What to do about privilege

June 13, 2016

Portugal, May 2016

I live in the same county as the Stanford rapist,

his victim, the judge, the D.A. and the probation officer, all key players in a scenario that has been played out thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of times in the United States, but for some reason has now blown up the internet.

The scenario has to do with privilege. White privilege. Ivy league privilege. The privilege of wealth. Of athletes.  Privileged people.

The outrage over this case is becoming part of the national zeitgeist. It’s not often that happens with rape cases, and there have been so many even more callous than this one.  What’s different this time?

Was it the letter the victim wrote?

privileged-peopleMy heart goes out to this victim. Completely.  Still I didn’t find the letter as impactful as others did. It was long, rambling, unfocused and didn’t bring up any emotion for me, not on its own. I’ve heard and read far more impactful victims’ statements.  But since others, including reporters, seem to think it was impactful, their reading it on air kept her point of view alive. As it should be. So did that make the difference? I don’t think so.

Here’s what it really is, I think, that made a difference: the statement made by the perp’s father. The one that said his son’s probation was far too high a price to pay for “20 minutes of action.”

If EVER you wanted to read something that vividly lays out the clueless, tone deaf nature of people who have lived a privileged life, there you have it.  Oh, that, and the similarly tone deaf letter his mother wrote. And the one the ex-girlfriend wrote. Those two were frosting on the cake, so to speak. The cake was the father’s ridiculous letter.

Now, I don’t for a minute think that father meant “action” as it “sex.”  I think he meant “20  minutes out of his life.”  Because surely he wouldn’t have meant action as “sex.”  Could he be that stupid?  But of course, in today’s world everyone must have their say and his reflected how completely clueless he is anyway, which added to the outrage.  What was crystal clear, though, is that his father didn’t feel his son should take any responsibility for his actions. That alcohol was to blame.  There was no apology. No recognition by son or father that the assault was wrong. No taking of responsibility. And THAT was why the outrage, I believe.

Let’s talk about the judge for a minute.

I’m pretty sure he didn’t give this case more thought than any other on his docket. Cases like these: Stanford athlete, bright future, one mistake—-they pass by his bench all the time, his and so many others. Especially in Palo Alto. And I’ll bet they are all treated pretty much the same. After all, this is probably a “good kid” as in white, privileged, being educated at a spectacular university. So why ruin his life?  That’s how the system has worked. Forever.

Suppose the rapist had been black. A high school dropout. With a public defender. What if the victim happened to be a black prostitute who was not plying her trade that night, but in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Would this have played out the same way?privileged-people

The obvious (and sad) answer is NO. We KNOW that to be true.

So yes, sympathy for the victim, no sympathy for the perp, scorn for the father.

But the bigger issue here is the thorny problem of privilege when it comes to the justice system. Or any system, really, because I can’t think of one that doesn’t have a double standard depending on someone’s status in society.

I’m glad to see all the attention on this case, but it really doesn’t amount to anything unless the system changes.

It’s overdue for an overhaul. One that would actually make it “justice.”  So let’s review what is probably happening and then what should happen:

I would bet that judges who have given sentences like this in cases like this are now thinking twice, and that’s a good thing. The judge is either going to face a recall or not be re-elected this fall and I think that’s a good thing. Ironically, he probably has thought many times when sentencing, “sometimes people have to serve as an example.” Yes. Let this judge’s problems and the publicity on this case serve as a cautionary tale for other judges who simply go along with the system with no thought about its inequality. Judges are now on notice: let there be no more knee-jerk sentences. Consider every case more carefully from now on.

Humans are always going to be human. We’ll make mistakes. But our justice system is there so that big-magnitude mistakes that hurt others –crimes–like rape–can be punished.

Now, I wish that prisons actually rehabilitated prisoners. That’s not what happens. Hard core criminals get harder. Medium core criminals usually move up a notch, too. Clueless white rapists? Well, not so sure they’ll fare so well. They just might get their own justice. Perhaps.

