White Privilege

Discussion in 'Politics' started by dbphoenix, Aug 23, 2014.

  1. dbphoenix


    In one of the most famous passages of the New Testament, the apostle Paul writes to the Christians of Corinth, employing a complicated series of metaphors on the theme of transformation: from childhood to adulthood, from ignorance to knowledge, from sinfulness to a state of grace. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child,” the epistle runs, in the memorable rhythms of the King James Version. “But when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

    I’m not a believer, in the ordinary sense of that word, and I’m aware that Paul is a problematic figure in theological history, to put it mildly. But those words have resonated with me over the last two weeks. Painful recent events on the ground in Ferguson, Missouri — and the strongly divided national response to those events — offer us a chance to become aware of the ways we see race in America “through a glass, darkly,” and perhaps also the beginnings of a chance to see each other face to face, to know as we are known. Let me be clear that when I say “we” I am primarily addressing America’s white majority, to which I belong. We are the ones whose vision is occluded by the darkened glass of white privilege, and it’s up to us to do something about it. Black people can see white privilege pretty clearly, but from a different perspective, and it’s beyond their power to change it.

    White privilege is a term that sometimes gets thrown around too cavalierly, especially when people are having a fight on the Internet and want to shut each other up. (I find myself echoing here many of the things I wrote about masculinity and male privilege in the wake of the Elliot Rodger case in May. It’s been a tough summer in America.) Recognizing white privilege does not mean that white people don’t get to express our views on controversial racial topics, or that we have to defer to whatever a person of color may say. It does mean, however, that we have a responsibility to be alert to advantages we may possess, whether as ordinary citizens on the street, economic agents or wielders of rhetoric that appears neutral rather than “racial.” By definition, it means that some of those advantages are things we don’t notice, or take entirely for granted.

    My former Salon colleague Matt Zoller Seitz (now the editor of Roger Ebert’s website) wrote a memorable personal essay on this topic last week. It generated some heated discussion among my colleagues, because it’s arguably only half on-topic. It was partly a confession about a period of extreme disorder in Matt’s own life, when he did some foolish and destructive things, and partly a reckoning with the fact that the consequences of those actions could have been a whole lot worse if he hadn’t had white skin. I have no anecdotes anywhere near that dramatic in my past, but like many other white people who read Matt’s story, I was compelled to think about encounters with cops where I was treated courteously and given the benefit of the doubt, and where it never even occurred to me that the outcome might have been different for someone who didn’t look like me. (A traffic stop in suburban California at age 18: underage, probably over the limit and carrying both alcohol and marijuana. “Drive yourself straight home, son, and don’t let me see you out here again.”)

    But the most insidious power of white privilege, the albatross effect that makes it so oppressive to white people themselves, is the way it renders itself invisible and clouds the collective mind. It’s like a virus that adapts in order to ensure its own survival and perpetuation, in this case by convincing its host it isn’t there. So we see polls suggesting that large percentages of white Americans believe that racism is not a significant factor in Ferguson or law enforcement in general, that cops are just doing their jobs, and that whatever bad things may have happened once upon a time in our beloved country, they’ve been locked away in the dusty cabinet of history and don’t matter anymore. We passed the Voting Rights Act and exiled the Ku Klux Klan to the margins of society (or at least to websites with really bad graphics). Ergo, white privilege obviously doesn’t exist anymore.

    Among the “childish things” we need to put aside, white people, is the idea that America’s tormented racial legacy belongs to the past. You know exactly the attitude I mean: We have twice elected a biracial president and LeBron James and Jay Z are zillionaires, so no more talk of racism, please. In the more paranoid formulation prevalent in the Fox News demographic (but not limited to it), this becomes the idea that the federal government has spent the last 50 years giving away money, housing, education and other “free stuff” to black people who don’t work or pay taxes, while vigorously grinding down the white man. So either the vision of healing and reconciliation conjured up so eloquently by Martin Luther King, Jr. more than 50 years ago has now been fulfilled (and black people need to stop complaining), or America is being not so slowly turned into a gay-Muslim-socialist totalitarian state where every day is Kwanzaa. Both scenarios come up against the nettlesome fact that African-Americans stubbornly persist in being poor, living in disadvantaged circumstances, getting shot by the police for no particular reason and going to prison in large numbers.

    This kind of white privilege is a willful blindness, along with a passionate embrace of exactly the kind of aggrievement and victimhood that white people often claim to resent in others. It’s found in Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity, of course, but also among people like hipster über-troll Gavin McInnes, the co-founder of Vice, who wrote a piece not long ago explaining that racism, sexism and homophobia do not actually exist. But I’m not principally talking about Republican ideologues and their hardcore supporters, who have built their power and influence on thinly veiled racism over the past 40 years and barely even bother denying it. There is a much larger population of white Americans, I believe, who feel troubled by what they saw in Ferguson but are unable or unwilling to face the fact that it reflects a recurring historical pattern that has obviously not been exorcised, a pattern of power, privilege and domination in which they are complicit.

