A little while ago I read a news story about how a teen and his friends stole beer from a local corner store, they got drunk, drove around, crashed and killed 4 people in the process. What should have been a clear cut case of theft, drunk driving and manslaughter, quickly became a travesty. The “judge”, realizing that the real crime was apparently Ethan’s poor decision making skills declared that he was just a victim of excessive privilege – a term dubbed “affluenza”, a condition which only the affluent can suffer from – and won’t be going to jail. In fact, he won’t even be punished, not really – unless you consider a ten year probation on killing people during drunk driving rampages a real punishment.
I, like virtually every sensible human being who heard the story, was offended by the verdict. This wasn’t a case about youthful mistakes and irresponsibility, this was a case about the rich and powerful can go on being rich and powerful while the rest of us can go fuck ourselves. However, as offensive as this ruling was, the so-called “affluenza” verdict only calls to attention one half of the problem, half of the travesty that just took place.
This morning I stumbled upon an article responding to this court case. In the article, the author wrote a hypothetical scenario wher an impoverished black teen caused the death of four people and should be let off because of his impoverished upbringing that poor decision making skills – that he was in effect suffering from “Povertenza”.
If background and upbringing are more to blame than a person’s actions, then why are we only applying this to half of the picture? If excessive wealth can get you off the hook, logically speaking so can excessive poverty. But unfortunately, that’s not how things work; we live in a two-tier society, the haves and the have-nots and the have-nots can never have. Her article reminds us that a rich white kid can get away with murder, while a poor black kid will go to jail forever for the smallest of petty crimes.
It’s chilling, but it’s nothing new; and that’s the saddest part.
We like to speak one way an act another. Maybe it’s because our idols and icons were the same way (and also white and male). Obvious offender number 1: Thomas Jefferson wrote about the liberty, equality, fraternity and all that jazz of “all men”, but he was also a mysogynist and slave owner (no women, or non-whites in his equality – which makes me wonder why there are still schools and streets named after this monster). The list goes on.
While this happened in the United States, we’d only be lying to ourselves if we thought things were somehow different up here. Our privileged classes have found no shortage of people to shit on. The First Nations people come to mind as an obvious victim of white privilege – we started to deal with it by blindly tossing money at the problem and then by pretending there was no problem. Even here in Quebec, visible minorities in Quebec are being attacked by our very own government – I guess women in Hijabs and men in Turbans have finally supplanted the scary “English” as our society’s number one enemy. At least we ce can be thankful that there’s still some justice left in our justice system.