You Didn’t Build That

First Posted 02-Nov-2015

Melissa Harris-Perry was born to a white mother and black father. She was born in Seattle but grew up in Chesterfield County, Virginia, where she attended Thomas Dale High School. Her father was the first dean of African-American Affairs at the University of Virginia. Harris-Perry’s mother, Diana Gray, taught at a community college and was working on her doctorate when they met.

Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor at Wake Forest University and host of her own Sunday Morning news show on MSNBC lecturing Paul Ryan on hard work. Melissa. You can’t be serious. I and Paul Ryan, according to you, didn’t become successful because of hard work. I didn’t build this web site. I didn’t earn the money I’ve been paid to drive a camera car. I didn’t see my life collapse and recover four times and counting and credit my own efforts for the recovery. I didn’t do what it took to be sitting in a warm hotel room with FoxNFL Sunday Night Football playing on a 40″ flat screen TV. No, I was entitled to it through my white privilege. Some beneficent god came from Mount Olympus and bestowed it on me.

I am your enemy, Melissa. I am a WASP. I am a [need duct tape so I can put myself together once my head explodes] cis-heterosexual male who believes that homosexuality is a sin. I am a member of a conservative, evangelical, pentacostal, dissident, former PCUSA Presbyterian Church. I don’t deserve what I have. I have too much and too many have too little. Thus, I should give it back. I should fall on my sword and dissolve in a puddle of groveling tears before some social worker begging to be put on psych-disability, housed in Section 8 housing, and happy that my bag of Food-Bank food hasn’t run out yet. I should gladly spend a full day in line at the VCU Medical Center pharmacy to wait for my medications. I should be glad that my sugar daddy Uncle Sam still sends me a TANF check every month. I should get all giddy when someone tells me that the gift of night crawlers is for food and the shovel for my grave.

I left home at age 19 sure that I didn’t want the life set before me in upper-middle-class Whitman Square in 1979. I wanted to be a Broadway star. I was/am an artist. I feel most fulfilled when I am able to create content. Since the age of 19 I’ve been at both ends. I’ve been homeless more than once. I am an ex-offender. According to you, nothing I’ve accomplished is because I worked for it. No, somehow, some little “g” god of multi-cultural roots gifted me with my single family home, my car, or my big flat screen TV simply because my genealogy traces back through Jamestown. Where were you in 1984 when three men tried to kill me while taking my cab? Did white privilege get me my job at Charles Schwab? You were raised in Chesterfield, VA. Your parents were both college professors. You graduated from Wake Forest. I went to a state university. You want to get after me for my privilege?

Unitarian Universalist. The epitome of chicken sh*t faith. You couldn’t face the radical challenges of Christ so you ran to hide in a church that won’t give you too much grief over your worship of left-wing idols. I dare you to meet Jesus where he lives, in the impoverished streets of Nazareth, in places like Richmond’s Highland Park. I challenge you to let him rock your world and disrupt your careful obeisance to the puritan orthodoxy of the left. You won’t do it. Your world is too cocooned, to protected, too much invested to take on Jesus as He is. St. Giles, like many churches, meets on Sunday mornings. I’ll be there. You won’t come, though. We are too white, too West End, to be a real church. Those other churches like St. Paul’s out on Creighton Road or West End Assembly of God, way too Jesus freak for you? No prejudice there. Nope. Just speaking truth to power are we? When’s the last time you went to worship at Ebenezer Baptist on Leigh Street? Chicken. You know what, though. Stay in your chicken sh*t faith. Do you. Last thing I need is some college professor playing social worker in the pews and explaining to me why I am a problem to some token black lesbian woman.

I find the noise of some of my friends to be stunningly cynical and bitter. Somehow, resenting me and what I’ve done, insisting that I am somehow oppressing them simply by succeeding, that pisses me off. A hard working union man who gets hired at a young age and does everything right will retire rich. He has to if he is to leave his job at age 65 and live on his pension, Social Security and savings for the next 25 years or more. He will be a millionaire. Are we to attack him for his success and forcibly take the fruits of his hard work from him so that someone else whose story didn’t go so well can have a cell phone and a free Cadillac? You would seriously suggest that I don’t deserve this latest climb from the bottom, that I didn’t do the work, that it was somehow a theft of mine from some unnamed po’ folk? That’s justice?

What about my friend Jimmy, who is a defense lawyer with three kids to feed? Should we resent his privilege and maybe send him to Appalachia to cut tobacco (organic, sustainably raised and all) while the farm’s owner comes to Richmond to work as an attorney? Who will work the courts so those accused can get dealt with fairly? The tobacco farmer? Mao tried something similar. We know how that went.

How is it ok for you to benefit from your privilege (since you say we didn’t get our success by hard work) but I and Paul Ryan, perhaps because we are white, should feel guilty for allegedly being given an undeserved advantage simply because of our declared ethnicity? Would you go slop pigs in Stewart, VA and let the pig farmer do your show? What if he spent most of the airtime discussing feed prices? No? Thought so.

Melissa. I ain’t nobody. I started out as a cab driver. I had some success being a computer geek for a few years. I wrote some code, solved a lot of problems, fixed my share of ID10T problems, and helped out where I could. These last few months I’ve been lucky to have a job driving for an evil corporation who pays double what I usually make. I’m not special. There are a lot of us out here just trying to keep our heads above water, keep our bills paid, and make sense of this crazy world we live in. Maybe I’m a bit above some because of this blog. I don’t feel it. I don’t feel better than anybody. I still worry about the rent like many. It pisses me off that you, from where you are, would tell me that somehow I am guilty of some sin because of my gender choice and stated ethnicity.

This is what I know about po’ folk. They don’t like their Sugar Daddy Uncle Sam. They want to break up with him, shun him. But like a pimp who has cast a spell over his girls, Uncle Sam has them believing that he is the only way to survive. Suggesting otherwise is fighting words. Some, like me, have their eyes opened and choose to make their own way in spite of the tough road created by that choice. Hard work will result in material gain. Even the much propagandized minimum wage worker, if he or she is frugal with money, will build wealth over time. And this is the rub—building wealth is sinful in the orthodoxy of the left. Melissa is telling us that we are evil for trying to get ahead. Yet she owes in taxes what it usually takes me 4 years to earn. I am the evil privileged one?

I can’t do it. I can’t end on a sermon. Quoting Ron White, you can’t fix stupid. The reason I still live in Richmond, VA is that the people here celebrate hard work, humility and financial peace. It is such a relief to live here instead of Berkeley where I once felt angst over whether my little piece of the pie was deserved. Melissa, whatever. I know what choices keep me healthy. Si ça fait de moi, un trou du cul blanc privilégié mal, bon.