Why Discussions About Privilege Are the Problem

This article won’t be a scream-fest, sorry. Having said that, no one cares about your J Crew packages and it’s the job of government to determine general wealth distribution via taxation in the US, not moralizing ranters. Nico, Kate, this article isn’t aimed at you. It’s aimed at the recurring argument itself.

This week, both Nico Lang and Kate Menendez let fly regarding their thoughts on monetary privilege (aka money) and numerous commenters dove in to choose sides. What I noted, besides the number of people that now seem to hate Kate, was that there was pretty much zero discussion of any objective standard of what people with or without money actually do with their money and the entire discussion of tax policy was completely avoided.

These two articles basically constituted a “battle of the anecdotes.” That’s fine, sure, we’ve all got our own experiences. Mine is split right down the middle between Nico’s and Kate’s. I didn’t grow up poor but I grew up lean with hair that wasn’t cut often enough (my mother often cut it) and shoes that had to last me a lot longer than a lot of those around me. I never had fashionable clothes but I always had clothes of some kind. I had one winter coat which was stolen when I was in middle school. This constituted a minor emergency for me and my mother but I got another coat. That’s my anecdote but what’s the real deal with privilege and giving especially between two people which I bet would both call themselves Liberals or Progressives? Well, there’s two things I want to use to get the discussion going here. The below graphs are based on numbers pulled directly from charitable giving declared to the IRS and compiled in a database here.

This is with religious charitable giving.
This is with religious charitable giving.
This is without religious charitable giving.
This is without religious charitable giving.

So, that’s pretty clear, right? With religious charities included, the South dominates in charitable giving and with it excluded the North East dominates. It’s obvious what this means, right? Culture war time! 

See, behind all the words in both of the above articles what you’ve got is a rich woman whose parents worked to make her rich and who is stereotypically viewed as Conservative (yes, you know it, I know it, it’s the stereotype) vs a man who grew up poor and has now done much better for himself. Who knows, maybe if Nico has a daughter she’ll be the one writing an article much Kate did. I sincerely hope he does well enough that it will be possible. I can only imagine his mother is extremely proud of how he’s done so far, I would be.

People in the North East deal with much higher taxes along with their higher wages

Let’s get behind the numbers here and instead of talking about religious vs non-religious let’s look at why people give because the other doesn’t matter for the purpose of a discussion on privilege. The South is poorer than any other part of the country and the North East is richer than any part of the country (although New York State has the greatest wealth inequality spread of any state). People give because they want to contribute to making things better. You can say that’s for a religious purpose or a secular purpose. It’s doesn’t matter and if you think one is inherently better than the other then you’re not being serious. We give towards what we believe will help, right or wrong. You can say that religious people give out of guilt (as if that’s a bad thing, it’s not) but that doesn’t matter either because non-religious people also give out of guilt *cough cough* PETA. Everyone gives out of guilt and a desire to make things better, everyone. The sources of that guilt hardly matter, nor does the charity given to. This is about the intentions of the givers. Three things then are clear.

  • The South is statistically the poorest region in the country
  • The South gives more to charity than any other place in the country
  • The South is overwhelmingly conservative

Now this isn’t a gotcha. I’m not a Conservative nor do I give to a Conservative church. I’m also not saying that the North is evil. People in the North East deal with much higher taxes along with their higher wages and these taxes very often go to create infrastructure aimed at dealing with some of the same things charities do. So, there’s rightfully a sense in some big cities in the North East that if you’re paying your taxes then you’re doing your bit. Additionally, people give on top of paying those taxes so it’s understandable that some people would think this way whether or not it’s accurate. Now, let’s figure out how much privileged people are giving in these two regions.

We live in a country where centrists believe themselves to be liberals simply because they care about social issues such as “who is privileged”

Using this interactive it’s easy to see that people making over $200,000 in New York state and the North East always/always give less than people in every Southern state with the exception of Florida and Louisiana. This is with the average income over $200,000 in New York State being nearly twice as high ($405,000) as most anywhere else in the country. Don’t even get me started on Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, etc. They give less than anywhere else in the entire country.

You know who does give a lot? Middle income people, the majority of which are White, and poor people, the majority of which are also White. I mention the racial distinction because it’s common, and rightly so, in discussions of privilege to discuss the issue of race and power in culture. So, who gives the most in the US by the numbers out of a belief that giving is something they should do? White middle class and poor Conservatives. Arguments against religious giving can be made until the end of time but people give because they believe that giving matters. They give out of generosity and, in the case of the poor, they give out of extreme generosity.

All that aside, when we start talking about who gives more and who should give more and who’s privileged and who isn’t what we really should be talking about are issues of taxation and economics. Everyone in the country is subject to the whims of the economic winds. Hardly anyone is poor because they chose to be just as there are a great number of rich people, like Kate, that aren’t rich because they chose to be. Recognizing that we’re all a part of the same society is important well beyond some juvenile need to air grievances or place blame. The blame is on ourselves. We don’t live in a country with a Progressive tax system given all the places that money can be hidden. We don’t have a Progressive President. We live in a country where centrists believe themselves to be liberals simply because they care about social issues such as “who is privileged” while at the same having exactly no understanding that our entire economic plan is still based on supply side/trickle down economics. And you think you’re a leftist because you defend poor and gay people in conversation and on internet forums…

Progressives don’t divide along race and they don’t complain about the rich unless they’re ready to actually do something about inequality

Get mad about that. Don’t pick around the edges like a buzzard whining about how you’re tired of people not thinking you’re poor (tourist) or about how rich people don’t whip themselves enough. You’ll never get people to act the way you want to in this regard. If you want the money to be spread around then you have to tax people and regulate business, period.

The ever increasing gap between rich and poor is a symptom of a problem, not the cause of a problem and that problem is unbalanced supply side government policies since Reagan (yes, Clinton and Obama both love these same policies) which is why this discussion of rich/poor here on TC is so absolutely false. It may as well be a snowball fight for all the seriousness is represents. The battle between the majority and the minorities is useless for the purpose of initializing class change which directly affects actual people’s lives and changes their plight. It’s not Progressive and it’s not Liberal, it’s a nonsense theory designed to distract from real structural problems. It’s a popularity contest. It’s a pillow fight. It’s nothing.

Progressives don’t divide along race and they don’t complain about the rich unless they’re ready to actually do something about inequality for everyone.

So, how much have you given this year? Nothing? 20 or 30 bucks?

Read the original Kate Menendez article here. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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