My midwestern working-class roots run deep. I was in my thirties the first time I walked into a rich person’s house. Honestly, I always held a deep-seated bias against the rich. Growing up in a factory town, the separation of classes was blatant. Our friendship circles were ethnically diverse but separated by class. My interactions with the rich weren’t pleasant; as they looked down their noses at me, my middle finger rose to greet their gaze.
It wasn’t until my mid-forties that at long last I had the incredible honor of meeting and falling in love with a privileged white male. He proudly told me about how in his twenties he courageously walked away from luxury and his wealthy family and embraced a down to earth, edgy, working-class identity. He was confident that he now understood poverty, sexism, hard work, and resilience. He swore he knew what it was like to struggle, but his story fell apart when he accidentally let slip that he always had access to money, and someone would open their wallet for him if he needed anything.
Ultimately, the relationship was a disaster, but he did teach me a lot about his struggles as a privileged white man, and why the world should continue to revolve around them. So that you too can understand their plight, I offer you ten things he taught me.
1. Nothing is ever their fault. They are always the victim; if anything bad happens to them. Remember, they never do anything to cause problems in their own lives.
2. No one understands them. They are one of a kind, unique humans, and no one in the world could understand what it is like to be them. They are just that special.
3. Everything they speak or think is true. Under no circumstances should you disagree with them. They could not possibly be wrong about anything.
4. They deserve to have others pay their way. They don’t have to work hard for anything in life. People should give them money, pay their bills, and bail them out when they are in trouble (after all, it wasn’t their fault — see point 1). Under no circumstances should you ask them to create a budget. That is financial abuse.
5. It is ok for them to scream at and lie to women. They are nice guys, just ask their friends (who are amazingly similar to them). If they deceive or abuse women, it’s her fault (see point 1).
6. Their needs come first. If they are depressed or unhappy, it is your job to center your day around making them feel better. If you try to take care of yourself, you aren’t kind or compassionate.
7. They are experts. Just because you have a degree or you are an expert in your field does not mean that you know more about any given topic than they do. Defer to them, or you’ll hurt their feelings.
8. White people are nicer. If you are blonde and blue-eyed other white people might be nice to you; therefore, travel is best when you go to places where people look like you. This helps reinforce their belief that all white people are nicer than brown people, especially since being around brown people makes them uncomfortable (of course, not their fault, see point 1).
9. Holding them accountable is abusive. Their privilege is a free pass. If they lie, cheat, or abuse you, do not speak up to them. They will spin the narrative faster than you read this sentence. It’s ok for them to treat you any way they want. You must respond to their abuse by coddling them and taking them out for a Chick-fil-A sandwich.
10. They are very sensitive. Being sensitive is ok… for them, but not for you. Remember that!
I wish that I didn’t have to include a disclaimer here that this list is meant to be satirical. I include the disclaimer for two reasons 1) a privileged white male might read this list and think — hell yeah; and 2) sadly some women might think this is a how-to list that will help them keep their privileged male happy, instead of seeing the ten red flags waving in their faces.
Needless to say, my run-in with his privilege was painful, and unfortunately reinforced my stereotypes about the fragility of white men from privileged backgrounds. I’ll keep working on eliminating my biases, but seriously guys help me out! It would be incredibly helpful if more men of privilege shattered the stereotypes and if the U.S. political circus didn’t continually reinforce them.
I want to know the real allies, those who understand how they can use their power and privilege to make the world a better place. Until then, sometimes it helps to laugh at the absurdity of it all, at the very least it gives me strength and keeps the tears at bay.
© Robin Harwick