Privilege Is a Loaded Gun

fullsizerenderOn the day that I voted, I wore my grandfather’s ring to the polls. My grandfather was a first-generation American in a time when Italian immigrants were not considered to be white. His family came from unsustainable poverty in Southern Italy, kept alive by the charity of a nearby monastery, and arrived in America to Oklahoma only to be met with the Great Depression, racism, and more of the same poverty — hardly the wealth of opportunity that we like to believe our country offers. My grandfather’s father took a job in coal mines to support the family, and he himself later took a job in the burgeoning oil industry, though it was hardly the booming field then that we know it as today. My grandfather never lived a wealthy, comfortable life. He was at Okinawa in WWII and until the day he died, he never spoke a word of the horrors he experienced there. When he came home from the war, he attended Catholic mass nearly every day for the rest of his life. He volunteered for St. Vincent de Paul supporting his community’s poor, never with judgement or condescension, but with empathy. He was one of the rare few of strict pre-Vatican II upbringing who fully grasped the spirituality amidst the formality and the community in the rites. My grandfather had all sons. His whole family only ever had sons. In over 100 years, I’m the second girl to be born into my family, and my grandfather cherished this. He never valued me less than the many men in my family or imposed any limitations on my aspirations; if anything, quite the opposite.

This year, my father, that grandfather’s son, voted for Trump. The stigma of being Italian no longer exists, and we’re now as white as the many other European immigrants who’ve come to this country. The oil industry in which my father also works is far more lucrative than in his father’s time, and his motives for voting Republican lean heavily toward financial self-interest. The Catholicism in which my grandfather found spirituality and a network for public service seems to have lost its effect a generation later, instead creating a harsher association of guilt and punishment with perceived wrongdoing. Despite being raised in poverty himself, he faults the lower classes for not being better off financially, refusing to recognize institutional inequality, even as he votes to create and enforce it. As for women, my father has two daughters. He doesn’t have a problem with Trump’s open misogyny, either independently or relative to the women in his own family. He accepts and supports the locker-room argument, and believes that I’m being too sensitive at being upset about something from eleven years ago.

On the day that I voted, I wore my grandfather’s ring to the polls as a symbol of privilege. From the inception of this country, from generation to generation, with variations for gender, skin color, faith, income, education level, immigration status, and more, we have not always had the rights that we have today. Far too many still do not have these rights, nor the privilege. Privilege is a loaded gun. We can use it to defend our country and to raise others up with us, or to destroy it. Not voting in this election is tantamount to voting for Trump, and is an overwhelming abuse of white privilege.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t love Hillary Clinton. This election is not about you. It’s about all of us.

There is no rational argument at this point for not defending your country against the threat of Donald Trump. There is no excuse for backtracking on the sacrifices made by all those who came before us who fought for the rights that we have today. We have a long way to go before our country approaches anything truly right or fair or equal, but engagement is the bare minimum for getting there. Please go vote today, however long it takes.

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