    Any white person who is being honest can understand this reluctance, and probably any other kind of person too. It’s a lot more comfortable to believe that equal opportunity has been pretty much afforded to all, allowing for some bumps in the road – or to believe that you yourself belong to the unfairly downtrodden and stigmatized group – than to consider the alternatives. It is not comfortable at all for any white American to read the case assembled by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his magisterial reported essay “The Case for Reparations” that American society has not done nearly enough to erase the cultural and historical debt left behind by 250 years of slavery followed by another century-plus of economic discrimination, political suppression, institutionalized theft and straight-up terrorism. “It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear,” Coates writes. “The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us.”

    William Faulkner’s famous remark that the past is not dead, and isn’t even past, could not be more vividly illustrated than by the images from Ferguson: A black man shot dead in the street; angry African-American protesters facing impassive and heavily armed white police officers; tear gas, broken glass and the National Guard. But how to deal with these events that seem like nightmarish echoes of too many previous events? One way, the path of survival pursued by the virus of white privilege, is to detach each of these cases from history. Each of these inexplicably dead black men becomes an isolated phenomenon, with no reference to any discernible pattern. History is bunk, as Henry Ford and then the Gang of Four told us; there are no lessons in the past.

    kut2k2 likes this.
  2. dbphoenix


    This urgent agenda of historical decoupling offers one reason why the specific details of each case become so fraught with meaning, and why the elaborate character assassination of every victim is so important to TV talking heads and Internet trolls. If Michael Brown was a thieving thug who made Darren Wilson fear for his life, if Trayvon Martin was a drug-dealing ne’er-do-well who was casing out potential burglaries (and probably high on “Purple Drank”), if Eric Garner was a bruising gangster who resisted arrest and stopped breathing because of asthma and cardiac arrest rather than an illegal chokehold, then their deaths were regrettable (or maybe non-regrettable) consequences of the system working as it should. Race was not a factor, the police and/or random armed citizens acted reasonably, the protesters are mobs of looters and law-breakers, and the liberal pantywaists crying about it on TV are the real racists.

    That pathway remains highly seductive for white America, because it avoids any notion of collective or social responsibility and accesses the Calvinist myth of individualism that lies at the core of white American identity. A man makes his own fate or is elected by Providence – it comes to the same thing in the end – and if those young men and a distressing number of others met death in the street under unsettling circumstances, that can only have been their just deserts. Considering the possibility that they died because of a system of justice and law enforcement that skews heavily toward arresting, imprisoning and otherwise suppressing black and brown people, and that that system is itself embedded within much larger cultural and historical patterns, raises a lot of painful questions. What are we supposed to do about it, for one thing?

    For starters, we can be honest with ourselves about white privilege, when we’re able to see it. That means being honest about how it benefits us and also how it imprisons us, which for me was the great public service of Matt Seitz’s article. Coates’ credit-card metaphor is particularly apposite, directed at the largely white readership of the Atlantic; what middle-class family these days does not understand the crippling effects of long-term debt? Resisting white privilege is not about “liberal guilt,” or donning sackcloth and ashes, or whatever Bill O’Reilly thinks happens in graduate seminars at elite universities. It’s about finding material ways to pay down that debt, and also about recognizing how much the debt has weighed us down – all of us, white and black and brown and all other shades.

    As I said earlier, the virus of white privilege survives by convincing its host organism that it does not exist. That’s because the more clearly we see it the more likely we are to notice that its purported benefits have faded almost to nothing. Whites of the working and middle classes correctly perceive that their economic fortunes have deteriorated over the past half-century, even if the average white household is still 20 times wealthier than the average black household (an especially deleterious consequence of white privilege). An entire right-wing ideological empire remains devoted to convincing white people that benefit-sucking African-Americans and job-stealing Latino immigrants are somehow to blame for their downward trajectory. White privilege is the solvent used, throughout American history, to dissolve multiracial coalitions of working people, and the drug used to brainwash whites into making common cause with the class of CEOs, financiers and landlords. Kicking that drug habit is the only way white America can ever set itself free from the past.

    kut2k2 likes this.
  3. Lucrum


  4. dbphoenix


    Three weeks ago I wrote a column on racism, following the choking-to-death by police of an African-American man, whose “capital” crime was selling cigarettes singly on the street. No piece I have ever written for The Daily Beast has resulted in more responses. Lots of people of color wrote to say: “Welcome to my world.” Lots of white people wrote to call me every name in the book, attacking me personally as an idiot and a reverse-racist, but—and this important—never actually offering a counter argument to the observations I was making.

