White Poverty Is Now A Privilege

The other day, I excitedly sent my boyfriend to my favorite bookstore to pick up some early Christmas gifts. I haven’t been in years, so I was looking forward to pictures and a rundown of all things books.

Upon entering the store, a green-haired employee gave my boyfriend a dirty look. Two twenty-something men behind the checkout counter whispered to each other and then scoffed. My boyfriend quickly noticed the entryway table that proudly displays top sellers and staff recommendations had titles like:

  • Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era
  • Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America
  • Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm
  • The Whiteness of Wealth: How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans–And How We Can Fix It

As he meandered his way to the back of the store, where the psychology, history, and political books live, the employees’ eyes remained fixed on him like he was some kind of fire-breathing chimera. He smiled at everyone, as is his character.

He found one of the books I had requested, surprisingly, but another, authored by a political centrist, was absent amongst the plethora of anti-Trump literature in the politics section. (Thank goodness for us, Barnes & Noble values profit over virtue-signalling.)

As my boyfriend approached the checkout counter with a book, the two cashiers looked at him and then turned their backs on him for several minutes. One turned around, waved him to the counter, and told him, “check your privilege.” As he checked out, as a long-time patron paying with years-old trade-in credit, my boyfriend was, I think, accused of being racist. Everyone in the store at the time was white.

My boyfriend is a middle-aged white male. He is tall, handsome, intelligent, kind… disabled, and impoverished. Just after graduating from college, he lost the ability to work in his field of training, he lost his guaranteed career path, and he lost all means of paying off his crushing student loans. He even lost his retail job due to his disability, probably illegally. For fourteen years, he has lived on under $800 a month of Supplemental Security Income, plus another $60 a month for food. I’ve helped out with bills in our time together, but we’ve been barely scraping by.

According to online slang dictionaries, “check your privilege” is a reminder to be mindful of any societal benefits that you receive or any discrimination that you avoid due to your skin color, gender, socioeconomic status, or other elements of your identity.

Just because someone is a white male, that doesn’t mean that they receive societal benefits or avoid discrimination. Guess who gets dirty looks when they pay with food stamps? Guess who was rejected from a graduate program due to the need to meet diversity thresholds, despite exceeding all acedemic and firsthand experience requirements? Apparently permanently disabled persons with an annual income 25% below the poverty line are not considered a marginalized group. White poverty is now a privilege.

On Thursday afternoon, I decided that I will no longer be patronizing my once-favorite bookstore–quite literally my favorite place in Phoenix for over 30 years. That decision breaks my heart, but discrimination against anyone for any reason is not okay and I can’t support it.

Since then, AT&T announced that it is putting its employees through a racial reeducation program that teaches that “American racism is a uniquely white trait” and tells white people that they are “the problem.” We’re looking into cancelling our AT&T phone plan and moving to Verizon.

Additionally, Critical Race Theory leader Ibram X. Kendi posted a tweet that backs up the white discrimination idea: “More than a third of White students lied about their race on college applications, and about half of these applicants lied about being Native American. More than three-fourths of these students who lied about race were accepted.” Does this not show that, at least in terms of college acceptance, minorities receive benefits associated with their ethnicity?

This type of thing has been going on for at least 15 years because I started college with a high GPA, high SAT and ACT scores, and hundreds of hours of community service, and vividly recall my minority roommates, with lower grades and wealthier families, scrambling to spend Bill Gates’ money on a fourth duvet cover and a second toaster for the dorm room while I was rationing out rice.

In the current sociopolitical atmosphere, we are all recipients of certain privileges and certain challenges, which may or may not be associated with our skin color, gender, socioeconomic status. I am not trying to minimize past historical wrongs, but rather redirect our focus today. How does discriminating against a new group undo the wrongs of our ancestors? Why can’t we all come together a pave a new path forward?

I truly believe that the true racists are few and far between. I would actually argue that the biggest perpetrator of racial inequality is the teacher’s unions, which block school choice, thus forcing underprivileged kids to remain in low-performing schools, rather than crossing district borders to receive a better education. A solid education has been shown, repeatedly, to lead to better outcomes for low-income and minority kids. But that’s a conversation for another day.

I prefer not to get into the weeds of politics, but I’m truly curious what other people’s experiences have been when it comes to the topic of racism and discrimination. Is it really an issue? Phoenix is a melting pot, so my three closest friends are immigrants from China, India, and South Korea. Numerous others are members of minority groups. Most I’ve asked about the topic have said that they have not experienced racism, and that they fear that the anti-racist movement is actually going to create more division.

When I tried to look up whether “discrimination against whites” is a thing, I was greeted with numerous articles stating that alt-right and white supremacists thrive on stories of anti-white racism, so I guess I’m now an evil, white-hooded conspiracy theorist. Sigh.

The post was mostly to clear my head, but I would hope that if you’re the type to judge one based on their outward appearance, you might consider that those who appear privileged may actually be more marginalized and disadvantaged than you think, and perhaps even more so than someone who is clearly a member of a minority group. Let’s all just work to lift each other up.

8 thoughts on “White Poverty Is Now A Privilege

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  1. Great post. You sum up exactly my own thoughts on this and word it WAY better than I could have. Being a white male doesn’t automatically mean people don’t experience prejudice in their lives over aspects that are often more hidden in some social situations and so on. I’ve read people of racial minorities be quite open and honest about the fact they feel equality has been reached on it now and whilst I am not saying no racism exists in the world, there’s clearly prejudices that exist just as much or more for specific people/groups that no one discusses because everyone is busy talking about some prejudices whilst ignoring others.

    I’m sorry to hear about your boyfriend’s experience at the bookstore and how awful and to sour memories of a great store you’ve visited for many years. I wonder if this is the work culture of the owner’s though or just these particular workers? I hear you over not wanting to go back, though. I wouldn’t, either.

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    1. Thanks, Katy. It reassuring to know that I’m not alone in my thoughts and experience here. You’re absolutely right–prejudices extend far beyond the “hot topics” covered by the mainstream media but, unfortunately, so many are allowed to run rampant.

      As for the bookstore, I haven’t visited for the last two years but am subscribed to the owner’s newsletter and have noticed she promotes a lot of anti-racist literature, so I think it’s a combination of the owner and the employees. I don’t mind a store featuring things that may or may not agree with my options, but acting in a discriminatory manner is just wrong. My boyfriend and I have been patrons since the 80s. It’s sad, more than anything.

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  2. I’m torn about the bookstore. I want to save small bookstores, but if they’re like yours… Oh boy…
    I agree with your view on privilege and racism. I’ve argued it on my blog in the past multiple times. Some people agree, others call me terrible names. *shrug* The world is going to hell.

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    1. Yes, I completely understand! I do what I can to support local small businesses but, thankfully, we do have several other options to choose from. It’s tough to say anything for fear of being called terrible things, but I suspect others feel similarly and it might be important to speak up.
      Gosh, a decade ago I was the biggest optimist and gave everyone the benefit of the doubt, but nowadays I would agree with you that the world is going to hell.

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