Okay, fine. I can appreciate that. Racists want to be racists. It’s going to be hard arguing them into taking common cause with people of color. With Muslims. With immigrants. White skin privilege is a nonmonetary reward, but a reward nonetheless.
In fact, companies already know about this kind of thing. You ever notice how your bosses have lots of little ways of rewarding you for a good job without actually spending money?
Maybe it’s an email with some nice words. Maybe you get your name in the office newsletter. Maybe they put your face on the wall, and underneath is the sign: Employee of the Month. Makes you feel good too, doesn’t it? You don’t like that it does, but you can't deny it.
That’s how they get you. And that’s what racial privilege is. It’s an Employee of the Month sign from the company that just cut your benefits, fired all your friends and gave you their workload as part of what they call a “promotion,” only without the salary increase.
Don’t get me wrong. It would have been terrible for you not to get that Employee of the Month sign. Oh yes. They beat, and cage, and they hang the people who don’t get the Employee of the Month signs under their pictures. It doesn’t help you to have it. But not having it can kill you.
Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives? No, not really. Because second prize is you’re fired, and third prize is that they can shoot you in the middle of the street, and nobody does a goddamned thing about it.
But you know what first prize is? First prize is they handcuff you to your job, they slice a little bit of money off your paycheck every single year, they cut the number of teachers from your kid’s school, let your neighborhood water system get poisoned and the pavement outside your home crumble, as all around you police start beating up people and squeezing them for nickels like they’re running a massive criminal protection racket.
They are killing you slowly. And every day your bosses come in and tell you to keep it up. Keep helping them. Every day they say this:
“You know what? You’re one of the good ones.”
You’re one of the good ones.
That’s what the rich man running for president from the party of the bosses tells all his fans. They’re the good ones. He says they’re all going to make America great again, and he tells them that what’s holding them back – the reason the infrastructure is ruined and the jobs are gone is all those other people out there, the ones who weren’t good enough, who couldn’t get the Employee of the Month signs on the wall. Just like the boss tells you everyone has to pull together to meet the company deadline, since you’re short-staffed after all the layoffs.
The rich man running for president acts like he’s going to help change things. Never mind that he and guys like him have been in charge the whole time. Never mind that he’s one of them - He brags about it! And never mind that by dividing you from the rest of the workers, the rest of the people at the bottom… by dividing you from them, he is selling you on exactly the same deal that he and his buddies have been selling you for decades while your whole world fell apart.
Never mind that. Because he says this time it’s going to be different. Even though he won’t tell you how. And you believe he’s honest, that he’s not afraid to say what he thinks, even though it’s just a cruder, uglier version of the same thing his party has always been telling you. Even though it’s obvious he’s telling you everything you want to hear, everything that’s kept you working away at that desk, in your seat, quietly doing what they tell you, and not causing any trouble.
You going to help him, because you’re one of the good ones.
See, black people already know what that means. They’ve been told that, and they know it’s a sign that a whole nation is scamming you. It means a system has been rigged against you, and you need to fight for your dignity.
Well, how about this? In reality there are two kinds of people at the bottom: There are people who know who their friends are and what they have to do – people not afraid to see their situation clearly. And then there are people so stupid they can be bought off by a goddamned sign on a goddamned wall, a stupid slogan, or a clown cracking racist jokes on TV.
Now who’s in last place?