White privilege undeniably drives racism in the U.S., but reverse those two words and you have the root of what cripples us all: Privileged Whites. Are all wealthy Caucasians villains in our society? No, but it is the few who are greediest and most corrupt that have captured power. The solution is to recognize their tools and strategies and then refuse to participate in their games.
One could argue that the concept of privileged Whites could be narrowed further to privileged White men. The fraction of excessively wealthy women who lack empathy for the less fortunate are simply subscribing to the model set forth by their male counterparts. It is an unfortunate perversion of feminism that suggests that if women are to succeed in a male-dominated world, then they must act like men, stripping themselves of compassion in the ruthless pursuit of material wealth.
The best way to combat the wealth gap, and general divisiveness in America, is to stop aspiring to excessive material affluence. Period. Refuse to compete with others. Meet your needs, live within your means, share with others what you have in goods, services, and experiences. Reject the temptation of credit, loans, and other financial products and services designed to mask the reality that we are a debt class instead of a Middle Class. Stop consuming media that feeds impulsive purchases, erodes your self-esteem, and presents a skewed reality (if not fantasy). You are not a product yourself, so stop treating yourself that way. Stop mindlessly subscribing to the idea that it is your responsibility to fulfill the obligations of others, outside of children, the elderly, and the ill. Periodic indulgences are fine, but you may find yourself in a healthier frame of mind by downsizing the number of products you already own. It is not your responsibility to line the pockets of corporate shareholders and CEOs, but that is largely what you are doing when you patronize purely commercial companies. Shop local. Support local agriculture. Heck, grow your own vegetable garden.
We are constantly bombarded with advertising that reminds us we are unfulfilled, and essentially worthless without [insert product or service here]. Furthermore, we should strive to be more like this celebrity, this athlete, this successful businessman or businesswoman. We should at least dress the part with the latest fashions, beauty treatments, suggested occupations, and other lifestyle upgrades. It is more important to be seen as having substance rather than actually having intangible qualities like empathy, a work ethic, and compassion.
Government regulations at every level discourage self-sufficiency, like replacing your lawn with a vegetable garden, while encouraging dependence on corporate solutions, like lawn care products and services. We claim that "charity begins at home," but the tax code will not give you a deduction for helping a relative unless they live with you. Try going off the grid and see how long it is before you get harassed by local utility interests. We are thwarted at every turn when we seek to take control of our lives in healthy ways, so that the wheels of multinational corporations can keep running us over. No conspiracy theory necessary, just turn on the television and see for yourself.
While the media defines for us what it means to be successful, we are constantly deprived of avenues for achieving that success. Again, I am speaking of financial success, which is of questionable value in itself, but hear me out. We are not guaranteed a living wage, having to settle for a minimum wage instead, which frequently does not keep up with the cost of living. The Federal Reserve has not made saving money possible for several decades because it refuses to raise interest rates, playing on our fears of inflation. Meanwhile, a lower interest rate encourages borrowing, which plunges us further into personal debt.
What we are allowed to do to make up personal financial deficits is paltry, risky, and unhealthy for ourselves and society. We can take a second or third job, further depriving us of lives outside of work. We can play the lottery, patronize the casino, borrow money, get yet another credit card (see borrowing money), or file lawsuits. Seriously, the proliferation of lawsuits would largely cease if people did not feel that they were already owed something. The lack of a living wage incites feelings of inadequacy that people believe can be quenched through lawsuits. "I am entitled to more, to better!" Indeed they are, but through fair pay for their work, which continues to be undervalued. We are enslaved in an economic sense, insidiously, such that we are cleverly duped. It should be no less intolerable than physical slavery, or the continuing exploitation of Native Americans through "legal" theft every time their casinos make a killing or oil or gas is discovered on their lands. We are owned by corporations, make no mistake about it, but we allow ourselves to be.
Personally, I all but abstain from the economy. I freelance, which is a punishing way to try and earn a living, but less so than working at a job I disdain, with people I abhor, just to make money. Consequently, I have little to spend. What I earn goes to my monthly share of the groceries, meals out, my cell phone bill (a pay-as-you-go plan), my share of automobile fuel costs, clothing from thrift stores, shoes about every two or three years, and occasional travel. That is about it. I have essentially dropped out of the material world. What has increased is my level of civic and social engagement, both online and in person. It is through social interactions that I learn what about alternative consumer choices other people are making to overcome the obstacles and injustices they face, or that our society faces. This month, one friend is attempting a Plastic-Free January, going out of her way to avoid using plastics, especially disposable versions like cups, drinking straws, and packaging. Our household is on board and looking to be even more critical of how our buying and lifestyle habits affect others and the environment.
We have to demand better, not more. We are entitled to basic standards of living and decency for all before we can look to add luxuries. The very things that do make America great are under assault right now. They include our spirit of helping others, respect for each other, and unity in achieving common goals. We no longer have the luxury, as if we ever have, to discriminate, spew hate speech, and attempt to destroy the lives of others we may disagree with. We lose our sense of community, and we lose everything. Privileged Whites are banking on that.