Kirsten Gillibrand Schools A White Lady
White people are in general very confused about the concept of white privilege. You'd think the assorted racism concierges siccing cops on black people might clarify the issue for them. But no, broke-ass white people especially question the idea that they have any privilege compared to black people, for whom life is a bowl of cherries that a cop might mistake for a gun.
Kirsten Gillibrand, who we're told is running for president, was at a roundtable in Youngstown, Ohio, Thursday, and a woman asked the senator how Democrats can talk about white privilege when she, a real-live white woman, has her own struggles. This question is itself white privilege, but instead of holding up a mirror for the lady, Gillibrand listened patiently.
"This is an area that, across all demographics, has been depressed because of the loss of industry and the opioid crisis. What do you have to say to people in this area about so-called white privilege."
Just because you are at the top of the country's racial hierarchy doesn't mean you can't screw up your own life. White people can have both privilege and a talent for self-destruction. This woman mentions the opioid crisis, which itself demonstrates a stark difference in how drug addiction is treated politically based on race. Youngstown is 43.65 percent black, so she had ample opportunity to consult an actual black person about this. However, the nice white woman from New York delivered some truth bombs.
She acknowledged that yes, white people also suffer, just like lesser mortals, but that's not "what that conversation is about."
GILLIBRAND: What that conversation is about is when a community has been left behind for generations because of the color of their skin. When you've been denied job after job after job because you're black or because you're brown. Or when you go to the emergency room to have your baby ― the fact that we have the highest maternal mortality rate, and if you are a black woman you are more likely to die in childbirth because that health care provider doesn't believe you when you say, "I don't feel right."
Wait, is she going to have to tell these people that institutional racism exists?
GILLIBRAND: So institutional racism is real. It doesn't take away your pain or suffering. It's just a different issue. Your suffering is just as important as a black or brown person's suffering. But to fix the problems that are happening in the black community, you need far more transformational efforts that are targeted for real racism that exists every day.
The audience applauded Gillibrand's lovely answer. We'd like to think it was a Jed Bartlet moment, but few people in that room are going to vote for her. They don't want to hear that their suffering is just as important as a person of color's suffering. They want their suffering to jump the line like a Walt Disney World FastPass+ holder.
Gillibrand's predecessor in the Senate, Hillary Clinton, discussed white privilege movingly during the 2016 campaign. She was dismissed as not centering white people sufficiently. We think the problem is not that Democratic candidates don't try to explain white privilege, it's just that certain voters refuse to listen.
But props to Gillibrand for trying. It's the leadership we need, and may we all live to see the day when most white voters want it.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."