Equality is not privilege

Privilege is inequality

The band comes marching in by Jamelle Bouie CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

One convenient, and dangerously wrong, narrative of the 2016 presidential election is that “fake news” duped otherwise decent white Americans into voting for our flaming orange turdface authoritarian fascist boy.

No, that’s not what happened. I’ve written about “fake news” as a convenient and wrong explanation before:

And I’ve written about Donald’s voters, supporters and apologists as well:


Convenient explanations are useful, even when they are wrong, so the “fake news” narrative isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, Politico Magazine recently wrote a piece examining “fake news” in the U.S. from a period not too long ago:

This piece explores a series of rumors that swept Southern states in 1942 about how First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was organizing secret clubs of black women to enslave white women, or something similar and conveniently well-supported by white racist beliefs about black people.

The historical perspective is good and this sort of historical context building is exactly what good journalism should be doing in the U.S. right now and always. So Politico definitely deserves a B- for effort.

However, among the things this article lacks is a strong statement that “fake news” are narratives that people believe precisely because they reinforce existing beliefs. And in this case in 1942, just as right now, those beliefs are overtly, explicitly racist. Rather than being held to account, people are being excused for having, and acting on, these racist beliefs.

This is nowhere more explicit in the Politico article than in the section comparing 1942 to present day in the U.S. This paragraph perfectly captures the bias, and the excuse, of this explicit racism:

In both eras, for many white Americans — particularly many white men experiencing a decline in economic and political power — these rumors were and are a way to protest a world in which women and people of color demanded greater privilege.

Two things that must be stated extremely clearly, and repeated endlessly:

  1. White Americans, and particularly white men, are not experiencing a decline in economic and political power! They are experiencing a rising equality that is reducing their unfair privilege. They are mad about that. And they are using their anger, and the racist, sexist beliefs that underly that anger, to try to retain their unfair privilege or to harm people who are gaining equality.
  2. Women and people of color are demanding equality, and equality is not fucking privilege. Equality is the exact fucking opposite of privilege.

Politico does not get a pass on this, no fucking way. This bias runs deep, I get that. But this bullshit that somehow equality equals privilege is exactly why the fight for LGBTQIA+ equality is termed “special privileges”, and exactly why movement toward greater equality in society, especially for women and people of color, is experienced as a “loss of economic and political power” by whites, especially white men.

Perpetuating this bullshit has enormous consequences. People are victimized and murdered on the basis of this “embattled privilege equals loss of rights” belief. It is our responsibility, all of us but especially public media, to accurately name, describe, contextualize, and explain this false narrative.

Equality is not privilege; privilege is inequality.