Most (privileged) white men are wrong about race, class, and gender—and while Mike Petrilli isn’t unique, he does represent how and why:
Second, the reason the overwhelming majority of children are born poor is that they are born to young single mothers without much education or many job prospects. These mothers will struggle mightily to provide the kind of home environment that is necessary to help children get off to a good start in life and in school. To put it bluntly, they tend to be bad parents. (Not “bad” in a moral sense but “bad” as in “ineffective”; with their brains literally maxed out with basic survival, it’s easy to understand why.)
While it is embarrassing enough that Petrilli thinks putting “bad” in quote marks and offering a parenthetical qualification are enough to counter the essential condescension and marginalization in his mischaracterization of people who happen to be trapped in poverty, the larger problem is that Petrilli represents, speaks for, and speaks to a cultural attitude toward the poor (and the affluent/privileged) that guarantees the U.S. remain inequitable, and likely will continue to grow more inequitable: people in poverty are lazy and deserve their poverty while the affluent are hard-working and deserve their achievements.
Before I continue, let me clarify that my calling for a moratorium on white men pontificating on race, class, and gender would include me. And if I am successful in this call, I am eager to comply.
The president/governor Bush clan in the U.S. has rightfully been accused of including several men born on third base who all believe they hit triples. If that characterization is accurate, and I think it is, then I am privileged by being white and male, but compared to the Bushes, my working-class background probably put me solidly at first.
Along with race and gender, I happen to have the sort of mathematical and verbal intelligence that schools and society honor—as well as a sort of Type-A work ethic that tends to be rewarded as well.
In fact, I have worked extremely hard at being a teacher and writer for about 30 years now, achieving a fairly high level of success.
I have earned that success, but let me be very clear that I do not deserve it.
I do not deserve the relative affluence and all the advantages of that while other people are being denied access that I was afforded through no effort on my part. Yes, I have worked hard, but the foundation of my success was pure and simply dumb luck.
Consider Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, George W. Bush, Bill Gates, and Mike Krzyzewski. What if these five men had lived in the early to mid 1800s? How would their lives have manifested themselves in that era?
It is without a doubt that two of these men would have had quite different lives—and not because of their talents, character, or determination.
Social norms are powerful and are primary when considering the individual talents of people.
And that leads us back to my call for a moratorium and my claim that most white men are typically wrong about race, class, and gender.
White men have built Western culture (often on the backs of others) and the exact privilege that appears transparent to them.
“Normal” to the privileged constitutes all the forces that assure their privilege and in turn create the poverty and disadvantage of others.
As a result, Petrilli can and does classify single, poor mothers as “bad parents”—and does so while believing himself and hearing from others that Mike is an essentially nice guy.
Yes, Petrilli is a nice guy—in the rarified air of privileged white men in the U.S.
His blogs appear civil and almost reasonable in fact.
But there is nothing civil or reasonable about a privileged class speaking about and for people in disadvantage, as long as that holding forth refuses to acknowledge privilege and the social dynamics that create poverty.
The powerful in the U.S. either create or tolerate whatever conditions exist in the U.S.
The powerless cannot and do not create or tolerate those conditions.
The U.S. is experiencing some of the highest child poverty rates and levels of inequity ever seen in contemporary times. White men still reap the benefits of those inequities while also being primarily the ones with the power and money to control this country.
It isn’t working—except for them.
I suspect the imbalances of inequity will remain for a while, but in the mean time, wouldn’t it be wonderful that where we currently have white-mansplaining, we could have for at least a while just silence that could be filled by those who have been spoken about and for?