By the way, penal reform is also overdue. Our penal system is pretty ineffective–often working at cross purposes with its so-called intent– and even barbaric. But it IS our system. Right now. But back to justice.

The justice system needs to treat people equally. All people, whether they’re a prestigious school’s athlete or a drug dealer from the ghetto.  It’s supposed to happen. It should happen.

But it doesn’t.

privileged-peopleSo, how do we make justice happen?

We start by calling attention to injustice, just like we are doing now, all over the world, even. But we can’t let up pressure. Let’s see, how long has it been since Sandy Hook? And how quickly did our outrage fade? And what has happened?

A big fat nothing.

This stuff tends to flare and then, over time die down.  Let’s not do that this time. Let’s keep the pressure on. Let this judge’s sentencing rationale serve as cautionary note to other judges. Let this father’s ridiculous defense of his son serve notice to parents that our society requires convicted kids to take responsibility for their actions and we must excoriate parents who allow them to blame the victim, alcohol, youth or anything but themselves.

I’m not a fan of recall except in the most extreme of cases, but I AM a fan of not re-electing someone who has made bad decisions.

The problem with all this is that we get tired. Tired of every Trayvon Martin who is murdered. Tired of every shooting massacre. Or bombing.

We get tired.

But we can’t get tired. We can’t afford to get tired.  Our society can’t afford for us to get tired. Privileged people should not get a pass based on that privilege. Not any more.

Change is needed.

Got some ideas? I’d like to hear them in the Comments.


45 comments on “What to do about privilege
  1. Anita Irlen says:

    Privilege a problem? I think your post title says it all. First world problems.

  2. Leanne says:

    It’s such an ingrained issue isn’t it Carol – I don’t see long term change coming any time soon. The entitlement handed down through the generations (as encapsulated in his father’s letter) is entrenched and is part of many cultures (look at the rape problem in India etc) No easy answers and more heartache to come I’m afraid.

  3. You’ve articulated the issue so clearly, Carol. The solutions are equally clear, but does anyone have the persistence, fortitude–simple willingness–to make them happen? One can hope, I guess, but I’m not terribly confident that the privileged are going to relinquish their lofty perch anytime soon.

  4. Diane says:

    I think one of the largest problems is that the laws are made by those same entitled few. Change? It won’t happen while the same people as that father are in power. How to change that. That is a real question!

  5. Kate Mahar says:

    This subject goes deeper than white privilege and inequities in the judicial system. As a parent and, specifically, mother of a now-adult son, I believe it’s a male/female issue before we address race or class. As long as we live in a world where young men are regularly exposed to violence and sexism, and young women are in some ways rewarded for provocative behavior and appearance, we’ve got a dangerous brew of raging hormones and immaturity that when whipped up with mind-altering drugs and/or alcohol is a disaster waiting to happen.Do I sympathize with the Stanford rapist and his parents? No. But I get it. I definitely get it. Ask any parent of a teen or young adult and they will tell you that sometimes, all they can do is pray that their child will just LIVE through those years to come out on the other side as an adult, ready to make wiser choices. It’s a slippery slope when we pass judgment on others.

    • I don’t disagree that young women today do dress provocatively. However, I maintain that they should be able to walk down the street naked and teen boys should know not to touch. I just don’t think it’s that hard to teach values even with peer pressure. I see it taught every day by friends and others. And effectively. I can not imagine any of my three nephews EVER assaulting someone like that. CAn. Not. It would not occur to them. They are normal boys, too.

  6. Something has to change for sure, it needs to be kept in the front of our mind. If not then we will have the same issue 6 months down the line. I agree that our jails need to change, they need to put more into changing criminals instead of just babysitting them.

  7. Ellen Dolgen says:

    I get it……….we need so much change in this country, sometimes it feels overwhelming. However, we can’t afford to get tired. You are so right! If we do, we not only have no hope for the future – we will slip backwards.

