It has been making the rounds for awhile now, this notion of white privilege expanded upon by Bernie Sanders, no doubt at the urging of his BlackLivesMatter supporters:
When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto, you don’t know what it’s like to be poor.
It’s fascinating and, of course, completely erroneous. The more I hear this white privilege nonsense, the less patient I become with these people. They don’t have a clue how the world works, or what people really go through. This is all theory to men like Bernie Sanders. Some SJW pops up out of the woodwork and blames white people for history’s various ills, declaring that they are the beneficiaries of centuries of injustice.
But let’s tear down this notion on a personal level, shall we? I’ve spoken at length before on how the Armenian side of my family escaped slavery and genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. They were hardly beneficiaries of privilege. Some argue that Armenians are really “People of Color” though, and not white. It’s a definition that, ironically, SJWs share with Stormfronters.
So let’s discuss the English side of my family which, to be fair, descends from medieval English nobility stretching back to at least the Anglo-Saxon period. They would seem to be the poster children for privilege, right?
My last name is Railey, which is an Americanization of Raleigh, as in Sir Walter Raleigh. My family is descended specifically from Carew Raleigh of which, unfortunately, there were two: Sir Walter Raleigh’s son, and his nephew. Since both were born around the same time, it is unclear which we descend from. Nonetheless, we come from that family, and they are recorded in patents of nobility going back to around the tenth century or so. It’s difficult to track them further than that.
For most of English history, they were small-time nobility, knights, judges, and (eventually) members of Parliament. By the time of Sir Walter Raleigh’s father, they had come into favor at court. Sir Walter, of course, was the penultimate Raleigh, but eventually fell into the periphery of a plot against King James (there was no evidence of active involvement). He conducted a skillful defense, and, while not pardoned, had his execution stayed. But politics between Spain and England soon doomed him to death.
The family, however, remained at least somewhat in favor, and retained a great many estates. One of the Raleighs was the Dean of Wells, and many others were members of Parliament. One John Raleigh was born, and he was the second or third son and stood to inherit very little. The old estates in America granted to Sir Walter Raleigh himself were empty, and nobody else wanted them, so John Raleigh decided to move to America and claim them.
He was otherwise broke, the very definition of land rich and money poor.
At the time he owned most of what would eventually become Richmond, Virginia, but decided to settle on an area that had a growth of trees in a circle, that reminded him of Stonehenge (then part of the Raleigh estates in England, where he grew up). The trees are still there, a central feature of the Stonehenge golf course near Railey hill, on the outskirts of Richmond. Most of his estate is now gone, but the guest house remains and is a minor tourist attraction there (it is supposedly haunted).
Anyway, in America most people pronounced his name “Railey” and so that tended to be how they wrote it down. John Railey eventually fought in the French and Indian wars, and his sons fought in the Revolutionary war on the side of the Patriots. He married a daughter of the Randolph family (the sister of Thomas Jefferson’s mother, incidentally), uniting the wealthy Randolphs with the land-rich Raileys.
For a time, the Railey family was wealthy and powerful, tied into the First Families of Virginia. They were the epitome of privilege. Furthermore, great deposits of coal were discovered on Railey land, and they became one of the most important suppliers of coal to the Confederacy. They were highly involved in the Confederate government and contributed many soldiers to the Confederate cause. They don’t appear to have been slave owners, however. By this time their primary source of income was mining.
Then General Grant came along and destroyed the mines, burned most of the estates, and killed most of the Raileys who were serving in and around Virginia. I cannot express just how quickly the Railey family fell from one of the most powerful families in Virginia to broken nothings. They scattered across the country in small groups, those that survived anyway. Most went to Indiana and Kentucky. A few (my branch) stayed in Virginia.
By my great-grandfather’s time, nothing remained of their vast wealth, land, or fame. My grandfather didn’t discuss him much, but he hinted that my great-grandfather was an impoverished, uneducated drunk. Most of the information we have is due to one family member, back around 1900, going to Kentucky and recording the statements of Raileys there as to what happened during the Civil War, before those that survived it died off completely.