    One responder accused me of not even knowing what racism is. So let’s be clear. Any person or group can be prejudiced against another group, for any reason and based on any characteristic. But if a prejudiced group has the power to instill its own set of prejudices into the laws, culture and societal norms of the larger community, then it is an “ism.” It becomes a system which does the discriminating on behalf of the powerful majority.

    If women are regarded as less than men, and men have the power (they do!) to set the system up to benefit men at the expense of women, then we have sex-ism, or gender-based discrimination: unequal pay for the same job, wives-obedient-to-their-husbands understandings of marriage, and efforts to diminish access to birth control and the freedom for women it brings.

    If it’s better to be heterosexual than to be homosexual, and heterosexuals hold the power (they do!) to set up the society so that it benefits straight people, to the detriment of LGBT people, we have heterosex-ism: like denying the freedom to marry, allowing people to fire someone for being gay, and permitting proprietors of public businesses to deny services and accommodation to LGBT people.

    This country has a long, violent and shameful history of our system being set up to value white people over people of color. For African-Americans, that history is further enforced by a legacy of human slavery—a legacy that cannot be swept away by merely declaring a level playing field, when there isn’t one. There may be prejudice and enmity coming from either side, but the power to set the system up to benefit whites over people of color belongs to the white majority. And so we have race-ism.

    And here’s the thing about systemic racism: I actually don’t have to hold any personal prejudice against people of color in order to benefit from the system set up to reward and privilege me, as a white man, over my black or brown neighbor. This is insidious, because it allows me to say (even honestly) that I hold no bias against people of color, while still benefitting from a societalsystem that does the hating and privileging for me. It’s the kind of system that leads black parents to instruct their boys how to act when (and not if!) police stop them for no reason. It’s the system that privileges resumes with white names (Dustin, Bradley, Elizabeth) over those with “ethnic” names (Shaquille, Trevon, Aliyeh).

    And then, Ferguson showed us how systemic racism plays itself out. . . .

    Gene Robinson
    kut2k2 likes this.
  5. Lucrum


    The Golf Address

    Maureen Dowd

    FORE! Score? And seven trillion rounds ago, our forecaddies brought forth on this continent a new playground, conceived by Robert Trent Jones, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal when it comes to spending as much time on the links as possible — even when it seems totally inappropriate, like moments after making a solemn statement condemning the grisly murder of a 40-year-old American journalist beheaded by ISIL.

    I know reporters didn’t get a chance to ask questions, but I had to bounce. I had a 1 p.m. tee time at Vineyard Golf Club with Alonzo Mourning and a part-owner of the Boston Celtics. Hillary and I agreed when we partied with Vernon Jordan up here, hanging out with celebrities and rich folks is fun.

    Now we are engaged in a great civil divide in Ferguson, which does not even have a golf course, and that’s why I had a “logistical” issue with going there. We are testing whether that community, or any community so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure when the nation’s leader wants nothing more than to sink a birdie putt.

    We are met on a great field of that battle, not Augusta, not Pebble Beach, not Bethpage Black, not Burning Tree, but Farm Neck Golf Club in Martha’s Vineyard, which we can’t get enough of — me, Alonzo, Ray Allen and Marvin Nicholson, my trip director and favorite golfing partner who has played 134 rounds and counting with me.

    We have to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for my presidency, if I keep swinging from behind.

    Yet it is altogether fitting and proper that I should get to play as much golf as I want, despite all the lame jokes about how golf is turning into “a real handicap” for my presidency and how I have to “stay the course” with ISIL. I’ve heard all the carping that I should be in the Situation Room droning and plinking the bad folks. I know some people think I should go to Ferguson. Don’t they understand that I’ve delegated the Martin Luther King Jr. thing to Eric Holder? Plus, Valerie Jarrett and Al Sharpton have it under control.

    I know it doesn’t look good to have pictures of me grinning in a golf cart juxtaposed with ones of James Foley’s parents crying, and a distraught David Cameron rushing back from his vacation after only one day, and the Pentagon news conference with Chuck Hagel and General Dempsey on the failed mission to rescue the hostages in Syria.
    We’re stuck in the rough, going to war all over again in Iraq and maybe striking Syria, too. Every time Chuck says ISIL is “beyond anything we’ve ever seen,” I sprout seven more gray hairs. But my cool golf caps cover them. If only I could just play through the rest of my presidency.

    ISIL brutally killing hostages because we won’t pay ransoms, rumbles of coups with our puppets in Iraq and Afghanistan, the racial caldron in Ferguson, the Ebola outbreak, the Putin freakout — there’s enough awful stuff going on to give anyone the yips.

    So how can you blame me for wanting to unwind on the course or for five hours at dinner with my former assistant chef? He’s a great organic cook, and he’s got a gluten-free backyard putting green.