  8. Here’s something I picked up from a black woman in St. Louis who has done more than pretty much anyone to change white mindsets here. She regularly says, “..and I’m not tired yet.” I know that’s not always true for her or anyone, but I’ve found it a helpful rallying cry to say to myself at any moment that I can grasp some truth in it. It helps! I quit ending my rants with “I’m tired” and start ending them with “…and I’m not tired yet!” That has me taking more and more actions to make the world a better place.

    • Roz Warren says:

      “and I’m not tired yet.” My new mantra when it comes to making change happen, Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Barbara says:

      I love that idea! It is exhausting, especially in our political environment at this time, but we can’t let go and stop fighting for what is right. I’m not tired yet!!

  9. I am so overwhelmingly sad by all the events in the news lately and have no idea how we’re going to overhaul all the systems that are so wrong. We definitely need to be vocal and write letters to politicians who are bought by special interests and keep them accountable and vote them out when they don’t do what’s right. Yes, it is exhausting and it’s easier to watch cat videos all day – and that’s a big part of the problem.

  10. Roz Warren says:

    As long as certain people feel that they’re so special that the rules that apply to others don’t apply to them (and to others like them) there are going to be problems. Teaching the right values to our sons is a great start.

  11. Barbara says:

    Our youngest son sucked his thumb for a long time. One day I was driving him and a few other kids to kindergarten and one of them said, “Only babies suck their thumb.” Greg replied with his thumb securely in his mouth, “Except for me!”
    We’ve laughed about that over the years but I guarantee you we never raised them to feel better than anyone else. Ever.
    I think the largest group who feel privileged are the nouveau riche, not the ones from old money. The old monied society, for the most part, kept certain values and wanted their names recognized and respected. Sure, some were bad seeds but we didn’t have these problems from that group like what we see now. And, judges can be bought, unfortunately.
    And I wanted to say something about the victims letter. I am amazed she can put a complete sentence together, aside from baring her soul for all to read.

  12. Andrea says:

    Goodness knows that in New York, they ARE starting to try and do something about the problems!

  13. Gary Mathews says:

    Stumbled Carol, this whole situation is completely whacked! I don’t care what school you go to or how “wealthy” you are a crime was committed. God knows I did a ton of stupid stuff in college, but I never broke any laws….underage drinking notwithstanding!

  14. Nancy Hill says:

    Oh Carol, I just cry sometimes. Chicken and egg questions are tricky, heck, the wrong answer could get you burned at the stake in Europe not so long ago. Violence and inequality go hand in hand. It is up to us women to figure out what to do. Privilege = unequal respect for life and labor. My husband creates the first way to cross the blood brain barrier that has lead to whole new classes of drugs that are saving lives and creating new medicines and we can scarcely keep our head above water. Scumbag realtors “develop” lands that should belong to all of us and are dripping in an excess of everything. Violence and capitalism are male inventions to “protect” what they feel they “own.” The problems are ages old and embedded in culture. I’m tired, but I keep going.

  15. Laurie Oien says:

    You’re right, this father’s comments is most definitely the reason we even heard about this case. Respect seems to be lost in ALL corners of the world these days. Either respecting others or if it’s respecting ourselves. It’s an “All About Me” attitude that our society has created, which puts the privileged at the top of the heap. The core of family values is also getting lost and it seems to be breeding a mentality of insecure people that want to appear better than the next guy. Therefore, to get what they want, they don’t give a shit about the people that are hurt along the way. This person comes in all walks of life – poor, middle class or the rich. It could take generations to get those values back in the family home. However, it should start with teaching RESPECT!

  16. sue says:

    I also think the media should take more responsibility on how they report. In Australia, to my knowledge the only media attention this case received was the statement from the perp’s father. Our society is certainly angrier and people feel they have a right to behave as they please. I don’t believe the ‘ivy league’ mentality is as bad in Australia but yes it certainly is there.

