It is high time people throw off old preconceptions of Republicans as the mean descendants of cotton plantation owners, you know, the old diatribe about white male privilege. With Trump’s rising numbers among minorities, maybe we’re all finally seeing people as just people who are all just trying to persevere and build a better life for themselves and their families.
I look at my children. They are half Hungarian blood on my wife’s side; that side came to the US through Ellis Island in the early 20th century and somehow they all found each other. They were not privileged at all; they had nothing. They were the children of simple farmers whose land was confiscated by the communists. They did not come but were sent to America for a better future, which they found in the factories in and around Bridgeport, CT.
On my side, my children can count an Englishman lured here by his brother in the late 19th century. His brother had married well and joined the family business. My great grandfather first served in the Army during the Spanish American war, gained citizenship, and joined his brother. Two of my other great grandparents (Sullivan and Mahoney) fled Ireland during the potato famine. The rest were American mutts, descended from early Puritans, pilgrims, and other unknowns.
I can say this; my great grandparents were all proud, worked hard, and not one left a single trust fund dollar or any kind of inheritance. One of my great grandfathers owned a general store. Another was a doctor. Yet another was a businessman and it is said, profited during prohibition, a scandal. The last worked for his brother in a lumber and quarry business in upstate New Hampshire.
They all lived in rural New England, owned homes, and lived full lives. As for privilege or inheritance, nothing survived to be passed down. My mother was orphaned at 13 when her father died of leukemia and her mother was declared incompetent and relegated to the state mental hospital. The family farm was auctioned to pay the medical bills. In the early ’50s, my father’s father contracted polio. He partially recovered and then lost everything when disease ravaged the local chicken farms leaving his inherited general store with nothing having advanced a season of feed to all the local growers.
My parents married at 18, produced two children (I was #2) before they were 20 and moved to the city to work. We lived in the projects then later moved into a three-decker walk-up. It was a cold flat, which meant there was no central heat, just an oil heater installed in an ancient fireplace in the front room. When I was about five, we moved to Portland, ME, to our own home, a rented bungalow. My dad got a job with the phone company, which was a great thing. He was transferred to the Boston area and there he bought his first house, a small Cape Cod on a ragged, unpaved street, the last in the city, three lots from the commuter train tracks. When the heavy freight trains rode by, the house would convulse with a continued, soft, low-frequency rumble.
My point is, I don’t think any of my progenitors owned a cotton plantation. And though I may be of fair complexion (and that is not necessarily such a good thing, as my dermatologist can tell you) I’ve never felt the least bit privileged. The neighborhood I grew up in was filled with first-generation Irish, Italians, Greeks, Portuguese, and French Canadians. I felt like Schlitz and Wonder Bread in a world of basement Fortissimo and crusty rolls and exotic baguettes. When I had to continually fight my way through the neighborhood pecking order, I never once felt privilege, not once. I felt a few punches to the face, but not privilege.
Even now, with my degrees piled up, my wife the urban choir teacher, my suburban house, my educated daughters, my savings account, my cars, my stuff, I still don’t feel privileged. I may leave some stuff to my kids, but it won’t be enough to do much for the following generation.
My mother’s family was brought up to be staunch Democrats. My father’s dad was a prominent Republican. The only thing I inherited from my forebears besides my complexion was my intellect and my willingness to work and persevere. That’s not privilege. It’s just plain stubbornness. And it’s enough for me.Published in