    But, in a larger sense, we can dedicate, we can consecrate, we can hallow this ground where I can get away from my wife, my mother-in-law, Uncle Joe, Congress and all the other hazards in my life.

    The brave foursomes, living and dead, who struggled here in the sand, in the trees, in the water, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or subtract a few strokes to improve our score. Bill Clinton was Mr. Mulligan, and he is twice at popular as I am.

    The world will little note, nor long remember, what we shot here, or why I haven’t invited a bunch of tiresome congressmen to tee it up. I’m trying to relax, guys. So I’d much rather stay in the bunker with my usual bros.

    Why don’t you play 18 with Mitch McConnell? And John Boehner is a lot better than me, so I don’t want to play with him.

    It is for us, the duffers, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who played here have thus far so nobly advanced to get young folks to stop spurning a game they find slow and boring.

    It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us of getting rid of our slice on the public’s dime — that from this honored green we take increased devotion to that cause for which Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy gave their last full measure of devotion — and divots.

    We here highly resolve that these golfing greats shall not have competed in vain, especially poor Tiger, and that this nation, under par, shall have a new birth of freedom to play the game that I have become unnaturally obsessed with, and that golf of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

    So help me Golf.
  6. dbphoenix


    Posted elsewhere:

    Michelle Alexander, in her bestselling book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, indicts the criminalization of drugs, and convicts the criminal justice system of maintaining a war against the black poor in the name of ending drug dependency. Blacks are more likely than whites to face arrest, trial, and imprisonment for nonviolent drug offenses, even though they do not use drugs at higher rates. The consequences of a drug conviction amount to the annihilation of citizenship.

    “Once you’re labeled a felon,” Alexander writes, “The old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

    David Masciotra
  7. fhl


  8. There was an awful lot of ink wasted agonizing over white privilege, what the police could do differently and doing an anal exam of the police officer's life from early childhood on.

    Apparently it's "character assassination" to show a video of Big Mike Brown shoving and threatening a tiny store clerk as he strolls out with $50 worth of blunts minutes before he attacks the policeman. It's highly relevant however to learn that the officer's dead mother was once arrested decades ago.

    Like most reasonable people, I am sick of race hustlers and thugs trying to turn every mixed race encounter where the black ends up second best into an excuse for a lynch mob, with the obligatory looting to follow. I am disgusted with weak pols who immediately go into a fetal position and throw innocent people to the wolves.

    The Washington Post had a lengthy article today on the case. The victim's name is apparently now "Unarmed Teen" Michael Brown, as if that is the main issue. In finest liberal journalistic tradition, the article included a ridiculous description of events by the victim's fellow thug. He claimed the officer "instigated" the confrontation by pulling up next to them and telling them to stop walking down the middle of the street. How dare he. Then he assaulted Brown and shot him in cold blood. Blacks, from obama, holder, Sharpton on down, accept this as obviously accurate. Question it and you will be cursed, accused of wielding "white privilege" and likely assaulted.

    Back in the real world, people wonder why blacks are so obsessed with blaming their own self-defeating behavior on others. If the two thugs had simply said, ok officer and moved to the sidewalk, no incident, end of story. But of course they knew they had just committed a robbery. Or maybe Brown was so pumped up he was determined to walk down the middle of the road and anyone who challenged him was in for a fight. This kind of thing is not uncommon in urban ghettos. Gang bangers asserting turf, etc. He just happened to pick the wrong guy.

    Is it really unreasonable and racist for cops and others to be extra vigilent around young black guys, particularly when they are acting aggressively? That is the root of all the complaints about racism, etc. Again, reasonable people say, why don't you blame all the thugs and criminals in your own race, not white people who just want to avoid trouble, not get robbed or shot, etc? I guess there's no money in that approach.
    TGregg, ogarbitrage and fan27 like this.
  9. dbphoenix


    Why should they have to be? Why more so than around white kids?
  10. White privilege is a thing of the past, but we all know how leftists, and specifically the race hustlers love to live in the past. What we do have is plenty of white guilt over the sins of the past. Another leftist creation.
    Now this is not to say that there isn't any racial discrimination. There is. Let's take employment for example. Plenty of discrimination there, but it's not about skin color. No, it's much more practical than that and relatively easy to understand given the current climate. You hire a white guy who turns out to be a bum and you simply tell his sorry ass to hit the road. Case closed. You hire a black guy that turns out to be a bum and you're stuck with him. You are now his caretaker. Easy enough to figure out who to hire. So when the black community asks why do we have to be twice and good to get hired, this is why. Isn't anyone in their right mind going to take a chance on a black guy, all qualifications be equal. Just doesn't make sense to do so.
    #10     Aug 24, 2014