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Opinion | The privilege of privilege

Lots of people are up in arms, and rightly so, about those wealthy, privileged parents who illegally rigged the college admissions system to accept their little over-privileged children when their brats wouldn’t have otherwise qualified.

When we observe those privileged parents’ progeny in their natural habitat, we just turn away in disgust. Aunt Becky’s (actress Lori Loughlin’s) daughters are the very definition of “spoiled brats.” An important college degree wasn’t even on their agendas; this was all about what the parents wanted, the parents’ status and the parents’ privilege.

Many of the students I teach at the University of Alabama at Birmingham struggle to just stay in school. I’ve had students, sometimes parents themselves, who work and go to school, both full-time, to get to the place where they have to pick one or the other: Their family or their education. I’ve never seen a student put her family second.

Traditional students struggle to pay their fees, sometimes not being able to register for classes for the next semester because they’re scrambling to pay off their tuition for the semester they’re in. They don’t have the privilege.

Privileged parents, like those who jacked the college admissions and testing systems, don’t give it another thought – unless they get caught.

Still, this terrible college scandal is really nothing in the scheme of privileged things.

Nowhere does privilege matter more than in the U.S. Justice System. Those with money and clout are treated completely different than those without money and clout.

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A poor man may spend months or years in jail, not convicted of any crime, yet unable to pay his bail or fines. A famous, wealthy actor like Jussie Smollett gets serious felony charges against him swept away without hardly any consequences.

Prosecutors in Chicago dropped multiple charges after Smollett, who was accused of setting up a hate crime attack in January, agreed to community service and to give up $10,000 he paid for his release. The prosecutor, presumably with a straight face, said Smollett was not “exonerated.” The actor wasn’t convicted, either. To top it all, Smollett’s case file was sealed.

But we don’t have to go far away to point out mega-rich parents cheating the college admissions system or an actor perpetrating a sham hate crime against himself to find privilege at work.

Just consider former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s seemingly never-ending case. Here’s a man who was convicted nearly three years ago by a Lee County jury on 12 counts of corruption.

Hubbard was sentenced to prison, yet has yet to see steel bars from the other side, unless he visited a jail as Speaker of the House before he was disgraced and booted from office.

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld 11 of the 12 counts in Hubbard’s conviction and should have upheld all 12. Now, the state Supreme Court has decided to take a run at the Hubbard case.

Imagine you or I got caught up in similar crimes. We’d almost be finished serving our sentence because we sure wouldn’t have been allowed to stay out of prison for three years after our conviction. We don’t have near the same political or financial privilege Hubbard enjoys. Our case would likely never get much attention or consideration from either the appeals court or the Supreme Court.

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But privilege has its benefits; it changes the playing field, and Mike Hubbard is flush with privilege.

Maybe the Supreme Court will review and reject Hubbard’s false claims of innocence and finally have him carted off to the Big House.

Don’t bet on it, though. See, when it comes to those with privilege, what’s right or wrong doesn’t matter. Right or wrong isn’t even the point.

Right or wrong doesn’t factor in for a president who lies daily, is ethically bankrupt and has intentionally damaged the nation to enrich himself. It doesn’t factor in for a marginal college prospect who takes the place of a more deserving student at a prestigious university. It doesn’t factor in for an actor who betrays the LGBTQ+ community by faking a hate crime against himself.

And right or wrong doesn’t factor in for former Speaker Mike Hubbard, who blatantly used his high office to make money for himself, in clear violation of the state ethics law he championed until he got caught.

Noam Chomsky, the famed linguist and philosopher, once said: “The more privilege you have the more opportunity you have. The more opportunity you have, the more responsibility you have.”

Today, that quote could be crafted in another, more ominous way: “The more privilege you have, the more opportunity you have. The more opportunity you have, the more you can help yourself. The more you help yourself, the more selfish you become. The more selfish you become, the less responsibility even matters. What’s right? What’s wrong? Hah!”

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So, there you go. It’s been a real privilege.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected].


Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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