There are many problems with the shocking and disturbing cartoon of Betsy DeVos that parallels the Norman Rockwell painting of Ruby Bridges. I’m not qualified to talk on the way we treat all black females as adults regardless of their age. I am qualified to talk on how we infantilize white women, but I won’t be talking about that either.
Instead, I’m going to discuss how this cartoon is positively dripping with white privilege.
Ruby Bridges was six when the NAACP asked her to participate in the integration of the New Orleans school system. Her family was hesitant, but finally, they agreed. The hope for equality was placed on the shoulders of a six-year-old girl who had to run a gambit of racist radicals every day who would throw insults and actual physical objects at her.
In the face of such hatred, I- as a grown woman- would buckle. I would cry and run and hide under my bed. I could go into depth here on if that means I’m weak or not. If it’s a symptom of my depression and anxiety or not. I won’t though because it’s not the point. I am a grown woman, and no one would ask me to face such hatred simply to further my education.
Because I’m white.
(I want to sing that line and dance around throwing rose petals as it’s the lynchpin of my argument. It will be repeated throughout this piece and should be read in that same tone. Sing-song. Dancing. Rose petals.)
It’s the privilege I was born with because of the color of my skin that I never had to doubt that I would be welcome in a house of learning. I am white, so I am welcome. Betsy DeVos assumed that she would have the same privilege. Because she’s white. She’s rich. She’s in a position of power with the current government. She and those of her ilk assumed she would be welcome without controversy. Without protestors. With open and loving arms.
Because she’s white.
But she was not welcomed. She was met with (wholly justified) resistance. She’s uniquely unqualified for her position as Secretary of Education. We need people familiar with the shortcomings of our system and who are willing to work to correct those. Not some member of the upper crust elite who has no idea what’s going on and will not aid those who need it.
I’m getting off topic… This is not the time for a rant on our education system itself and how it burdens the younger generation with crippling debt assuming it gave them the tools to get to college in the first place.
Later, I promise…
DeVos tried to enter a DC school and was met with protest. Peaceful, from all accounts. And, indeed, DeVos herself doesn’t appear to be too upset by the protesters, issuing a statement that says she respects peaceful protest. So why, then, is the right so upset? Why are they storming to twitter and insisting that the protesters are in the wrong? Why are they moved to create (frankly, offensive) cartoons that imply that DeVos walking into a school is an act of bravery only paralleled by Bridges’?
Because she’s white.
And us white folks, we’re not used to facing adversity.
Sure, I get judged for a plethora of reasons. My socioeconomic standings, my outspoken feminism, my gender, my sexual orientation, and the way I choose to live my life. But never because of the color of my skin. The color of my skin is my shield that protects me as I go about the world.
Because I’m white.
Now I want to go off on (another) tangent here about how the threatening of the white privilege the right and the GOP swear up and down does not exist as they’re hiding behind *cough*white nationalism*cough* terrifies them. Any threats. All threats. Because what will they do without that shield? But I’m not going to.
I’m kidding. It’s because I started down that road and it leads in a totally different direction from where I was heading. I swear, this essay has become Boston. You head in one direction and then the road twists and you’re lost trying to catch sight of the Citgo sign…
To imply that facing peaceful protest for being wholly unqualified for such an important job you are uniquely unequipped to handle as an adult is the same as a child facing unvarnished hatred for going to school is the product of our white privilege.
It’s the same as saying you understand what black women go through when they’re harassed over their hair because you had a bad haircut once.
It’s the same as saying you understand racial profiling because you used to be a skateboarder/grunge/greaser.
It’s the same as saying you understand living in a country where your ancestors have been kept as slaves just a few generations ago because you’re Irish.
And I use all these examples specifically because I have had horrific haircuts, been profiled because of my clothing and friends, and I am Irish. I might have some vague hint of hardships, a few wisps of oppression, but I cannot fully understand what people of color are going through.
Because I’m white.
Because I know that people look at me and don’t automatically see a stereotype. They don’t see me as a threat. And because of that, I should not be seen as a hero for facing one peaceful protest.
Betsy DeVos is not a hero. To imply that she is via this cartoon is an insult to all of us. Every last American. Even those of us who are white. The implication that overcoming the slightest adversity is troubling at best. It weakens us and makes us unequipped to handle the real world.
The real world that can be a hard and unforgiving place. It requires strength and tenacity. Both of which Ruby Bridges displayed when she stood tall at age six and persevered.
Ruby Bridges is a hero, an icon, and a goddamned national treasure.
One that DeVos should not be compared to, just because she’s white.