My grandfather knew only that his father told him some stories about how they had once been a powerful family, descended from the Raleighs. He had no proof (my research turned up the writings I mentioned above that made the connection between family legend and fact).
My grandfather started from nothing, working a paper route in a bad part of D.C. (he often told stories of having to arm himself to deliver papers there), and then fighting in Korea as a Marine. Afterward, he worked at the Wall Street Journal for many decades, working his way up from the bottom. He was poor for most of his life, but finally broke out of poverty in his middle age.
My father then continued working hard, again, working from the bottom. I remember the dingy apartment in Spokane, with the faded paint, screaming neighbors and rampant cop calls for domestic disputes. We had no money, and had to constantly move around due to his military position (he was in the Air Force for many years). Our family made it by each generation by going military, and using that as a springboard to learning skills and getting the money for education. Again, by middle age, my father was doing very well for himself, but it was all on him. He put himself through college, worked multiple jobs, and scrimped and saved every penny.
I learned a lot watching him fix this crappy old puke-green Dodge Dart that kept breaking down, or helping him fix the rental house he managed to get eventually. The landlord was crappy and seldom did anything. But, by the time I was 9 or 10, my father had somehow managed to save up a down payment for a house. It was in a pretty good neighborhood, even though the house itself was a dump. A year or so of gradual renovation, again that he did himself while working multiple jobs, turned it into a great home for our family.
I was the first Railey to not go into the military for a long time. Only by the hard work and dedication of my grandfather and my father was I given the choice to decide for myself what I wanted to do.
When I turned 18, I left the house and went out on my own, as was typical for our family. I worked a minimum wage job for a time, and had my own (crappy) apartment on the edge of town, in a pretty shitty neighborhood. And I drove this 1984 Chevy Blazer that was falling apart. I had to keep a roll of duct tape and a hammer in the truck just to keep it running. Every paycheck had to be budgeted down to the cent, and I felt fortunate to have a backup in the form of a Credit Card with a $500 limit. That was not easy obtain, either.
Eventually, I taught myself DJing and Web Development, and got jobs doing both. I still do both today, but I make a good wage now, have a decent home and a decent car. Nothing fancy, nothing that would impress my readers, but enough for me.
The historical wealth and fame of my family didn’t open any doors for me. Any benefit I might have obtained from them was wiped out 150 years ago when Richmond burned and Grant rolled through Virginia. For many years, my family was barely a step ahead of outright white trash, and not at all in wealth. Some remnant of class remained in us, at least from my grandfather’s time. But we had nothing and had to crawl back up out of the mud ourselves.
Every year, there are more mouth noises about slavery reparations. I consider my family’s debt in that regard (even supposing they owned any slaves) to have been paid in blood and treasure. They lost everything. I don’t know what more is owed, or could even be paid. What do they want from me? My modest home? My base model car? My meager, but hard-earned savings? What constitutes paid in full? How much do I supposedly owe for all of these benefits I was supposedly given?
There is never an answer to that question, because people like Bernie Sanders want to club us all over the head with this in perpetuity. If there was privilege in my family, in my genes, it was stripped from us long ago. We were as broke as any other, and came back from that on our own steam. Without the strong will and work ethic of my grandfather, we would be white trash in the trailer park.
But we aren’t, and I’m not going to apologize for that.
Bernie can make mouth noises about us white people not understanding poverty, or ever getting the short end of the stick. But we do, and we did. The difference is I didn’t let poverty define me, neither did my father, or his father. Each time, we struck out on our own and made the best of the talents and abilities granted to us by God.
If I had any advantage in life, it was having a family that, as dysfunctional as it was, all held true to one principle: hard work will get you far. And that goes for both my Armenian family and my English family. There wasn’t a lazy ass in the bunch. That’s my privilege. But, it’s worth asking… is having a work ethic really an unearned privilege?
In the world of Bernie Sanders, it probably is.