I am going to drop some exceedingly basic knowledge on you. It’s so basic that 6 months ago, I would not have considered this worth writing. But given the funhouse mirror of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, it feels to me like some simple ideas are worth reiterating. One of those ideas is that white folks as a class of people in the United States do not have a reason to claim victimhood on account of their race. In other words, the claim that there is systematic oppression of white folks in the U.S. is delusional. This seems obvious to me, but I think to some folks for whom the whole alt-right schtick holds an appeal, this message has gone lost.
I will argue from my own experience. I’m a white guy in my middle 40s who has lived all over the US, with long stretches in the South, the Midwest, the East Coast and the West Coast. I’ve lived in small towns, suburbia, and big cities. I’ve lived in neighborhoods that were predominantly white and neighborhoods that were predominantly black. I’ve caught crawdads in the creek, worked in the “knowledge economy”, and gotten mugged on a street corner at night. There are many realities that I haven’t experienced, but I’ve gotten a decent sample.
I’ve also had the pleasure of working with people whose backgrounds ranged from Anglo-American to Zimbabwean immigrant. More than a few of the managers that I’ve worked under have come from very different backgrounds than my own. In fact, the most pivotal early career advice I received was from a fellow from Senegal who was one of the chefs at the restaurant where I waited tables in college, though he also had a degree in electrical engineering. He told me back in 1996 that Java was the programming language I should learn, and that tip basically gave me a head start on the next 20 years of my career.
All of this is not to say that I can generalize with 100% certainty from my experience, but experience does count for something. And I’ve lived to middle age as a white guy in America with a fair bit of contact with all the other types of folks that share this country. I have never had the experience that my ethnicity was preventing me from an opportunity that I wanted. I have encountered opportunities that I wasn’t ready for, for a variety of reasons. And I have encountered people here and there that disliked me because I was white. I also encountered a line cook named Neftali from El Salvador, who told me that white guys don’t know how to please a woman. Whatever, Neftali! But I have encountered no real opportunities that were denied to me because of the color of my skin, whether the hiring manager looked like me or not. If you’re non-white, you might think of this as “white privilege”. I sincerely hope that one day that is just the norm for everyone in this country.
I do believe people when they say they are hurting economically. I know there are areas of the country and whole sectors of the economy where the opportunities are scarce and the situation looks grim. But I have a difficult time believing that white folks who find themselves in that situation are there because they’re white. And I think that if you’re going to spend your time worrying at that problem, you are wasting precious time that ought to be spent on other aspects of your situation: where you live, what industry you work in, what education might be needed for a change in career, or what else needs to change in society to open up those opportunities.
I don’t mean to sound callous to people’s economic suffering. The tech industry where I work can be turbulent too, with a whole panoply of economic stresses — ranging from outsourcing to automation to just the vagaries of start-up life. So I don’t pretend to have everything all figured out in life. I’m always looking over my shoulder for my new robot master. But I’m pretty certain that the worst thing in a bad situation is to delude yourself about the problems that you’re facing. And likewise, I’m certain that being born a white US citizen should not be counted as one of your problems in 2017. If that’s the chip on your shoulder, you need to brush it off.