Laura Hollis: Time to Slay the ‘Privilege’ Dragon

It is time to vigorously go on the offensive against those who are selling the deeply deceitful ideology of “privilege” before they tear this country apart.

Although the “privilege” peddlers point to many characteristics that they say create entrenched and undeserved advantage for some in society, one identified most frequently is so-called white privilege.

“White” is a word with constantly shifting definitions. For a long time in this country, “white” designated people whose ethnic origins could be traced to Europe. But the current American definition of “white” (at least among those driving the national conversation) commingles European ethnicities that were not once considered coterminous. Specifically, many northern Europeans were considered “white” at the turn of the 19th century, but the Irish were not. Mediterranean Europeans were not. Nor were Jews or Turks.

That’s no longer the case.

The changing racial and ethnic composition of Americans should be seen as good news. People of different European ethnicities are far more likely to intermarry in the United States than their ancestors would have been in their native countries. And this trend is not limited to Americans of European extraction. According to the 2020 census, more than 10% (33.8 million people) of the U.S. population is now “multiracial.” Almost 20% of all marriages are now interracial.

But much of the motivation for the ever-changing definition of “white” is tied to craven political objectives, with ominous implications.

For example, Jews — among the most persecuted groups of people in history — are now told that they enjoy “white privilege,” whether they identify as “white” or not; even if they are Orthodox (and thus a distinct minority); even if they lost family in or fled the Holocaust. This smacks of thinly veiled antisemitism.

In another notable example, when Trayvon Martin, an 18-year-old Black youth, was shot and killed in Florida 10 years ago next month, the country was introduced to the term “white Hispanic.” George Zimmerman, the man who shot Martin, is multiracial. Zimmerman’s father is a native-born American. His mother was born in Peru. But Zimmerman was cast in the media as “white.”

In an interview with NPR about why the media was calling Zimmerman “white,” sociologist Jean Halley admitted, “Race is not a biological reality; it’s a social reality.” Halley went further, saying, “Whiteness is something that’s a negative. It means not being of color. There’s really almost no other definition for it … Ultimately the only thing that’s the real component of whiteness is having privilege.”

As California gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder discovered last year, even Black Americans — if they hold conservative political views — can be called “the Black face of white supremacy.”

In other words, “white” has long since ceased to be a racial designation and instead became synonymous with any behavior that is reprehensible, and any political viewpoint that the left disfavors. “White” is now an epithet that can be hurled at anyone — including children.

Many parents discovered during the COVID-19 lockdowns that “privilege” is being taught in K-12 education, warping our children’s perception of themselves and one another in ways that will breed learned helplessness and hatred. Black and Hispanic grade school children are taught that they will be held back by the color of their skin — and that the white children in their classroom are members of the group responsible. White children are told that they are “born racist.”

Characteristics other than race/color, but over which children have a similar lack of control, are also being used to intimidate and cow them. A friend recently sent me an “identify your privilege” handout used in the school system where she grew up. These checklists or “bingo cards” contain items that students are to check off or put tokens on, when any item in the list or one of the boxes describes their circumstances. The more items a child ticks off, the more “privilege” he or she has.

The categories in the boxes typically include things such as: “Heterosexual”; “Parents are married”; “Get driven to school”; “Christian”; “No speech impediments”; “Involved in extracurricular activities”; “Never lost a loved one”; “Come from a military family”; “Male.”

The absurdity of most of these items should be evident. The overwhelming majority of the human race is heterosexual; it’s “privilege” to reproduce the way the species does? Is taking the bus proof that one is somehow disadvantaged in life? I don’t know a soul who has never lost a loved one; do “privileged” people not die? Ask any kid from a military family how “privileged” he or she felt to have to move and change schools every few years. And as for being “male,” consider recent research that shows that boys are disfavored in elementary and secondary school, their behaviors increasingly pathologized, “diagnosed” and drugged. Young men have been entering and graduating from college in shrinking numbers relative to women for years.

“Privilege” is often described by activists as “the invisible knapsack of unearned assets.” In other words, success is not a function of hard work, staying in school, giving up leisure time to devote to extracurricular activities that teach teamwork, dedication and leadership, taking entry-level jobs and working one’s way up the ladder, saving instead of spending, or making countless other decisions that produce eventual success.

Nope. If you’ve succeeded, you were handed everything — in a “knapsack” that is conveniently “invisible,” so your detractors never have to prove its existence, nor can you deny it.

There was a time when our culture encouraged behaviors that developed independent individuals and stable families, provided stability for children, increased the likelihood of success and reduced the chances of intractable poverty with its attendant problems, therefore strengthening society.

That attitude has been turned on its ear. The characterization of these behaviors as “privilege” unsubtly (if not expressly) demands that those who have experienced or engaged in them apologize for them. This can only contribute to the further Balkanization and disintegration of American society.

We have the power to stop it. And we must.

Copyright 2022

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Laura Hollis

Laura Hirschfeld Hollis is a native of Champaign, Illinois. She received her undergraduate degree in English and her law degree from the University of Notre Dame. Hollis' career as an attorney has spanned 28 years, the past 23 of which have been in higher education. She has taught law at the graduate and undergraduate levels, and has nearly 15 years' experience in the development and delivery of entrepreneurship courses, seminars and workshops for multiple audiences. Her scholarly interests include entrepreneurship and public policy, economic development, technology commercialization and general business law. In addition to her legal publications, Hollis has been a freelance political writer since 1993, writing for The Detroit News, HOUR Detroit magazine, and the Christian Post, on matters of politics and culture. She is a frequent public speaker. Hollis has received numerous awards for her teaching, research, community service and contributions to entrepreneurship education. She is married to Jess Hollis, a musician, voiceover artist and audio engineer, and they live in Indiana with their two children, Alistair and Celeste.

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