One of Rhode Island’s most powerful Democrats doesn’t believe that “white privilege” exists. In a recent interview with the Providence Journal, Nicholas Mattiello, the state’s speaker of the House, said that that racial disparities are simply due to African-Americans’ and other minority groups’ failure to “take advantage” of the opportunities available to them.
Mattiello was invited to discuss racial issues with a panel from The Providence Journal, which is producing an extensive series on race in Rhode Island. He told the panel that, before he was asked that question, he had never thought of the phrase “white privilege.”
On social media, some observers noted that Mattiello’s ability to avoid thinking about racial issues was, itself, evidence of white privilege.
— Maryellen Butke (@Mebutke) November 1, 2015
Mattiello was responding to an op-ed previously published in The Providence Journal by David R. Carlin, the former Democratic Senate Majority Leader, which argued that racial disparities were the result of “appallingly dysfunctional subculture that is pervasive among the black lower classes.”
This subculture fosters attitudes that lead to astronomical rates of out-of-wedlock births, millions of fathers who give little or no support to their children, high rates of crime and violence, high levels of drug abuse, a poor work ethic and very poor academic achievement. Unless this subculture is eradicated, we may expect that great numbers of blacks will live in misery.
Mattiello said he wasn’t sure about the phrase “subculture,” but seemed to agree with the overall point — namely, that “white privilege” doesn’t exist and that there is a “breakdown” within minority communities that explains racial disparities.
“You have to find ways to get the community to access and to take advantage of [opportunity]. Some people do, but not enough do. And there’s a reason why they don’t, and that’s something that I quite frankly don’t understand, and I need help with that,” Mattiello said.
Mattiello said that education was “the great equalizer” but dismissed criticisms that Rhode Island schools were effectively segregated. “I would say that it’s not segregated, it’s just that it reflects the population that it serves… I don’t know that you start busing people and so forth.”
“I don’t see racism because that’s not how I live my life… But I’ve never seen it because it’s not the way I live. And I’ve never been the victim of it,” Mattiello added.
Mattiello supported voter ID legislation in Rhode Island, a policy that restricts access to the polls and disproportionately affects minority voters.
His primary accomplishments are reducing the corporate tax and estate tax in Rhode Island. He also opposes abortion and has an A+ rating from the NRA.