Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

‘Affluenza’: An illness concocted by the virus of white privilege

30th December 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Tonyaa Weathersbee
Guest Columnist

I guess I should be shocked that a judge and a psychologist in Texas would see a rich white kid as a victim of his privilege before seeing the people he killed as victims of his drunkenness.

But I’m not.

That’s the thing about privilege; it extends to being able to rewrite rules and to turn logic on its head. And that’s what happened in Texas recently, in the case of 16-year-old Ethan Couch. This kid was sloppy drunk, driving 70 mph in a 40 mph zone, and, as a result, killed four people, including a mother and daughter, and severely injured another.

But his parents’ money bought him a good lawyer and a cunning psychologist who told the court that Ethan was a victim of too much privilege; that he had never been reprimanded for his actions in the past and therefore, was not responsible for the deaths that he caused.

Poor Ethan, he said, suffered from “affluenza.” And the judge apparently bought it; instead of sending him to juvenile hall for 20 years with probation eligibility after two years, he gave Ethan 10 years of probation.

I call that white privilege on steroids. But it’s easy to see how things have come to this.

For many years now, white youths and rich white people in general, have been able to get away with crimes that Black people, and especially poor Black people, would be put under the jail for.

An example: A 2005 Urban League report showed that Black men are three times more likely to be jailed for crimes than white men once they are arrested, and 24.4 percent of Black people arrested that year were incarcerated, compared to 8.3 percent of white men.

Then there’s the media, which tends to portray white youths who shoot up schools and drive drunk or use drugs as being clean-cut kids who went awry, while casting Black youths who get into fights at school, or curse or smoke as hopelessly incorrigible.

What turns logic on its head here is that privilege ought to help parents raise decent kids without the pressures of poverty. If anything, it would make more sense for a poor struggling kid with no options, no access to therapy or to the Betty Ford Center, to succumb to drinking or drugs to deal with the despair he or she sees every day.

And why in the hell is Ethan the victim of his parents not reprimanding him? It’s not as if they are too consumed with survival issues to not take the time to raise him.

But I guess they don’t have to worry about that. A judge has already bought into a psychologist’s asinine diagnosis of privilege being an illness and not an asset.

Eric Boyles, the man who lost his wife and daughter to Ethan’s drunkenness, said that the teenager never apologized or showed remorse for what he did. And why should he? He’s been told that he’s not rude. Just sick.

And so is the system that let him get away with murder.

This article originally published in the December 30, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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