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I never thought about privilege, white, male, or class, when I was a kid although, sure, we were told about the starving people in Africa, China, or India when we didn't eat our broccoli. 

I didn't realize that just living in a normal house in a normal town was privileged although it didn't feel particularly privileged living at dysfunction junction with fighting parents and divorce on the way.

When I went out hitchhiking on the road (after reading On The Road) with just fifty bucks in my pocket that didn't seem very privileged. Okay, I lied. When I went out on the road I had five hundred dollars, my life savings, and I was the richest hitchhiker out there in 1972. Only right now while writing this am I making the connection between that $500 and privilege.

I earned that money with my teenage jobs including house-painting, parking lot attendant, phone solicitor, and paperboy. When I worked for the painter I made $2.25 an hour doing the nastiest jobs like climbing up a very tall ladder to spray poison on the wasp nests near the roof. Another time I painted a small barn and planned an elaborate bank robbery as I worked for hours. (Living in the outlaw Northern California hills for forty years was actually like committing a slo-mo bank robbery.)

I bought nothing, saved every dollar, and that's the connection to privilege: I didn't have to help support my family with my after-school jobs, it was all mine, all gravy.

From my twenties through my fifties I never thought about privilege although I did come to realize that my fellow denizens out here in the hills were probably the most privileged people on the planet: living with clean air and water, an easy job with great pay, and long vacations.

It was only after I retired from the green-race that I started to contemplate the nature of this concept.

I wasn't going to feel guilty about being a white male and having stuff: I had lucked into this hippie lifestyle, my neighbors a generation of well-off bums, and sorry millennials, you were born forty years too late and will probably never have anything.

In a recent essay about this area I mentioned white privilege and I was corrected by a commenter: there was no “white privilege” out here in the hills, ie, the few Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and many Native Americans here had the same opportunity as anyone else to put some pot plants in the ground and make bank. It took some happenstance and serendipity to end up here, and who you knew sometimes mattered which points to privilege again. 

What makes America wealthy? First of all we're at peace, well not in the under-privileged ghettos, but mostly we live without fear in our small towns and rural areas. What makes the U.S. wealthy is that even the most impoverished renter can take a hot shower, a reality not shared with most of the world's population. (Sixty per cent of humanity does not have access to clean water.)

Yes we are privileged, especially as seniors with socialized medicine: I recently got a hip replacement absolutely free just because I'm sixty-five, wow, what a gift — changed my life.

No, I have no solutions except to maybe give some of it back to those less fortunate: I have a friend who made fifty grand on Tesla stock recently and he donates $7000 a year to worthy causes, good man! And when his wife sells her rentals, gained by inheritance, they go to the long-term renters at below market prices. They are a very nice couple, but you can bet they will be passing the bulk of their wealth down to their child, no doubt.

See, we should give some or a lot of our stuff, our houses and wealth, to those less fortunate but we won't. Why? Because it's dog-eat-dog out there and we cling to our bank accounts to help us get through this last chapter of our privileged lives, old age, right?

Look at the big picture: the wealthy white people control a lot of the world's wealth, we didn't ask to be privileged, and now that we are what are we going to do about it?

Absolutely nothing. 

I have some extra rooms and could probably take in seven homeless people but why would I want to ruin my life just to be a saint?


  1. mitch clogg June 29, 2021

    You make an intelligent start and end with stupidity. Like a suicide who realizes too late that you didn’t consider the alternatives, you say: Miserable Saint or Comfy Shithead?

    Are those your only choices? I know a woman who’s “raised” a bunch of poor kids, in “shithole countries,” as our recent president called them, with small monthly donations to an ethical charity. She’s not “lucky,” in any material sense, but she at least can afford that.

    Seems they’re instructed to write her, from time to time, to thank her and report on their progress through life. She never replies, knows none of her beneficiaries (also has–or wants–no kids of her own). She does what she does because she can, whether her personal finances are low or not.

    You, poor child, have enough imagination to write your little self-effacing and self-forgiving little piece but not enough to grab any of a million good answers to your terrible dilemma. You fill in the rest of my note.

    • Paul Modic June 29, 2021

      I am reflecting the thoughts and reflections of most of my peers: we’re vaguely aware that there’s some connection between those subjugated and our good fortune but don’t think there’s anything we can do about it so we do mostly nothing. I do know people who give back and I commend them.
      The selfishness of humanity and my peers is the norm, though it’s not an excuse for doing nothing.
      Most people I know are just trying to be happy and/or content (few are).
      Yes, I was probably out of my depth with this piece but I gave it a shot.
      Thanks for your feedback

      • Mitch Clogg June 30, 2021

        Paul Modic, do you look at what you write before you post it? Yours is an intelligent mind, undone by laziness, White privilege held close to the vest and played poorly. “Gave it a shot,” in regard to an insultingly casual “shot” at a life-or-death concern, a matter that reaches into the most important and elusive considerations of the species, is the language of the well-off jackass. I remember, when I was a kid, a party at a successful something-or-other’s house. While we adolescents partied in the well-appointed basement, dad sat above us in an easy chair, feet on ottoman–mirror-shiny loafers, bright knee socks, yellow Bermudas, newspaper. A door or wall hid the rest of him. We were all to understand the head of house was on duty. I understood he was a clueless creep.
        It’s entirely possible, Paul, that you know something useful. Kindly stick to that. Hemingway’s advice to aspiring writers, in his usual wordy way: Write about what you know.
        Don’t be such a jerk.

        • Paul Modic July 1, 2021

          I just re-read the essay and it seems fine to me, ie, I am writing about what I know: me.
          The title might have been misleading as it wasn’t a definitive exhaustive study.
          Calling me a jerk probably says more about you than me.
          Thanks for your comments.

  2. Rye N Flint June 29, 2021

    I’ve seen better article/stories about understanding white privilege in a social system built by and for White Anglo Saxon Protestants. I’m glad to see some effort to grasp the reality of the control system we were all born into. Keep up the good work!

    • Paul Modic June 29, 2021

      Thanks, this is a subject which could have been delved into much further, assuredly…

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