“Privilege” as we view it now nationally came to the front through the will of the left and its identity politics. The lazy man’s definition of privilege is being white and male in America. As the academic industrial complex will charge you, it does have more nuance. As the election continues to confound liberals, there are some additional complications the overpriced textbooks tell you. Those are class and geography.
The Atlantic posted a few letters to the editor whose authors rejected the rejection of the rural poor. One of them from an immigrant speaks of being on welfare when his family first arrived in Seattle, they found their ground after some months as his mother succeeded in the real estate business. He also discusses his first job working minimum wage in a machine shop before getting started in the tech industry after dropping out of college first. He bemoans about being told to feel guilty for just working harder, the most common privilege deflection defense.
The problem is not that the letter’s author didn’t work hard, but that he worked within an area with opportunity. The problem is rural America has nothing beyond the machine shop if the town’s shop is still doing business. You can be the best realtor. When people can’t afford the house they have, the market might have a low ceiling and few buyers. When you don’t have the infrastructure like internet (39 of rural Americans don’t have broadband access. Overall only 10 percent of Americans lack access). Across the vast rural poverty centers of America people are facing the closures of Walmarts and other big box stores which often serve as the town’s only pharmacy, grocery, and major employer. The residents now have to travel for long drives to the closest one, some areas only have flea markets and swap meets. These are the people of the Reagan era Styx anthem “Blue Collared Man” looking for steady work for thirty years. Unemployment dropped because they were dropped from the labor force. Their community is dying and no one pays it any attention.
Many make the discussion centered on personal failure. The flesh and blood Horatio Alger characters speaking from above and afar. If only the poor were more mobile like during the Dustbowl is another frequently discussed solution. Mobility wasn’t the savior of the era. The homes that were abandoned, community severed. It beat death and they could believe the drought would end that they could go home. Today the plague is caused by man. Not to mention the jobscape is much different. The modern migrant farmer are no less exploited than during the depression. The undocumented status of many causes them to be invisible even if their citizenship status is the story of the day. Even general construction day labor work has changed. In North Carolina’s research triangle, the average wage in the 1990’s was twenty four an hour and today has dropped to twelve dollars an hour today as the share of illegal immigrant labor rose. Regardless, it wasn’t the mobility that saved the Dustbowlers, but the government. The New Deal made crop prices guarantee a living wage and crop buying to prevent any flooding of the market. Sustainable growing techniques were implemented to protect the soil. They left everything to live on a dirt floor. They died and bleed, but their efforts didn’t save them. Now in the wake of the Great Recession’s uneven recovery, they wonder why the party of FDr abandoned them. Some like their depression era ancestors left it all for the Bakken fields that once had a job for any person. In North dakota they found jobs but living space at the peak of the boom was a challenge. With the boom over, those who traveled and had some luck have continued on to find the next miracle. The Salvation Army hands out one way bus tickets to the broke and stranded.
Privilege may at the end of the day now come to mean the name you call someone who patronizes your existence and experience. We face a wide range of ills this new century. We won’t solve them by doubting each person’s work ethic if paid a living wage.
-E. C. Fiori