. It does pretty well on the flat areas, though I can expect to make about 25 mph going up any mountains and I have to be a little careful going down because I have a high center of gravity and don’t want to risk tipping. But I’ve got a full tank of gas, a home on my back, and I’m willing to do what it takes to get to Boston.
You get to drive a nicely broken-in Jag. Just think what that would do on those long flat Montana highways with no speed limit. Just to make sure you don’t run into trouble, though, we’ll put flashing red lights on the Jag so cops know not to stop you and other drivers pull over to give you room. Just to make sure you are leveraging your resources, you can start in Chicago.
Ready. Set. Go.
We have the same highway. The same goal. The same opportunity. Right?
That’s white privilege.
Not you in the Jag. Me in the F150. You’re in a different class entirely. Variously called the 1% or some other rarified nomenclature. You’re what I plan to be when I reach Boston and have WEALTH.
I’m the privileged white guy. I’ve got a good vehicle. I can travel the interstate, even if I’m a little slow at times. I work hard and have money to put gas in the tank. I have my home and I can take it with me wherever opportunity strikes. If I obey the laws, keep my vehicle maintained, and don’t have an accident, I’ll probably make it to Boston eventually. Of course, my idea of WEALTH is probably different than yours. Bigger truck and trailer. Better meals. Single malt scotch. Ten-dollar bottles of wine. Good health, money in the bank, and a vacation to Europe or maybe Australia eventually.
You see, I blew by the family in a twenty-year-old Toyota with engine trouble, 500 miles ago. 1,000 miles back, there’s a dozen fellows pushing bicycles up a mountain road toward the Continental Divide because they can’t take their bikes on the Interstate. They’re on U.S. 20, but that route is only 300 miles longer than the interstate. Except half of them hit some glass a couple miles back and have flat tires. They can’t even look forward to coasting down the other side of the mountain and hope there’s a place to buy new tires when they get to the next town.
They’re better off than the bunch who just made it out of Seattle with their backpacks and then got arrested for hitchhiking on the freeway. Or the company of disabled vets supporting each other in Pioneer Square as they decide if they’ve got enough money for both a sandwich and fare on a crowded bus to the edge of town that will only hold half of them. There are still a few hundred people who are trying to make it from Portland, Dallas, and Los Angeles to Seattle for the start of the race. And there are the thousands who have looked at 3,000 miles of hardship in front of them without the remotest chance they could crawl there and just sat down where they were to say, “Fuck it.”
That’s why I’m the one who represents white privilege. I’m the one out of several thousand behind me who is having a good trip. I’ve got gas, a home, and GPS.
And don’t imagine that because you are in the rarefied atmosphere of your Jag that you are at the top of the heap. There’s a guy in his own private jet who just lapped you once around the world and is landing in Boston a day before you get there. And one guy is circling the globe every ninety minutes in a space capsule, deciding how little of his WEALTH he can give up in Boston to keep everyone else on the road thinking they have a chance.
Just because I’m not the guy in the Jag or the airplane or the satellite doesn’t mean I’m not the privileged one. I’m in the race and whether I actually win or not, I still think I will. I still think that if all these other people would just work a little harder, make better route choices, drive a few more hours each day, or just not be so lazy, that they’d have just as good a chance as I have. Like I have just as good a chance as the you in the Jag.
I am white privilege.