- - Tuesday, August 11, 2020

I’ve often lambasted White liberals for peddling the false narrative of “White privilege.” I understand privilege exists, but I reject the liberal definition of White privilege that would have me, a Black woman, believe that the color of my skin has betrayed me or that White skin provides privileges, freedoms, rights, honor and advantages that my Black skin doesn’t afford me. I refuse to believe that White skin creates better access to a world I cannot enter. Their idea of White privilege makes my Black skin a traitor that serves as my own oppressor.

But, as is often the case, these White liberals ceremoniously wedge themselves into a position of “saving” Black folks from White privilege while actually being the ones exercising a tremendous amount of privilege themselves. For example, all across our country, we are having the discussion about our children safely returning back to school this fall. Parents, school administrators, teachers, unions and politicians are all weighing in on whether or not schools should reopen and how they should reopen. 

Should they do 100% virtual school, should it be in-person learning, should it be a hybrid of both — or should parents have the option of deciding for themselves? These are legitimate conversations that need to happen. But unfortunately, similar to race relations being politicized by the far left, it seems that our schools and children are being politicized, as well. In Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District, Montgomery County, for instance, Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean sent out a Facebook message that read:

“I am thankful to the school boards below that have weighed the safety concerns of reopening their schools and considering virtual learning for the fall. While it was a difficult decision, now is not the time to play politics and although this school year will look different, it’s one of the safest and best options for students.”

She then went on to list those schools in her congressional district that have decided on 100% virtual schooling and praised them for “prioritizing the health and safety of staff, students, and our community.” She’s now inferring that those who decide not to choose the 100% virtual option are not prioritizing the health and safety of everyone involved. She’s insinuating that they’re prioritizing some other selfish desire, such as going to work. I cannot think of a clearer case of privilege than this.

Shortly after the congresswoman’s post, the Lower Merion school district decided to choose the 100% virtual option this fall — despite roughly 80% of parents petitioning to reopen the schools for in-person learning. Montgomery County is the second-wealthiest county in the state of Pennsylvania. It’s a suburb of Philadelphia, where people may work in Philly but live in Montgomery County. There are more than the fair share of stay-at-home moms and there are a number of people who are fortunate enough to be able to work from home. However, that is not everyone’s situation in Montgomery County.

Pottstown, a borough in Montgomery County located about 40 miles northwest of Philadelphia, has the largest proportion of Blacks in the area at 21% and has the largest percent of unwed births to mothers aged 20-34 years old at 85.1%. Pottstown has a median household income that is significantly less than the rest of the county and the state of Pennsylvania. Their unemployment rate and 21.7% poverty level are significantly higher than that of the rest of the county and the state. What is the likelihood that deciding to go 100% virtual for schooling would not be an option for many residents of Pottstown?

All summer, private swim clubs in Montgomery County have been open — with no spike in positive COVID-19 cases. Yet, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf issued his recommendation that no high school sports should be played until next year. Again, the amount of privilege is incredible. Many high school students see sports as their only way to earn a scholarship for college. These students need the opportunity to compete to be noticed by college scouts. They don’t have a college fund awaiting them. Many do not have the financial resources or family lineage that would afford them private training to maintain their performance level or get them in front of recruiters.

Does privilege exist? Of course. My own children are far more “privileged” than I could have ever imagined. I was a little Black girl growing up in the Deep South on a pig farm in southern Alabama. My children have a doting father who is loyal to their mother and who is committed to his family. This fact alone catapults my children into a class of privilege compared to the 70% of Black children who are growing up without a father. But privilege isn’t limited to the color of one’s skin; it can also be based on one’s appearance, height, weight, age, accent, disability, wealth, education or ZIP code. 

I grew up in a single-parent household and I often describe our economic situation as being one where I grew up below the bottom-rung of the economic ladder. I know what it feels like to have grown up with a single mother who worked hard to provide for myself and my two younger brothers. I remember many times standing in front of an empty refrigerator wondering where our next meal would come from.

I vividly remember sitting in a dark room because my mother could not pay for both the rent and the light bill. I know, with a great degree of certainty, that forcing my brothers and me to stay home and not go to school would have sounded the death knell for our little family. It would have destroyed any hope of me and my brothers being able to crawl our way out of such economic despair.

Liberals often chide the rest of us to “follow the science,” but it’s liberals who are being driven by myth, emotions and politics. Those of us who are more reasonable need to step forward and be a voice for our children. School offered me a reprieve, a sense of stability and discipline, and a constant meal. For many young people, teachers are the first line of defense against abuse. If anyone is essential, it’s our teachers. If anywhere is essential, it’s our schools.

• Kathy Barnette, the author of “Nothing to Lose Everything to Gain: Being Black and Conservative in America,” is running for Congress in the 4th District of Pennsylvania.

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