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Editorial: Mattiello’s misguided denial of white privilege

On Oct. 31, R.I. Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, told the Providence Journal that he does not believe in white privilege. “I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of the phrase ‘white privilege.’ I don’t think there is a white privilege,” he said. Ironically, Mattiello denied the existence of white privilege while discussing his support for the passage of legislation combating racial profiling. In denying that white privilege exists, Mattiello said, “I absolutely disagree with that phrase. I don’t think anybody in society views any particular nationality as having any privilege over any other. I certainly don’t.”

We are deeply troubled by one of the most powerful politicians in the state government denying a reality that affects his constituents and Rhode Islanders more broadly, including students here at Brown. To argue that white Americans do not have unfair advantages over people of color ignores both the voiced experiences of people of color and the corroborating data. A survey released by the Associated Press shows that over half of black millennials know a victim of police brutality, while less than one third of white millennials do — a poignant reminder of how white privilege inheres in our own generation. Further data — like that demonstrating that white job applicants are more likely to receive a callback after submitting job applications than people of color, or that of the 46,235 New Yorkers stopped by police last year, 55 percent were black, and only 12 percent were white — illustrate how entrenched white privilege remains in our society and how misguided Mattiello’s statement is.

Mattiello’s refusal to accept this reality is distressing. It is also unfortunate that few students at Brown seem to be aware that he said it. As residents of Rhode Island, even if only for a few years, it is important that we engage in discussions concerning race, privilege and equality not only on this campus but also within the larger Rhode Island community of which we are a part. In general, Brown students tend to be disengaged from Rhode Island politics. When asked whom they would support in the 2014 Providence mayoral election, 72.3 percent of students polled by The Herald last fall reported they were not familiar enough to answer. When asked whom they would support in the 2014 R.I. gubernatorial election, 74.1 percent reported the same.

While sometimes Brown feels like a bubble, it is important to remember that while we are here, we are part of the Providence and Rhode Island communities. Even if some of us are not registered to vote in Rhode Island, the decisions that R.I. elected officials make and the beliefs they have affect us. If we remain disengaged, then our values will not be taken into account by those elected to represent the state in which we spend several important years of our lives. Voicing our concerns over Mattiello’s statements represents just one important way in which we ought to engage with the larger community in which we live.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: Emma Axelrod ’18, Noah Fitzgerel ’17 and Aranshi Kumar ’17. Send comments to


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