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“Privilege!” | Psychology Today

My father, Boris Nemko

Source: Marty Nemko

“Privilege” is among today’s most emotion-generating memes.

And among the most unfair.

In that today is Father’s Day, it might be a particularly good time to take a moment to reflect on it.

The term “privilege” implies that the “privileged” person’s success is unearned. Privilege Promulgators point to people born with a silver or should I say white spoon in their mouth. But is even that unearned? The wealthy parent likely earned their “privilege” by being capable and hardworking enough that people were willing to pay them well. And to their credit, they didn’t just spend it on “stuff,” they, like my dad, gave some to their children and some to charity.

And of course, many “privileged” people succeed because of their own capabilities and hard work. Of course, no one succeeds completely on their own, although that’s the unfairly extremist position the Privilege Promulgators claim that the “privileged” believe. But millions of people who don’t buy the disempowering “it takes a village” mentality, for the most part, work hard, delay gratification, whose efforts gain fuel because they’re proud of their can-do attitude, their internal locus of control, that they achieve without needing a village.

1560722106_635_Privilege-Psychology-Today "Privilege!" | Psychology Today

Concentration camp prisoners

Source: Marian Doss, CC 2.0

My father was a Holocaust survivor and I grew up knowing a dozen others. Yes they were white and yes they were male. All of them were wrested from their homes as children or teens, suffered the Holocaust tortures, saw the unspeakable, were dumped in boats (my dad on a cargo boat) and dropped in inner-city New York City without a penny to their name, no English, no money, no family, no connections, only the scars of the Holocaust. No rational person could claim that they had more privilege than do the people that Privilege Promulgators are loud-and-prouding for. Yet those Holocaust survivors and their children, on average, have succeeded (My dad was a factory worker in Harlem and later owned a small store serving a low-income community) and been contributory, receiving little or no charity, to a  greater extent than have the not-white, not male people that the Privilege Promulgators insist are unprivileged. And the vast majority of the Holocaust survivors and their children—disproportionately doctors, teachers, psychologists, social workers, etc— succeeded without the panoply of redistributions that the Privilege Promulgators have already wrested from white males and are clamoring for more, much more.

Of course, the Holocaust survivors are not the only ones who earned their “privilege.” Millions of people of all races and both sexes have succeeded and been contributory mainly by dint of their efforts, not because of “the village,” their race or whether they had an XX or XY chromosome.

And in terms of male privilege, remember that there are many examples of how men are underprivileged relative to women. For example, when women have a deficit, for example, they’re “underrrepresented” in STEM, there has been massive redress. Yet when men suffer the ultimate deficit—Men live five years shorter and die earlier of all 10 of the top 10 causes of death (There are more than four widows for every widower)—the vast majority of gender-specific health efforts, including research over the past half century has been on women.

So when you hear those loud-and-proud activists scream about white male “privilege,” if only today on Father’s Day, step back and ask yourself whether your spouse, friend, son or daughter, of whatever race, is better off hearing the cries of “Privilege!” or one that moves victimization to the back of the bus in favor of an internal locus of control, a can-do attitude. We have the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. If there was ever a time to encourage internal locus of control and not victimization, this is it.  

My father’s message to my successful sister and me was “The Nazis took five years from my life. I won’t give them one minute more. Never look back. Always take the next step forward.”  If I were the parent, spouse or friend of a woman of color, that, and not, “Privilege!” is the message I’d give—on Father’s Day and the other 364.


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