White Privilege to the Trash

Bill Neinast


My Road to America & In America; Plus My Family History by Mteczyslaw Joseph is currently the book of choice on my reading table.

I know the author as Matt Liepiec of Austin.  My wife and I met Matt and his wife, Henri, at a dance in East Bernard a number of years ago.  We stayed in touch by snail mail, Email, phone and more dances over the years.

Matt’s book  is proof of the adage that we do not know the strangers among us.  Until beginning to read My Road to America…, I thought Matt was from Germany.  When I read that he had been in a Nazi concentration camp, I assumed that he was a Jew.  

Just a bit further in the book, however, I read, “When I received the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Catholic Church….”  That was confusing.  Had Matt converted to Catholicism as a result of his experience with the Nazis?

I could not wait to find the answer later in the book so I called and talked with Henri.  Matt was born a Catholic and spent time in a Nazi concentration camp because his father was in the Polish underground during the Nazi occupation of Poland.

In summary, Matt is fluent in Polish, Russian, German, and English.  He has lived in Poland, Germany, Spain, Thailand, Okinawa, and here in the United States.

While reading Matt’s autobiography, I cannot keep from wondering how much of his “white privilege” is responsible for his survival and success.

White Privilege is now the term of choice for liberal sociologists comforting “victims” of our unjust, racist society.

So following Matt’s lead, I composed a short autobiography of my own.  I was born into a middle class white family, the youngest of three children.

At an early age, I was given chores like stacking the firewood after it came off the circle saw mounted on the back of a Model-T Ford in the spring.  Then in the winter, it was my responsibility to keep a supply of that wood near the wood burning heater in the house.

During most of the year, I was required to keep the lawn mowed and trimmed with a push mower and push sidewalk trimmer.  With that experience, I branched out and began mowing the lawns of the Gatling and Loeffler families at the outrageous charge of a quarter for each  cutting.

As I got a little older, I branched out and began sanding floors with a heavy gasoline powered rotary sander for Steve Brooks.  

Then, because of the labor shortage due to WWII, I began helping my Dad as a butcher and clerk in his general store, the first to combine a meat market and grocery store in Somerville.

I was a senior in 1945-1946 when Japan surrendered.   When that war started four years earlier on Dec 7, 1945, I was operating the popcorn concession at the Somerville movie theater. Five weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Somerville theater burned to the ground and could not be rebuilt because all the material that would be needed was diverted to the war effort.

The first thing rebuilt in Somerville after the war was the movie theater.  I was the first operator or projectionist in the new theater.  My replacement when I left for Texas Lutheran College was a minority (white privilege?), a Mexican whose first name was Jesus and a last name I cannot remember.

Upon graduation from high school, butchers for the Weingarten Chain in Houston were making $50.00 a week.  Two hundred dollars a month was big money back then when compared with my $180.00 a month base pay as a first lieutenant seven years later.

My dilemma in 1946 was whether to go for that big pay in Houston or go to college.  Physical labor obviously did not scare me, but did I want to follow that route for the rest of my life?  I chose the academic route and did not get married and have children until a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree was hanging on my wall.

Now I’m retired and watching my four children and eleven grandchildren follow the same route I followed of working, finishing school and college, and not having children out of wedlock.

So here’s the perspective.

Maybe my eyesight is worse than I think, but I cannot see where being white provided any “privilege” in any of those endeavors of Matt and me.

What I see as the prevailing factor is something that used to be called the Protestant work ethic.

I have seen that ethic have the same effect in minority families like that of my friend and former neighbor Leo Brooks.  As mentioned here previously, that is the first black family in which all three male members became general officers.  Four Star General Vince Brooks is still on active duty as commander of United States Forces Korea, United Nations Command and ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command. 

The Brooks family obviously followed the old standard for avoiding poverty of not having children out of wedlock, finishing school, and getting permanent jobs.  

They did not consider themselves victims, and no white privilege involved.

Let’s banish the term white privilege to the trash heap.


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