  17. helene cohen bludMan says:

    The sentence for this crime is an insult and a disgrace. In this situation I think an investigation of the judge is called for.

  18. You are right. It was the father’s letter that outraged me more than anything and the sentence. It’s the culture that says it’s up to the woman “not to get herself raped.” It’s any man, no matter what his background who thinks he is ENTITLED TO SEX and should get it any way he can. And if this had been a minority without a good lawyer, the sentence would have been totally different. If it had been a black single mother, there would not be the outrage, mostly because we would not hear about it. But because it was a rich, white Olympic hopeful from Stanford we heard about it. So we have outrage. And then it passes because it’s on to the next thing. And we do get tired. I have no solutions.

  19. Alana says:

    I agree that the father’s letter and the “20 minutes of action” comment had a lot to do with blowing up the Internet, which, in a way, makes the victim’s unfocused letter (I agree it isn’t great writing) even more important. I don’t think it matters that the victim’s letter was rambling. I don’t think it matters that it will not win the Nobel Prize for literature. What matters is that it was written. That writing took courage beyond what many of us can imagine. What also matters is that it took social media by storm. The “Stanford letter” put its readers into the head of someone who had suffered incredibly, and still suffers from shame and fear. She made me feel her pain, if I could use a cliche. I think that is what matters, not the quality of her writing. If it changes our world, that is all that matters.

  20. tp keane says:

    Six months in jail. But a man who allegedly held up a store with a knife gets 17 years only to be proven innocent after AND THEN LEFT TO ROT IN JAIL… justice, equality, and humanity at its best (cue rolling of eyes). We are a broken and corrupt people… is there any hope of redemption? I’m not holding my breath.

  21. Jennifer says:

    It’s privilege, but it’s not the privilege of the rich in this case. It’s the privilege of men (rich and poor.) Too often men are let off or given light sentences because somehow it’s women who are responsible for a man’s behavior. In this case, it was her “fault” because she was drunk but it could have been for wearing a low cut shirt or for being out late. It doesn’t matter the reason because, in this patriarchal society, it’s the woman’s fault.

  22. Elizabeth O. says:

    I am with you 100%. It’s true that we have a flawed justice system and it leans toward privilege. I don’t think the case would have laid out the same way if the perpetrator was of a different color or a different standing in life. I do get why the parents spoke the way they did, they were trying to protect their “cub” but the judge… I really don’t understand why.

  23. As a black, well-educated, single, survivor of rape, now 51-year old woman who migrated over a decade ago to another country, I have lived and experienced the challenges the privileged face daily.Whether that is on a racial, professional, man/woman, recent migrant versus established family in a country where their parents migrated to centuries ago or based on ageism – privilege and entitlements are the bane of society. Can it be fixed, solved or resolved – I honestly am not sure. My hope would be yes, for the sake of my granddaughter who is already showing her strength of personality.

  24. wendy says:

    You are right, some “privileged” few think they are above everything and anyone.Some do what they want just because of “who” they are and how much they have in their bank. Sad really, sad that our society allows it.

  25. Nicole Escat says:

    This is the system and sad to say we belong to the system. I hope that it will change and all human will give equality.

  26. We really live in a systems world. I fear, in my lifetime, this will never change. No matter what the system does, someone isn’t going to be happy.

  27. Jasmine says:

    Changes have to be made, thats for sure. Just hope that it sooner rather than later

  28. Jessica says:

    This is very well written. I agree that change needs to happen. We as a society need to realize we have privileges but if we do something wrong we get those privileges taken away and we need to own up to our mistakes. Again, this is well written.

  29. Courtneylynne says:

    This is definitely one messed up case! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when I first heard about it. Sickning!

