Some number of years ago, a seminary student freshly entering the program was having a discussion with some of his peers and stated that he, as a white man, felt marginalized in the United States. He hadn’t been able to get any federal or state aid when in college, but saw a number of his minority friends get all kinds of aid while he was in school. He saw all sorts of scholarships for minorities only, but none he could actually apply for. His peers looked astonished, and one of them, a white man, asked him if he really felt marginalized as a white man in America. At that time, that student did, but quickly recanted, seeing it would turn into an argument he did not want to be involved in. Over time, that student saw firsthand the effects of racism with a number of his African American friends, and heard a few horror stories from them. He saw presentations in class about how racism is prevalent in systems in of all kinds in America – political, penal, and educational, to name a few. One presentation even mentioned the startling fact that even among African Americans, favoritism is shown to those who are lighter skinned because of how pervasive racism is in our culture.
I am not at all pleased to admit that that seminary student was me. Thankfully, I was in a place where I could explore and grow, and over time learn that my understandings about the world I lived in were completely false. I was in a safe place where I could have such discussions and take the time to reconsider my beliefs. Perhaps it is because of this, because I might have turned out very differently if I hadn’t been in such a place, that I tend to try to be understanding of people like Bill O’Reilly and what he had to say this week. It can be difficult at first to see just how pervasive white privilege is, and just how poorly African Americans and other minorities have been and are still treated in society today. In addition, misconceptions regarding programs in place specifically for minorities do not help with that understanding (such as how easily minorities can get scholarships – as it turns out, it is not so simple). It can be tough to accept, even with faced with the evidence, as it was for me. It took time for me to realize just how wrong I was when I was that young seminary student who thought he knew how the world really worked. Despite my forgiving nature when it comes to misunderstandings over race given my own past, I cannot in good conscience keep silent in response to what Mr. O’Reilly had to say and just how badly warped his reality seems to be.
By way of comparison, when I was a student it seemed to me that white privilege did not exist. It seemed to be the other way around. I think this is true for many white Americans today. It’s not always easy to see racism, especially of the institutional variety, and it’s especially hard to admit that we are complicit in it. This is not through any fault of our own, but even if we are not racists ourselves we certainly benefit from these systems. However, Bill O’Reilly takes this to a whole different level than those who would deny white privilege exists. Instead, O’Reilly readily admits that white privilege exists by stating, “The left sees white privilege in America as an oppressive force that must be done away with. Therefore white working-class voters must be marginalized, and what better way to do that than center the voting power in the cities.” Let’s take a moment to dissect this statement from O’Reilly’s Talking Points on 12/20/16. The left sees white privilege in America as an oppressive force, that much is certainly true, and I’m pretty sure most minorities in the United States would agree with that sentiment. But more important here is the fact that by speaking about white privilege in this manner, O’Reilly acknowledges what most people who don’t understand institutional racism will not – that white privilege exists. Even worse than that, not only does it exist but it should exist and continue to be a fact of life in this nation. Minorities don’t need a fair shot since whites are in power here and ought to stay in power. Anything short of that is marginalizing white voters. This sort of understanding is simply racist, through and through.
O’Reilly goes on to make other statements that reinforce his disturbingly racist understanding, such as “The left wants power taken away from the white establishment, and they want a profound change in the way America is run.” As an independent who certainly tend to lean much more liberal than anything else, I can honestly say that. Yes, I do want a profound change in the way America is run. I want it run fairly, so that minorities are no longer pushed to the side by rich, white men who are so afraid to lose their power that they get pundits talking like this. I don’t want there to be a white establishment, nor a black establishment, nor a Mexican nor Asian nor a Slovenian establishment – I’d much rather see an American establishment, one in which we can finally stop viewing race in this sort of manner. O’Reilly goes on to insist that “White men have largely abandoned the Democrats, and the left believes this is because of racism — that they want to punish minorities and keep them down.” This white man has certainly not abandoned the Democrats, and certainly not because of racism – rather, I’ve chosen to embrace an America in which the power does not lie with a particular race but with Americans in general, regardless of their skin color.
What it boils down to is this. It seems to me that Mr. O’Reilly and those out there like him who recognize that white privilege exists and want to preserve it would have us whitewash this nation – push anyone who does not share our skin color to the side as if they do not matter anyway. We’ve got our white establishment, and we’ll simply preserve that at any cost. After all, the timing of these comments seems dubious to me – O’Reilly insists this is about the Electoral College, but these comments only came after President Obama said, “If you stopped all immigration today, just by virtue of birth rates, this is going to be a browner country.” And he’s right – already the majority of children living in the United States are non-white, and minorities are set to become the majority by 2050 at the latest (various news reports from CNN and other sources placed that year anywhere from 2044 to 2050). If O’Reilly has his way, that majority would be a silent majority, pushed to the margins in this nation. After all, it is one thing to be blind to the problems of racism and the long road we face ahead in regards to it; it is quite another to have an openly racist attitude and to spout such ideologies to a nation-wide audience.