Toriano Porter

White privilege doesn’t exist and is ‘fictional,’ Missouri lawmaker says. He’s wrong

Missouri state Rep. Nicholas Schroer doesn’t believe white privilege exists. The idea that white people have a leg up in society is completely fictional, he says.

Schroer’s ignorance would be laughable if it wasn’t so damn disrespectful to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of black people who have experienced discrimination and systemic injustices for centuries.

The Republican lawmaker from suburban St. Louis recently posted on social media his misguided beliefs in response to the recent decision by prosecutors in Chicago to drop charges against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett.

Smollett, an African American, was indicted in Cook County, Illinois, on 16 counts of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report in relation to an alleged hate crime hoax.

“Is there such thing as racial or white privilege?” Schroer tweeted about the case. “No. Class or monetary privilege? Yup.”

Keep in mind that last month, Schroer accidentally injured Bruce DeGroot, a Republican lawmaker from Chesterfield, while they were horsing around at a private club in Jefferson City.

“I accidentally hurt his eye when he tried to take me down and I used an MMA (mixed martial arts) move,” Schroer told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

No charges were filed and the playful dust-up barely registered a blip among colleagues and constituents. Undoubtedly, Schroer benefited from his status as a white male lawmaker in Jefferson City.

Imagine two lawmakers of color wrestling in public and one ending up with a black eye. The scrutiny and outrage from the state capitol and elsewhere would be deafening.

Studies show white people are mostly not conscious of the fact that cultural, educational, financial and legal institutions cater to them.

White folks have benefited financially from slavery and other atrocities for hundreds of years. The remnants of those gains continue today.

The generational wealth gap between white and black people is well-documented. Average wealth for white families is seven times higher than average wealth for black families.

White privilege is a byproduct of institutionalized racism, discrimination and bias. Those with the most power are often the least likely to acknowledge that it is unearned, said Rhiannon Dickerson, lecturer in communication studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

“Whiteness has always been about privilege,” said Dickerson, who is white. “Privilege and power are at the root of the construction of race itself — they’re inextricable. We can see white privilege historically when white people enslaved Africans, committed genocide against indigenous Americans, instated Jim Crow laws, or more recently in mass incarceration.”

She continued: “But even if we ignore the historical examples of white supremacy and anti-blackness, we can see the effects of white privilege supported unequivocally with data in virtually every place we look, from who has access to education to inequities in health care, to criminal justice and even mortality rates.”

It’s partially true that there are people of color who enjoy economic privileges. But to cite a person such as Smollett as proof that white privilege doesn’t exist is foolhearted. And it reeks of insincerity.

What does Schroer have to say about all of this? He declined to comment other than to say he stands by his tweets.

“Ignorance is continuing to peddle fiction as though there is some truth it in,” Schroer tweeted. “There’s more believability in a Dr. Seuss novel than fictional white privilege. Age has nothing to do with the ability to look at and recognize the facts.”

Schroer was responding to one tweeter who labeled him “young and ignorant.”

“Examples of white privilege are all around us,” the commenter tweeted. “Black people have systematically been excluded from opportunities to gain wealth. The effects of red lining, restrictive covenants, and discriminating government policies are with us today.”

Diversity trainer and human rights activist Jane Elliott once said most white people fail to recognize their privilege. She wasn’t lying, if Schroer’s take is the norm.

Elliott invented the Civil Rights-era “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes” anti-racism training.

“The problem with white people is not white innocence … and it’s not white privilege,” Elliott said in an 2018 interview with television personality Roland Martin. “It’s white ignorance. And until white people get educated to the fact that they are not superior because of a lack of melanin in their skin, that’s how long we will have this problem.”

Maybe white privilege doesn’t exist in Schroer’s eyes. But the lawmaker’s willful disregard of facts is plain to see.

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Toriano Porter is an opinion writer and member of The Star’s Editorial Board. He’s received state-wide, regional and national recognition for reporting since joining McClatchy in 2012.