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Thursday, July 13, 2017

The face of privilege in America

There was a time that “kid” applied to a child who was not yet a legal adult, someone between the post-infant ages of 2 and 17. So it’s fairly perplexing to consider a 39-year-old man as a “kid.”

Or a 30-year-old man. 

Or even an 18-year-old, for that matter.

Then again, there tend to be convenient exceptions when reconciling poor judgment or criminal behavior.

Be wealthy, say, Donald Trump Jr., and flagrant actions that could be considered treasonous are tossed off as “mistakes” by a “nice young man,” a “good kid.” 

Be motivated, say, Edward Snowden, and impertinent activities may be considered “patriotic.”

Be sheltered, say, Brock Turner, and “20 minutes of actions” can be dismissed as a youthful yearning to “fit in.”

We claim to frown upon selling out your country or raping our women. But those standards clearly don’t apply across the board.  Our society can – and does, routinely – excuse the activities of those whom we value, even if those activities are antithetical to principles we have codified. 

Faces of American privilege (l.-r.):
 Donald J. Trump Jr., Edward Snowden and Brock Turner

Articles I and III of the U.S. Constitution give specific references and definitions for federal crimes, as outlined by the Founding Fathers – piracy, counterfeiting and treason. Given such prominent positioning, one could extrapolate that in the minds of the nation’s original framers, theft, even murder (which they got to in 1790), were considered of lesser gravity to the health of the republic than the other aforementioned infractions.

A traitor, then, would be deemed worst than a killer – or drug pusher – following Constitutional originalist theory, often attributed to conservative jurists such as U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia,  Self-proclaimed political conservatives love to extol the views of these jurists. And traitors certainly wouldn’t qualify as people grinding to “Make America Great Again.” That may be why the unfolding case of Trump Jr. is marked as “a Democratic witch hunt.” The recriminations might make your head spin. In short: Nothing to see here!

Switch to Snowden, the infamous former National Security Agency contractor who leaked confidential cables casting the Obama Administration in a poor light, and find conservatives hailing him as a “patriot.” Ditto some liberals. The Kremlin extended his asylum last January through 2020, because of uncertainty about how the new administration would handle him. But these mink-cozy Russian relations fostered by the current president could mean an even earlier, jail-free return for Snowden.

When Turner’s father wrote to the judge presiding over his rape case and pleaded with him to release his son on probation, he argued that jail time would be too harsh for “20 minutes of action.” His mother sent her own save-my-tender-son letter, conveniently failing to acknowledge the Stanford swimmer’s arrest or disturbing behavior that predated the sexual assault charges. While his crimes could have landed Turner a 14-year sentence – or at least two years, according to minimum statutory requirements, Judge Aaron Persky defended his decision to release Turner after a six month stint in jail. After all, he did tack on three years of probation.

Yay, justice for all.

Except for average black boys in school, or walking down the street. They are instantly suspected of something, even if they demonstrate identical – and unpunished – actions of their white peers. Black boys as young as 10 are seen as “men” in the eyes of too many police officers. Teachers reflect the same biases, except the age of perceived guilt among black and brown boys drops to preschool level.

See, being privileged in America has many meanings. Being allowed to be a “kid” who “made a mistake” is one. 

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