This morning I heard Stefan Molyneux discussing the new film "Dunkirk" and the complaints from some that there was a lack of women and non-whites in it. Why couldn't the film be more fair, balanced & inclusive some wondered?
I know, I know - there weren't actually any women and very very few non-white males on the beaches at that time, just several hundred thousand miserable white blokes trying to get away from death or imprisonment. It simply wasn't a very inclusive scene, but that hasn't stopped some from wishing to rewrite history to suit the modern palate.
Stefan's thoughts started me on the path of thinking about this whole "White Privilege" concept – or a part of it anyway. This accusation is a part of the general guilt trip that is being quietly - and sometimes not so quietly - heaped upon Westerners these days.
"What's so great about your culture? Look at all the bad things you white people have done over the years!" Of course we Westerners have done bad things - WW2 is probably a good place to start! - but I get the impression that this whole concept of Western guilt and White Privilege only really gets any traction because we tend to live without any significant sense of history or cultural memory.
The question for today is: How can we adequately deal with the difficulties surrounding the new (to us) religion & culture of Islam if we have been shamed into silence and feel we have nothing of use to base our critique on? We lose our ability to think critically, to evaluate.
Let's look at some recent history. Perhaps I'll start with a friend of my mother's who himself was one of the last to leave the beach at Dunkirk. He manned (is it OK if I use that un-inclusive term?) a Naval Pom-Pom gun - a 4 barrelled anti-aircraft piece. However instead of using it against Stukas he used it against incoming German Infantry, Tanks and Half-tracks. He poured so many rounds through it that it eventually had to be abandoned as the barrels became red hot and it could no longer be fired. (It takes a fair bit to burn out those barrels. Take a second to imagine what he would have been seeing & feeling while that was going on).
Going back a bit in my own spectacularly average family history, my mother's grandfather was a lovely gentle Irishman from Cork that she said she dearly loved. He was a church-goer but unfortunately couldn't beat the bottle and died from methylated spirits poisoning at an early age. So while still a little girl this left my mother without a sympathetic male authority figure. Mum's father fought in the Great War but came home shell-shocked and spent the rest of his life flying into unprovoked rages - bellowing at the kids, belting his sons & throwing things at his wife. Even so when WW2 started he was among the first to try to enlist for that show, but was turned down due to his age. He drove buses for a living and after he was operated on for a hernia was told not to drive for a month (no power steering or social welfare in those days of course). A month off work meant a month of no rent money so he returned to work, permanently wrecking his body.
My mother as the youngest daughter was obliged to look after her ill mother during the last few years of her life. This meant limited social engagements and the chance to meet young men at the height of her attractiveness. When her mother finally passed away and the day of the funeral arrived the family got her to look after all the extended family’s children so that even after all those years of care & intimacy with her mother she couldn't attend her funeral. She approached her thirties having largely given up hope of getting married.
As for my father's side: my grandfather had to sell newspapers on a street corner from the age of 4 to help support the family. My father spent his initial years in a northern mill town in England, when he was 12 he was blinded in one eye by a pellet from a friend's air rifle, from which he nearly died. He was a bright boy and won a scholarship to an Engineering college. It wasn't a full scholarship though and as his family couldn't afford to contribute even a small amount he had to drop out of school on his fourteenth birthday and enter an apprenticeship. In the meantime the family had moved to the south of England where he was picked on in school for his funny accent and for wearing clogs. Many of those school days involved fighting.
For the first several years of his working life, until he could afford a cheap motorbike in his early 20's, he had to ride a bicycle 8 miles each way to work every day. He was a Corporal during the war & ran an Army supply depot in Kuala Lumpur. At times he would manage a couple of hundred Japanese POWs. He had several stories about controlling them when they became unruly. But, he said, "I don't know what I and the two Indian soldiers helping me would have done if they'd decided to get really nasty." He was very glad the Americans dropped the A-bombs on Japan as he was due to be part of an attack on a well defended beach. He said when they looked at the beach later that there were traps everywhere, "we would have been slaughtered!" he laughed.
