A Funny Kind of Privilege

Black female billionaire Oprah Winfrey recently “encouraged her white viewers to acknowledge that they will always have a “leg up” in culture because of the color of their skin.”  White people, she says, “no matter where they are on the rung or ladder of success, they still have their whiteness.”  To be white, she argues, is to enjoy peculiar social advantage in America today.

You have to give credit where it’s due.  A famous black female billionaire convincing her suburban hovel-dwelling white female audience that they should self-pillory for enjoying a culture of “white privilege” that is actively oppressing people like her?  That is nothing short of brilliantly manipulative persuasion.  It reminds me of that scene in The Silence of the Lambs when the audience is informed that Hannibal Lecter managed to convince a neighboring inmate to swallow his own tongue.

But it’s worth asking -- would the words “black female billionaire” even sequentially exist in the America that Oprah imagines?  What about the words “black female First Lady?”

Former First Lady Michelle Obama is another rich and powerful black female who claims that the system is rigged against people like her.  That assertion is belied, however, by comments to be found in her successful memoir, Becoming.

As an example of this systemic racism that supposedly exists in America, Obama relates that she felt the “shadow of affirmative action” in her years at Princeton. 

“It was impossible to be a black kid at a mostly white school and not feel the shadow of affirmative action,” she writes.  She says that she “could almost read the scrutiny in the gaze of certain students and even some professors, as if they wanted to say, ‘I know why you’re here.’”

She admits that she was probably “just imagining some of it,” but her own statements in the past suggest that she may have had some reason for that anxiety.  As Mark Steyn writes in his book, After America, Obama told an audience in Madison that she has always “confronted people who had a certain expectation of me,” continuing:

Every step of the way, there was always somebody there telling me what I couldn’t do.  Applied to Princeton.  ‘You can’t go there, your test scores aren’t high enough.’  I went.  I graduated with departmental honors.  And then I wanted to Harvard.  And that was probably a little too tough for me.  I didn’t even know why they said that.

“But hang on,” Mark Steyn observes.  “Her test scores weren’t “high enough” for Princeton?  Yet, rather than telling her “you can’t go there,” they took her anyway.”

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“In less enlightened lands,” he continues, “when you’re told “your test scores aren’t high enough,” that’s it, you can’t go.  To get into other countries’ elite institutions, you have to be objectively excellent.  To get into America’s best schools and join its elite, you need mediocre grades and approved social points.”

The truth hurts.  But the salient point here is the final one.  Far from being a burden that closes doors and hamstrings potential success, simply being a black female in America is to score “approved social points” that open doors which would otherwise be closed in any objective review of candidates seeking opportunities.

Consider the following scenario. 

In a suburb of Little Rock lives a young black girl, and somewhere in the rural Ozarks lives a young white boy.  Both are good, ambitious students seeking to go the University of Arkansas after they graduate, but the similarities in their lives end there.  The young girl lives with both her parents in a happy single-family home in a safe neighborhood.  The young boy, on the other hand, lives in crime-ridden trailer park, and lives only with his mother because his father is in jail for cooking meth.

Far from being a deficit for the young girl to overcome, her skin color actually gives her an advantage over the young boy.  The boy could have better grades and test scores, and still be denied the opportunity to attend the school of his choice because that school has affirmative action policies which incentivize giving preference to the girl.

While one might safely argue that this is indeed a corrupt system which applies institutional bias by assigning value to individuals based upon their skin color, it is madness to assume that the black female is the one who is oppressed by it.

Yet a powerful black female who enjoyed a systemic privilege not granted to white men is claiming to be a victim of the white patriarchy, and one of the most successful media figures in American history is a black female who is claiming that a poor white boy in trailer park enjoys some privilege that she does not have?

We need to recognize that by peddling guilt about “white privilege” and tilting at the windmills of systemic racism in America, progressive royalty like Oprah and Michelle Obama are not seeking an end to racial inequality.  They are, in effect, demanding that more institutional privileges be granted to people of color.