I know and respect Rita Dunaway, so it was with embarrassment and pain that I read her Viewpoint "The Myth Of White Privilege" (Dec. 7).
Rita, you write "Our ancestors worked hard to build a society where anyone, through discipline and hard work, can achieve a reasonable measure of social and economic success." Our white ancestors enslaved blacks for over 200 years, then freed them, then made a mockery of that freedom by enshrining Jim Crow laws that kept blacks from political power. Blacks were subject to lynchings, church bombings and other acts of terrorism. They were denied equal educational opportunities. Legislation was designed to ensure that many black males were incarcerated. The trauma of that experience is deep, and not to be underestimated. Any minority feels vulnerable, and here in the Valley blacks live in an environment rife with Confederate battle flags, and monuments and schools honoring those who fought for the slave-holding South. These reminders of our past are part of our present. Just try changing one.
You then continue "The idea of 'white privilege' suggests that the system is rigged — that the scales are still tipped in favor of whites." Rita, I think this is the core of our difference of opinion — you believe the scales are now even. In limited space, let me describe just one dimension in which the scales are still tipped.
Many a red-blooded white Virginian with a gun in his pickup will tell you that the proper response to oppressive government is defiance. We honor such defiance, even when we are uncomfortable with it, even when we think it is ill-informed. If it comes to a standoff between the government and militant anti-government whites, our government has learned to start with respectful engagement.
Blacks have lived for centuries with repressive government, and black culture celebrates symbolic defiance of the system that has hated them. Many blacks express their defiance in their rap, their stance, their clothes, their glance, their “attitude”. Defiance is a virtue of the oppressed. They express their dignity by their defiance of the system under which they have suffered.
Why do we not honor black defiance?
Police, properly needing to establish control of a situation, often overreact to black defiance. Black defiant attitude is too often used to justify dominating and humiliating them — "Put your hands on the car!" Whites understandably fear those who have such a historically well-founded grievance against white culture. The expectation of conflict is all it takes for police to feel a challenge to their control, and things escalate, leading to increased incarceration rates for blacks, and sometimes to fatal outcomes. All of which reaffirms black perception of an unjust system.
Most of us whites do enjoy a privilege, the privilege of not needing to defy the system we live in. For the moment.
We fear the loss of that privilege, proving that we have it now.
John Fairfield lives in Bridgewater.