It's a painful irony that the people most unaware of the advantages society affords them are the ones who benefit most from it. Take, for example, these quotes from white male politicians about privilege that overlook, if not completely dismiss its role in society — like Vice President Mike Pence, who insisted that racial bias played no part in police brutality.
The notion that certain groups of people receive covert and overt advantages over others manifests itself in many ways. For white people, their privilege describes the level of societal advantage they enjoy simply because they are white. These advantages, including freedom from suspicion and the privilege of engaging with a society where you are considered the "norm," are not similarly experienced by people of color.
Male privilege, on the other hand, describes the advantages in being a man, including the automatic conference of authority and the freedom to exist without consistent fear of sexual harassment or assault. Another common manifestation of privilege is economic power. The wealthy — particularly those whose wealth is inherited — enjoy advantages merely because of their economic clout. Many say that economic privilege perpetuates and increases income inequality, further disadvantaging the poor and helping the rich.
While privilege exists in every society to different degrees, the quotes below from white, male politicians in the U.S. — the wealthiest country in the world — reflect a general disregard for it. They also serve as examples of how far society still has to go before the notion of privilege is fully accepted — and remedied.
1. Mike Pence On Police Bias
During the 2016 presidential campaign, then-vice presidential candidate Mike Pence seemingly refused to acknowledge that significant white privilege when it comes to citizens' experiences with police.
Donald Trump and I believe there's been far too much of this talk of institutional bias or racism within law enforcement. That police officers are human beings. In difficult and life threatening situations, mistakes are made and people have to be held to strict account. … [W]e ought to set aside this talk about institutional racism and institutional bias.
2. Mitt Romney On "Entitled Americans"
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Republican candidate Mitt Romney controversially claimed that 47 percent of Americans would vote for Barack Obama because they "pay no income tax" and are "entitled" to government services. Romney's comments reeked of white privilege and economic privilege, employing the common tactic of accusing the poor, especially those of color, of being "entitled" instead of acknowledging the inequities that cause them to be reliant on government services.
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. ... All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.
3. Rudy Giuliani on Black Lives Matter
During a television interview in 2016, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani condemned the Black Lives Matter movement and called it "racist," seemingly refusing to acknowledge white privilege and dismissing the notion that acknowledging the importance of black lives does not diminish the importance of anyone else's.
When you say black lives matter, that’s inherently racist. ... Black lives matter. White lives matter. Asian lives matter. Hispanic lives matter. That's anti-American and it’s racist.
4. Chris McDaniel On The Women's March On Washington
Following the Women's March on Washington, Mississippi State Sen. Chris McDaniel took to Facebook to mock the march participants, completely ignoring the underlying discrimination that caused women to march in the first place and epitomizing the notion of male privilege in his commentary.
So a group of unhappy liberal women marched in Washington D.C. We shouldn't be surprised; almost all liberal women are unhappy.
5. Jeff Sessions On Policing
In his first major speech as Donald Trump's Attorney General, Jeff Sessions indicated that the Department of Justice would be scaling back federal civil rights investigations of police departments, noting that he believed they sometimes "hindered" police, a comment which alarmed many civil rights activists.
We need, so far as we can, in my view, help police departments get better, not diminish their effectiveness. ... And I'm afraid we've done some of that. So we're going to try to pull back on this, and I don't think it's wrong or mean or insensitive to civil rights or human rights. It's out of a concern to make the lives of people, particularly in poor communities, minority communities, live a safer, happier life.
6. Donald Trump's Response To Rising Anti-Semitism
In a comment that came across as epitomizing white and male privilege, during a news conference Donald Trump responded to a reporter's question about the apparent rise in anti-Semitism by both refusing to address the issue and making the question all about him and how he is "not racist."
Number one, I am the least anti-semitic person you've ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person.
7. Jodey Arrington On The Unemployed's Right To Eat
During a recent Congressional committee hearing on changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Tex.) revealed that he believed that food stamp benefits should be cut for some unemployed adults and cited that Bible as his rationale. Arrington embodied privilege in his assumption that everyone can work, even though many adults using SNAP benefits are physically handicapped or mentally ill, rendering them unable to be employed.
If a man will not work, he shall not eat.
8. Rick Santorum on Federal Benefits
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum advocated for cutting federal benefits — in particular for black people, who he mentioned specifically in his statement. Santorum exuded privilege by refusing to acknowledge that equality of opportunity is, unfortunately, not a reality in the United States.
I don't want to make black peoples' lives better by giving them somebody else's money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money and provide for themselves and for their families.
These quotes are the unfortunate illustration that the country's most privileged refuse to acknowledge how it benefits them, and often seem to invalidate the experiences of others who are less so, whether from race, gender, or other social and economic characteristics. The U.S. clearly has a long way to go before privilege is recognized, both in society and the policies that lawmakers push.