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Letter to the Editor

On white privilege

To the editor: Today I heard the stunning statistic that hate crimes in the U. S. are now up 30%. Thirty percent! This brought to mind a recent Community Perspective by Alexander Dolitsky complaining about what he views as a widespread, and too often mistaken, notion of white privilege in our country.

Professor Dolitsky says he immigrated from the former U.S.S.R. and worked hard to become an author, historian, anthropologist and faculty member at the University of Alaska Southeast, among other achievements. He says the notion of white privilege did not exist in the U.S. when he arrived in 1978 as a poor, white young man with two suitcases and a guitar. Later, by hard effort, he gained legal citizenship, graduated from Brown University, then attended a Ph.D. program in anthropology at Bryn Mawr College.

But wait. Historically, the 1970s produced great civil unrest — often called “race wars” — rising from widespread discontent over discrimination in our country based on the color of people’s skin. Wasn’t this about racism, or “white privilege” by another name? Does Professor Dolitsky know that his alma mater Bryn Mawr was founded to offer academic opportunity to females? Women were deemed unworthy of a college education back then.

Alaska’s history offers another tidbit. Juneau elders can verify that capital city businesses once posted signs reading, “Natives and dogs not allowed.” Horrors like the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh still happen today. People of color disproportionately die of COVID, partly because they lack good basic health care. To be insulted by the notion of “white privilege” pales in comparison to horrific recent facts.

I applaud Professor Dolitsky’s achievements and share his admiration for our nation’s founding principles based on what he calls “the idea of equality for all.” But, tragically, we have not achieved that noble “idea” of fairness. We whites hold inordinate power. But things can change. I urge citizens to look around, ponder current news, and work together to “make good trouble,” as Rep. John Lewis, the conscience of the House, advised us all to do.

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