By Rashad Grove
On one particular occasion I heard Dr. Marvin McMickle give an intriguing illustration that left an indelible mark upon me. He was eloquently speaking on a certain Garfield comic strip that he once read. In the first panel, Garfield is seated at the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day with a feast that was fit for a king. Anything and everything you could imagine was at Garfield’s disposal for consumption. The second panel features Odie the dog chained to a fence, in the midst of a snowstorm, with an empty dog dish. In the third panel, Garfield gets up from the table, with his dinner behind him to view the existential dilemma of Odie by looking through the safety and comfort of his window. In the fourth and final panel, Garfield closes the curtains that allow him to see Odie through the window and says to himself, “That’s better.”
A profound truth emerges out of this Gospel according to Garfield. When you are privileged enough to have a feast behind you, there is a greater possibility for you to disregard the needs of others who happen to be right in front of you. At its core, privilege is so self-consuming, so self-absorbing, and so self-hypnotizing that it isolates one into a specific reality and that reality becomes the sole rubric, the only point of reference that has any validity, and the dominating matrix which you see the world. It reminds me of the poignant words of Ralph Ellison when he declared, “They were very much the same, each attempting to force his picture of reality upon me and neither giving a hoot in hell for how things looked to me”.
The recent rhetoric of Willard “Mitt” Romney reveals a foreboding narrative of privilege. Romney in a fundraising dinner rather cavalierly said, ““There are 47 percent who are with [President Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” That’s the authentic Romney on full display. In the same space he also said, “My dad, as you probably know, was the governor of Michigan and was the head of a car company. But he was born in Mexico ... and had he been born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot at winning this. But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico. He lived there for a number of years. I mean, I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino." Romney’s remarks bequeath to us what the construction of the duality of privilege really looks like. First he has a blatant disdain for those who believes are the wretched of society. Romney has no cultural or sociological connectivity to how government programs are crucial to the survival of those who need them. His cultural or sociological relationship to the government has been mainly for the purposes of wealth creation and wealth preservation. He can’t understand how the role of government can be a prominent one to those who have suffered from legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, educational inequality, gender oppression, sexual injustice, and economic exploitation.
Secondly, his privileged allows him to desire the “advantages” of being a minority (i.e. his comments on if he was a Mexican he would have a better chance at winning the presidency) without ontologically indentifying with the experiences of minorities. Only someone born in and molded by privilege can articulate this kind of ideology. This pathology is brilliantly explained in another context, on the Dave Chappelle show, Paul Mooney says, “Everybody wanna be a nigga but nobody wants to be a nigga.” What Mooney is saying is that some want the benefits of being black without embodying the struggles that authentically make up the "isness" of blackness. Privilege realizes the apparent “benefits” of the disadvantaged while simultaneously denying the perpetual struggle of the disadvantaged.
The physician Luke writes in the eighteenth chapter of book that bears his name about a Pharisee that prayed a pietistic prayer. Draped in his religious regalia he says, “‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men.” A striking ethical fallacy is presented. The Pharisee’s error is that he is judging himself based on what he’s not doing instead of properly monitoring what he should be doing. There must be a transformation of this kind of narrative in our religious and political discourse. Romney is teaching all of us about the dangers and pitfalls of privilege. We must all fight the subtle temptation to exercise our own reasonable portion of privilege. Whether it is economic, religious, racial, gender, or sexual privilege. Katie Cannon speaks to this realization candidly be saying, “ As long as the White-male experience continues as the ethical norm, Black women, Black men, and others will suffer unequivocal oppression.”