Donald Trump is the perfect teaching tool for White Privilege 101

My friend Bill, who's white, has to teach his son about privilege. Start with the president, I say

By D. Watkins
Published July 9, 2017 6:30PM (EDT)
Donald Trump   (AP/Evan Vucci)
Donald Trump (AP/Evan Vucci)

The other day, I snagged a corner table in the back of one of my favorite coffee shops. After two and a half espresso-heavy drinks, I slipped into a heavy writing rhythm. Ideas spilled out and dried into tight sentences. But as always, someone smells this production and decides to clog the moment.

“D., is this seat taken?” said Bill. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”

Bill is a cool guy with new glasses and a permanent 5 o'clock shadow. He’s a new dad, who can't wait to share the 17 million photos of his son he has on his person. I always bump into him at the coffee shop.

“Nobody's sitting with me,” I said. “Just trying to knock this essay out for work.”

People don’t respect writers' time — they think our job is easy. I guess it’s because we don't sweat or retire.

“OK, so — Donald Trump, bro, CNN slammed against the ropes Hulk Hogan-style!” Bill said, moving closer, his eyes widening. “The president, bro! Really!”

I laughed. Bill was talking about the now-infamous GIF Trump tweeted out last weekend. The 45th president posted a video of himself slamming a guy whose head had been replaced with the CNN logo. I thought it was funny, in a sad way. I kind of wished he'd slammed himself against the post.

“This is who we elected,” I said. “Actually, it’s who y'all elected. Trump is bad PR for white men! Did he get a black vote other than Uncle Ben Carson?”

“OK, D., so Trump speaks for me as a white man, just like The Reverend Al Sharpton speaks for you as a black guy, right?”

We laughed and traded a few more jabs. I love these conversations­­, the ones where we can poke fun at race, acknowledge the flaws in our society and dabble in some real solutions. Most of the solutions we come up with stem from recognizing the humanity that we share. I admit it’s hard at times; the steady flow of generalizations and stereotypes through the wider culture almost makes it impossible.

“You don’t have this issue, D., because you don’t have any kids," Bill said. "But I have to teach my son about white privilege and this Trump stuff!”

“Well,” I replied, “Trump is Privilege 101.”

People struggle with their privilege all of the time. I get it. We all want to be acknowledged for our hard work and no one wants to feel like they have been given a special advantage that could undermine the meaning and power of their achievements. However, the 45th president tweets wresting clips starring himself, is a reigning MVP of sexual assault allegations, currently being investigated by a Justice Department special counsel, and has fallen short on many of his campaign promises. His gross amount of privilege is evident when you realize that he still has a job.

What if Barack Obama had played more golf in the first 100 days on the taxpayers' dime than Bush did his entire time in office? What if Obama was suspected of cheating to get into the White House or caught swooning over his daughters. Would he have a job? Would he have even come close to winning? No. That is privilege at work.

“You are going to have to teach your son about privilege,” I said to Bill, "the same way I would have to teach my kids, if I can find a person crazy enough to procreate with. Actually, I’ll teach my son to borrow some privilege from you rich white kids.”

Bill signaled the waitress. “Hey, I’m going to order some lunch, and use my whiteness to treat D. as well.”

The waitress laughed — she's well aware of the conversations we have.

“What can I get you two?” she asked.

“I’m good,” I replied. “Bill, you gotta go, I have to finish this essay!”

Bill ordered his food and headed for another table. “I’m at least paying for your coffee, man, and you can’t stop me."

"You know, I never thought about what would happen if Obama dabbled in Trump antics!" Bill added. "He had to be a genius to get elected, and well . . . Trump is a dumbass!”

I used to think that Trump wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, too. But then a colleague turned me on to this Maureen Dowd column:

I gave Trump the benefit of the doubt after his comment on Megyn Kelly about “blood coming out of her wherever” when he claimed he meant her nose. But later, a longtime Trump associate told me that Trump had practiced that line before he said it on CNN and that it was meant to evoke an image of Kelly as hormonal.

The passage taught me that Trump has taken his privilege to a scary new level, far past 101; I’m talking PRIV 307 for the advanced. You see, trump knows that his childish antics will hog all of the media attention and, like the aide told Dowd, he releases these rehearsed statements and tweets in an effort to control the news cycle. His privilege allows him to get away with being a disconnected goofy old guy and then he uses it to distract from the things that matter, like his proposed decision to end heating aid for low-income Americans. So now we are all talking and reporting about tweets while our most vulnerable citizens are under attack.

See how this works? Good one, Donald.

D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a professor at the University of Baltimore and founder of the BMORE Writers Project. Watkins is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America” and "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir." His latest book, "We Speak For Ourselves: A Word From Forgotten Black America," is out now.

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