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Some Thoughts on Privilege

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

When a Mexican asks me where I am from, I have several responses. Most commonly I tell them, "A little city outside of New York." Other times I say, "A little city half way between Boston and New York." Sometimes those who have lived in the States ask me for the name of the state. I tell them, "Connecticut. In the language of the Indians it means rio largo," long river. Once after my "half way between Boston and New York," a man actually correctly identified the state. With the accent, it took me a second to understand him, but when I did I wanted to hug him.

The river flows down through the center of the state. Hartford and the affluent suburb of West Hartford, where I was raise, are on one side. East Hartford, the more working-class suburb (home to Pratt and Whitney jet engines) is on the other bank. Dad's brother Gay lived in East Hartford with his family including Gay's son, my cousin Larry. Larry and I have stayed in touch. He is one of my two favorite cousins. (I have 21.) He is the closest thing I have to a brother.

A year ago in May I visited Cousin Larry at his place in eastern Tennessee. Evenings we would sit on his front porch, watching the sun set and the night settle in. His house is on a little rise set back a good ways from the road. We sat looking westward out across that large expanse of lawn towards the trees and sky beyond.

One evening, there in the dark, he said that he wished his parents, when he was a boy, had taken him across the river to West Hartford to a rich neighborhood and pointing out the large houses had told him, "You can achieve this." He complained, "Why didn't they?" Now, Cousin Larry did alright for himself, but I guess he figures that he might have done better.

When I was 11 or 12 years old my father's business associate bragged to him that his son had received an 89 percentile on the national standardized Iowa Test they gave us all at school. My father told his associate, neither of them having graduated high school, that I got a 99 percentile, which was the highest score possible. After my father produced the paper to prove it, his associate told him, "You ought to do something special for him," meaning me. When I was 14 I was accepted at the Loomis-Chaffee School, one of the top ten prep schools in the country, just north of Hartford also along the banks of the Connecticut River.

I boarded there my first year. I lived on the same floor as Chris Mellon, whose family made their first fortune in gunpowder during the Civil War. Following alumni news I saw that Chris went on to occupy the third highest intelligence position at The Pentagon, United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. He also was on the television show "Unidentified: Inside America's UFO Investigation." A very WASPy school, they roomed me with the only other Jew on the floor. His grandfather started the Marx Toy Company in 1919. Their train sets outsold Lionel in the late 50s. Remember Rock'em Sock'em Robots and the Big Wheel tricycle? That was them.

One evening, sitting around with my very privileged schoolmates, the discussion turned to the benefits conferred by wealth. They decided that the chief privilege was a better perspective, an expansive worldview.

Still, there are other types of privilege.

I'm no cop-lover. I remember my father asking rhetorically, "What kind of person becomes a cop?" I knew the answer, "Someone who likes power."

A patient of mine, T., had the highest grossing bar in Hartford, Duffy's. On weekends the beer distributor would park a large refrigerated truck outside the bar to keep him in stock. Sometimes the television station's traffic helicopter, during rush hour would hover over the bar's patio and report, "Highway 91 north is backed up. Highway 84 west is very slow. But the biggest crowd is on the patio at Duffy's," eliciting a roar of approval from the patio. T. told me, "The biggest problem with Hartford is the police." Leaving the bar, at 3:00am, $10,000 in a bag on the seat beside him, a well-armed guard in the car following his, the police stopped him. They asked him for a donation to the benevolent association. He protested that he had just made a "donation." They threw a small bag of white powder into his car and asked him, "How about now?"

I remember speaking with my father after his stroke, after he had lost his vision and with it his ability to watch television or read the newspaper. I was filling him in on current events. I mentioned that hundreds of cases were being dismissed and prisoners released from jail, because a group of policemen in Los Angeles had been convicted of planting evidence in a case. He raised his head a little and asked, "That's news?"

I understand, here in Mexico and in the United States, that it is almost always a mistake to call the police. Asking the police to resolve a problem is like asking the mafia for assistance; you are getting involved with a large, imperfect, powerful, often brutal organization. Even so, I further understand that as a white man my interactions with the police are "privileged" over the police interactions of a black man.

You can go around believing that doctors or clergy are altruistic people. But I insist that they are regular folks, with all the faults of the common man. You can expect police to be smart and fair, but are we? Cops are no angels. Studies and history show, give a person a uniform and a gun and bad things happen, or, at least, more easily happen. But when revolution is advocated over reform, I get a little nervous.

In Seattle's recently declared police-free "autonomous zone" the system is already replicating itself. Shop owners are being extorted, asked to pay to do business in the zone. Armed patrols have arisen with checkpoints. Strongmen seem to be emerging. The idea, brought forward in the argument to eliminate the police, that we only are bad because we are crushed under the boot of capitalism, is so Rousseau, and so patently untrue. We are no angels and it is foolish to think that the cops are or should be or could be, either. Everything pales next to utopia.

The whole system is racist? Isn't everyone shocked by George Floyd's death? Is anyone in favor of police brutality, inequitable sentencing or bad schools? Haven't the protests woken us up? Look at the outpouring of support for reform. Didn't we recently elect a black president... twice?

There are two competing views of America. One is that because Thomas Jefferson had slaves, all the founding noble rhetoric is a lie. The other is that our founding ideals have been extended, that gradually or abruptly they have become more encompassing.

The traditional view is that America is the land of opportunity; if you work hard and smart you can make it. A lot of poor immigrants lived this first vision. A lot of immigrants are still living it, still achieving success. If you will allow me the generalization, there is a reason why everyone (except Canadians and we expats) wants to live in the United States.

The Black Lives Matter view is that if you are black, the cards are all stacked against you; the long shadow of slavery or slavery itself, still oppresses blacks.

The black conservative Thomas Sowell (listen on Youtube) points out that the two most reliable indicators of black success are graduating high school and not having a child until you are married. He insists the main problems in the black community, problems that have worsened since the mid 1960s, are due to the disintegration of the black family since the mid 1960s.

What harm is being done to black youth by telling them that the system is rigged against them? The rewards of personal initiative, America as a land of opportunity, is a much more uplifting narrative.

Improving the educational outcome of black youth is a complicated subject, but it is central to overcoming social disparities. Education is central to extending the opportunities of America. As they told me during that rap session back in prep school, the chief privilege is a better perspective, a more expansive worldview.

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Dr David's roots go deep into the black community, as a future article will make perfectly clear. So just chill out, honkeys. And don't be schooling him about revolution, neither, you who've never stepped out of line in your whole life. He has a few things to show you.

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