Act One, Scene One: An array of tables at a chrome and Formica diner pushed together cluttered with dishes, empty glasses, an array of empty chairs––recently occupied. Now, just two, old, white men locked in conversation.
Ultra Conservative: White privilege is a hoax. My family didn’t have money––parents didn’t have a lot of education––Mom dropped out after 6th grade and Dad never went to college. They worked hard every day to eke out a living on our farm. I had a used bike and got a .22 rifle for my birthday, but nothing else. I worked every day after school on the farm and didn’t have any silver platter privilege.
Bleeding Heart Liberal: Your family story is a good one, worth telling––to be admired. I don’t know how old your parents were or how old you are for that matter, but I’d guess that, give or take, you were born about 1940 and your parents, give or take, born about 1915.
UC (shrugs and nods)
BHL: Being the beneficiary of white privilege isn’t your fault. You didn’t invent it. It’s simply fact––the way the U.S. rolls ever since 1789 when the Constitution deemed slaves three-fifths of a person and soon after when white people started slaughtering Native Americans and corralling them onto reservations in the name of Manifest Destiny––white destiny.
UC: You gonna lecture me on history? Don’t need a Black History Month. There isn’t a White History Month. How is that fair?
BHL: So, between 1915 and 1965 when you were about 25, I’m guessing that is the time you and yours think America was great and the model for making America great again. While your parents were in school, many blacks in America were not allowed to go to school at all. In 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson made it legal for blacks to go to “separate but equal” schools, but some states chose not to do that. In most others they heard the “separate,” but dismissed the “equal.” So, blacks were left behind your parents.
When your dad rented his farm, no one refused to “rent to his kind.” He got a chance to get started. I’m sure he got a loan to get the business off the ground––buy seed or livestock and equipment. If he were black, Hispanic, or Native American, no bank or farm bureau would have given him that loan. Blacks were further behind.
Let’s say the black man born around 1915 actually got his farm up and running. No one came by your dad’s farm and burned his crops, his barn, or even his house like would often happen to blacks. Further yet behind.
Now you come along and there is a job waiting for you. Your dad hires you into his business. I had a tough time finding a job as a youngster. I had to go around asking, but did find a few. I got a job washing cars on a used car lot because a family friend worked there. I got a summer job working in a factory because my dad was a salesman and sold to the company. A mainstay of white privilege is that we got our jobs because of knowing someone. In your case it was your dad. That continued–first job out of college, first promotion, making partner, all because of knowing someone and they gave you a chance. It didn’t work like that for blacks––not enough blacks in business to hand out favors.
UC: I’m self-made, by golly. I earned my American Dream. Others should earn it too, so it continues to mean something.
BLH: You were able to become an Army officer because you had a clean record. You never got arrested for simply driving your car. You never got arrested for going into the drug store, selecting a pen to buy and heading for the check-out, only to get stopped and the cops called because you were shop-lifting when you were doing no such thing.
Neither of our families were part of the thousands who got lynched, beaten to death, chained to an engine block and thrown into a river, or killed and disfigured beyond recognition between 1915 and 1965 because a white woman lied and said you whistled at her. No question, blacks were guilty and whites got jury vindication.
White privilege has nothing to do with how much education or how much money you had growing up. It has to do with opportunity and preference due to the color of your skin. While you and your family were busting humps trying to make the farm go, blacks never had the opportunity to try. No one would give them a chance. Of course, they wanted to work like you did, but they couldn’t. Their starting point was too far back––too many extra obstacles.
UC: Dr. Ben Carson made it on his own.
BHL: Yeah, you can point to Dr. Carson, there are success stories, but the majority just doesn’t support the premise that everyone has the same chance. We started on mile marker nine in a 10-mile race and minorities had to run the whole 10 miles. I don’t want to move you back to mile one. Let’s make it a one-mile race for everyone.
Lights fade with lunch dishes still on the tables and the old, white men, because this short play is based on a true story, are still at a stand-off.