(Such experiences gave rise to the famous English Black Humour. Example: New recruit arrives at the Front, WW1. On his way up to the trenches he complains to his sergeant "Sarge, my feet are wet". Sergeant replies "what are you worried about that for son? You'll be dead in 10 minutes" Priceless. Back to the story...)
In the late 1950's he bought a motorbike, advertised for someone to jump on the back & share the costs & rode to New Zealand for a better life. When he got here he sold the bike so that he could start a Panel Beating business and went back to riding a bicycle. He telegramed my mother in England asking her to come out & marry him. She left everyone she knew to come to the other side of the world with little chance of returning for many years. All they could afford for their wedding reception meal was beer & sausages with tomato sauce.
But me… me, I grew up in a peaceful, affluent Western society and did not experience a Great Depression or a Great War. Prosperity rode on the back of a post-war boom, a rising Western population and New Zealand's membership of the Commonwealth. Around 1970 our standard of living was the highest in the world. I have frankly lived a charmed life in comparison.
But I write this not because I'm special, far from it. I write this because I know I am anything but. Many of us will have similar stories in our family history. Such stories are a part of our shared heritage. It is however something we seem to easily forget. The last little chapter - my bit, your bit possibly - that bit could be called privileged I think. But my father's & Grandfathers' part of the story? I don't know how that could be seen as terribly privileged. Ah yes, you might say, but it is compared to the average sub Saharan African today isn't it? Do you think so? Well I disagree. Having had the advantage of undertaking a mission trip to Black Africa (Zambia) I actually found life there to be very much like the life my grandparents lived.
Our problem I think arises when we simply look at our own experience in the post-War West as an example of the way life has always been for Westerners. We think we've always had it this good. Yet what we think of right now as "normal" would be conceived of as a Paradise by my grandfathers' generation. As recently as 1900 for example the average life expectancy for an American male was 42 - the same for males in Black Africa today.
We live now in what may soon become a brief historical blip. This is a vulnerable time & place of relative tranquillity and prosperity which is by no means guaranteed to continue. The history of all our ancestors involved short life spans, hard work, illness and scarcity. The future of our children may too if we forget our own history.
You know - as a speaker whose video talk I posted on Tuesday pointed out - if we really want to help the poorer two-thirds world perhaps we could try exporting to them that which has worked so well for us? Why shouldn't Tanzanians or Nigerians have our life expectancy in a few decades time? However when we suggest this we are criticised from within our own ranks - there's the warning - as Imperialists, neo-Colonialists & "cultural supremacists".
There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the oppression of African Americans yet I read the other day that they are the 18th most prosperous group in the world. That isn't to say they don’t still experience injustices, but can we please just keep a little perspective?
How is it that today we are permitted, indeed compelled, to recognise that people come from all over the world to share in our Western freedoms & prosperity - our "White privilege" - yet as soon as we suggest that we can export the very things that attract them - that gave rise to our freedoms & prosperity, that is our Faith, equality under the law, freedom of speech, our philosophy, our whole worldview, we are called Imperialists, neo-Colonialists & "cultural supremacists"?
Our “privilege” is one that anyone can share in & enjoy. But not if they don't concede to its source and then themselves decide to make the necessary changes to encourage those same things in their own culture. We can't make them change and we don't want to try, for if the decision doesn't come from within them everything else is mere shallow pretence. That holds true over here or over there.
So I close with a song (because I like it - “Brothers in arms”) and because it talks about life and war. It acknowledges that we are all in this mess together. We are privileged indeed, regardless of skin colour, to have grown up in the West at this time. Our non-Western friends need what we've got - but that isn't limited to the material things. In fact that is the least of what our real privilege consists of. Our real privilege is our cultural inheritance - ultimately all of which rests on the Faith of the West, Christianity.
We offer it – but all of it. Without the foundation, its material aspects won’t do a thing.
All the best.