  30. SourgirlOHio says:

    This whole situation has just been painful to watch. I agree that the media attention is refreshing as these things are so often swept under the rug. But without real change, there’s no point to all of the attention….and I’m hoping that change is coming. I hear jurors are boycotting this judges cases. It’s nice to see people standing up, even in small ways.

  31. katrina gehman says:

    the entire situation is sad and the way people are acting makes me sad as well.

  32. Brianna says:

    There is an important responsibility that comes with privilege, until this mindset changes nothing will change.

  33. Faye says:

    I agree that it was largely the father’s comment re: “20 minutes of action” along with the mother’s letter, which does not once even mention the victim, that screams of privilege. It is the blatant self-pity that is being paraded instead of remorse, which would be expected. A tough topic – privilege exists, is all around us – yet what can we do to change it?

  34. These high profile cases do provide a chance for people to question the status quo. Difficult issues and we as individuals can use our vote to help shape the future as you’ve suggested, Carol.There is no doubt inequities exist in the judicial system and that it is great to be privileged when you appear before a judge, or avoid appearing before a judge. I’m not sure it can ever be fixed but I’m sure it can be improved.

  35. Jessica Kirk says:

    Yes, it is a privilege issue, but I think that at its heart it is a gender issue. Men feel like they are entitled to sex. Women are being taught how to not get raped instead of men being taught not to rape! It starts with the values and moral taught at home as a child. This is what happens when every child is being raised as if they are a special snowflake and they all get trophies for no reason other than being there. Entitlement. And now we have men who feel they are entitled to a woman’s body. Then on top of it, this particular man is a rich, white man, who goes to an Ivy League school and you get pitiful sentences. Did you know that the organization that one would have to join to be an Olympic swimmer has banned him for life because of this? So the judge’s whole reason for such a light sentence, (not ruining his Olympic chances), are null and void anyways because an organization did what that judge didn’t have the guts to do!

  36. Silly Mummy says:

    Insightful post. I live in Britain & my job used to be in law – specifically criminal justice and prisons. I lived in the US for a year, know a fairly good amount about how your system works, and also had some experience dealing with it in my job, as I had some clients who were Americans and due to be deported if released here, or requiring repatriation & transfer through the prison systems to serve their sentence in the US. I believe that your system is very heavily skewed to favour the privileged. As with so much, your restricted system of state support and welfare provisions means that justice can be bought for the rich, and the poor struggle to get fair representation. There is inequality here too, but it is less pronounced because we have a more comprehensive system of public funding. Though ours is now being decimated, so we will end up in the same situation. We do also see biases come through. I recall watching a judge doing his sentencing session one day. Nearly all the offenders were young, under privileged, heroin addicts being sentenced for petty thefts and TWOCs (joyriding). One offender was a middle class school principal being sentenced for serious child pornography and grooming offences. He got a much more lenient sentence than any of those young men, due to his ‘good character’. It’s nonsense. What relevance does having good character have in the face of certain offences? Not to mention that, of course, these offences had been committed over years before he was caught so he actually never had ‘good character’.

    Rehabilitation is so important if you want prison to have any impact and release anyone able to function in society and turn their life around. Otherwise, you make them more dangerous and release them, or you never release them. When I had Americans serving a life sentence here, that was a real issue. Because we would rehabilitate them to the point where they would have been released & monitored here, but were due to be deported. Because your system does not effectively rehabilitate or monitor in the way that ours, and most European systems, do they would get stuck in limbo. Our authorities needed to believe they would be properly helped and monitored where they were released to fulfill the risk assessment for release, and they could not be confident of that because the US authorities would not provide any proper assistance and support. It was particularly problematic for people with mental health problems that needed extensive support. Transfer through the prison system was also difficult, as typically someone we had sentenced to life with parole, who had moved through the system of rehabilitation to low security and ready for parole, would have been put onto a sentence of life without parole in maximum security in the States.Again, all of these problems don’t exist for people with privilege, who can prove that they can buy the health care and support they need.

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