Celebrity privilege, white privilege, black privilege—all the same.
They are all conditions that allow people to believe they are better than others, can act in a way others cannot, and can be afforded luxuries and benefits reserved for those in that privileged class.
Taken to an extreme, privilege often has you thinking that you can even beat the law, that you have special passes others don’t have. Sometimes it’s true; other times you are reminded exactly how far your privilege extends.
Diddy is about to find out again.
Sean “Diddy” Combs allegedly attacked his son’s strength-and-conditioning coach at UCLA when the man wouldn’t get off the phone quick enough for him. Allegedly the coach had screamed at Combs’ son Justin, who is a player at the university, and Diddy didn’t like it.
You can just see him, full of rage and privilege, screaming: “Get off the phone, now! I’m Diddy and I have something to say to you, now!” You think this is the first time he’s screamed at someone in urgency? Do you think this is the first time he told a person to be silent so that he could speak? Do you think this is the first time he threw something at someone in anger? Check the record.
This coach may not have gotten off the phone in a “timely manner,” but Diddy’s commands are usually answered and obeyed. When he tells people to stop or go, they do. Celebrity and wealth privilege gave him those allowances long ago.
We helped Diddy and others like him get this way. Diddy doesn’t go anyplace he is not treated better than everyone else, so how do you expect him or any other celebrity, for that matter, to act? If you’re standing outside waiting to get into a restaurant and Diddy pulls up, you wait; he goes in. He eats for free, he drinks for free, he gets photographed, he gets admired and even cried over. He’s more important than you and I, and that’s the message we send to him and that’s what he believes.
Diddy hit the coach and may get away with it because of celebrity and wealth privilege, and we allow it.
Then there’s Rachel Dolezal and white privilege—something of which she is the perfect example. When she decided to be black, she could. When questioned about being white, she said she “identified as black” because she could. She changed her hair and her skin color because she could. She went unchallenged in all those modifications simply because “she could.”
Just as society’s love of fame and wealth created Diddy, Dolezal is a product of what others around her have allowed her to be, what society supported (before and after the discovery) and what the capitalistic system of greed will allow her to gain from the lie—from the privilege.
People do what people allow them to do. White privilege for Dolezal was allowed, unquestioned, supported. Don’t even try to tell me that no one in her circle for all those years knew she was perpetrating a fraud, but it took her parents to expose it. And then, like a good fraud, she started looking for a publicist and agent and moved on.
Dolezal got away with using her white privilege because we allowed it.
Then you have Jesse Jackson Jr. I saw the images of the former U.S. representative being released from a halfway house in Baltimore, where he had been living since his release from an Alabama federal prison in March. He got out after spending close to two-and-a-half years in prison for taking campaign money for his own personal use. His wife was also convicted. What made Jackson think he could use his position for his personal gain? What made him think he could break the law and not get caught?
Black privilege. Reserved for black people who are born into it, have access to it. Like the common characteristic of all privilege, black privilege is reserved for certain blacks. Jackson was born into a politically well-connected family, groomed for the legacy and showered with the luxuries that flowed from it. Are you telling me that none of the Jackson family or confidants knew or participated in the illegal activity? Not a single person thought to tell him to stop?
I remember in 2008, when President Barack Obama was running in his first election, I found myself in a meeting in then-Rep. Jackson’s office in Washington, D.C. I was amazed at the places he had traveled to, the people he was photographed with, the first-edition books he had, the White House mini replicas he had that were to be signed by then-Sen. Obama for keepsake purposes and value. His office alone was worth millions. Nothing illegal about that—he’s an elected official, I thought to myself. Nonetheless, it made me give the silent side eye. It felt uncomfortable.
When he was convicted, his story was flipped to focus on his behavioral disorders, his depression and his dysfunctional upbringing in order to find a reason for his obvious attitude of black privilege. He had all the support only the most privileged of people could obtain: The media images with various highly influential black leaders supporting him in the background, the negotiations over when he would report to court and when he would turn himself in, and whether he could ever return to an elected position. All his life, in the black and white communities, Jesse Jackson Jr. was treated as the son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and the benefits flowed.
Jackson Jr. stole money and believed that he would never get caught because of black privilege, and we allowed it.
Privilege is privilege. People are a product of their environment, a product of the way others relate to them, a product of what they are allowed to do and get away with. We should take some responsibility for Diddy, Dolezal, Jackson Jr. and all the others. After all, we helped create them.
But yeah, yeah, yeah … I know. Personal responsibility, right? How’s that been working in America?
Mo Ivory is co-host of The Frank Ski Show on WHUR-FM in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter.