Posts Tagged ‘White Privilege’

Are we whites afraid of not being white enough?

May 2, 2018

The Rev. Dr. Thandeka is a Unitarian-Universalist minister, theologian and consultant who previously had a successful career as a journalist and TV producer.  “Thandeka” is an African name, meaning “one who is loved by God,” and was given to her by Bishop Desmond Tutu.

In LEARNING TO BE WHITE: Money, Race and God in America (1999], Thandeka told a story about how a white friend asked her what it was like to be black.

Thandeka told the friend to perform the following experiment, which she called the Race Game.

Every time the white friend referred to another white person, she was to say: “my white friend, Bill,” or “my white minister, Rev. Smith”, and report back on her experience within a week.

The white friend couldn’t do it.  Only one person, out of all the white people she asked to try the experiment, could do it.  Why is that?

I imagined myself playing the Race Game.  I would feel uncomfortable doing it.

It is not because the white people who stress white identity the most are racist neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates.  It is rather that, by expressing myself that way, I would be separating myself from white people as a group.

But I don’t believe in white superiority or supremacy.  Why should that make me feel uncomfortable?

Thandeka wrote in 1999 that white racism makes most American white people feel, from a young age, that they would not be loved by their parents or anyone else if they were not white.   Many learned this lesson as children when their parents told them not to play with black children.

White racism is a system of social control that not only holds down black people, but many white people, Thandeka stated; historically, white people were at risk of losing their white status if they married black people, were friends with black people or joining forces politically with black people.

Two particular groups of white people were especially at risk of being considered not quite white enough.

One is the so-called “white trash,” poor rural Southern white people descended from slaves and indentured laborers brought from the British Isles to the American colonies, often in chains and treated no better than livestock.

When the white planter elite decided to replace the white slaves and indentured servants with black slaves from Africa, the poor whites still were poor and politically powerless.

The so-called “wages of whiteness”—the self-esteem that comes from superiority to black people—were paid in counterfeit money.   They were little better off economically than black people and were just as far below the rich white planters and the educated white professionals as they always were.

Much has been made of how millions of black people were excluded from Social Security because it did not cover farm laborers and household servants.  But these same rules excluded millions of poor rural Southern white workers.  The same measures that held down poor blacks held down poor whites.

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Privilege and ‘white privilege’

April 4, 2018

All other things being equal, any white person in the USA is better off than if they were black.

That’s certainly true of me.  Nobody ever questioned me about a possible criminal record when I applied for a job.  Black acquaintances tell me that is routine for them.

And even if I did have a criminal record, testers have found that I would have a better chance of getting a job than a black person with a clear record.

I have never feared for my life when stopped by a police officer.  In fact, I have no complaints whatever about my interactions with law enforcement over my whole life.   That wouldn’t be true if I were black.

I can understand why black people feel angry.

It is true that, here and there, black people get something they’re not strictly entitled to through affirmative action or diversity programs.   But I don’t think that even the white people who are most indignant about such programs would really want to change places with blacks.

This used to be called “racial discrimination” or “racial prejudice” or “racial injustice”.   Now it is called “white privilege.”  I think the change is a mistake.

A privilege is something you have to which you’re not entitled.  The implication of the word “white privilege” is that the problem is not that black people are denied justice, but that white people are not.

White privilege” is part of a vocabulary intended to change the behavior of white people through shaming.  One problem with that is that the only white people who will be influenced by such words are those who are well-disposed toward black people to begin with.   Others will simply be angered and alienated.

It is also a way for educated, well-off white people to stigmatize poor and rural white people—to tell them that their struggles and problems don’t count because they enjoy “white privilege”.

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The language of white shaming

April 2, 2018

The word “racism” originally meant an ideology based on the claim that there were genetic differences between races, that justified domination by the supposedly superior race.

The phrase “white supremacy” originally meant the rule of white people over non-white people, as formerly in the U.S. Old South, apartheid South Africa and British, German and Dutch colonies with “color bar”.

The phrase “white privilege” meant legal rights that were granted to white people that were denied to black people—for example, the right to attend law school in Mississippi.

Now these words are being redefined so as to stigmatize well-meaning liberal white people for their  blind spots and unconscious prejudices.

Being made aware of my blind spots and unconscious prejudices is a good thing, not a bad thing.   But I do not accept being labeled by the same words that are used to describe the Ku Klux Klan.

Such use of language provides cover to the real racists.   It can be a recruiting tool for the real racists.  And it is used by affluent, urban white people as an excuse to ignore the interests of working America and rural America.

You can only get so far by using white guilt as a lever to change behavior.  Guilt is like everything else in the world.   Some people have much too much of it, some too little and those who need it most don’t have any at all.   The only people who can be influenced by manipulation of guilt are those who are on your side already.

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Dean Baker on white privilege

June 6, 2016

violentTrump-RallyThe rise of Trump has provoked a considerable outpouring of commentary from the pundits.  Most of it centered on the chief complaint that the white working class is upset about losing its privileged position and see Trump as the ticket to setting things right.

There is considerable truth to this story.  Trump’s strongest support comes from white men without college degrees, although he also does quite well among small business owners.  But before we condemn these workers as hopeless Neanderthals, it is worth stepping back a bit to consider what led them to support Donald Trump’s candidacy in the first place.

The “privilege” that these working class whites are looking to defend is middle-class factory jobs paying between $15 and $30 an hour.  These jobs generally came with decent health care benefits and often a traditional defined benefit pension, although that has become increasingly rare over the last two decades.

Trump-Iowa-supporters-Getty-640x480This is certainly a privileged position compared to billions of people in the developing world who would be happy to make $15 a day.  It is also privileged compared to women, whose pay still averages less than 80 percent of their male counterparts.  And, it is privileged compared to the situation of Americans of color who have frequently been trapped in the least desirable and lowest-paying jobs.

But these factory jobs and other blue collar occupations are hardly privileged when compared to the high flyers in the financial industry, the CEOs and other top level managers, or even professionals like doctors and dentists.  These groups have all seen substantial increases in their pay and living standards over the last four decades.

If you want to see “privilege,” look to the CEO making $20 million a year as they turn in a mediocre performance managing a major corporation.  Or talk to a cardiologist, an occupation with a median annual salary of more than $420,000 a year.

The pundits all know about these disparities in pay, but they want us to believe that they have nothing to do with privilege; rather, they reflect the natural workings of the market.  And they tend to act really ridiculous when shown evidence otherwise.

Source: Dean Baker | truthout

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The limits of “anti-racism” ideology

August 4, 2015

When liberal white Americans talk about doing “anti-racism work,” it probably doesn’t mean that they are taking part in #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations or acting as testers to document racial discrimination in hiring and lending or working to change voting laws aimed as discouraging black voters.

Rather it means that they are examining their hearts and minds to uncover unconscious racial prejudice and to make themselves aware of “white privilege.”

bus_stop_colorI think that this rests on a false assumption—namely, that racial injustice consists solely or mainly of the prejudices of individual white people against individual black people, and that the way to fix it is to change the attitudes of white people.

One problem with this is that “anti-racism work” works only on a relatively small number of white people, those who are already predisposed to sympathize with black people.   Another is that it ignores the degree to which the majority of black people have a common interest with the majority of white people.

The civil rights protestors of the 1960s weren’t especially concerned about how prejudiced people felt in their hearts.  They aimed at changing laws and institutions so as to bring about equal justice, so that African-Americans had the right to vote, the right to equal access to public facilities, the right to equal educational opportunity and the right to equal employment opportunity.

That fight is not over.  Michelle Alexander, in The New Jim Crow, has shown how enforcement of the drug laws is targets African-Americans, who then become legitimate targets for voting disenfranchisement and employment discrimination.

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Does being white make you privileged?

September 17, 2010

I know I am fortunate to be white rather than black.  A black Phil Ebersole – somebody like me in every respect except skin color –  would face racial prejudice in applying for jobs or bank loans. He would have well-founded fears every time he was stopped by the police. He would constantly have to think about how he was being judged because of his race.  Whenever he encountered setbacks or rejection, he could never be sure whether they were or weren’t due to race.  The doubtful blessings of affirmative action or “diversity” would not have offset this; it would have given prejudiced people a new reason for prejudice.

I remember once I was doing interviews for the business section of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on what people were buying their children for Christmas.  I approached a well-dressed, middle-aged black man in a store, and I could tell exactly what he was thinking from the stricken expression on his face.  He thought I was some kind of security guard or detective about to harass him for “shopping while black.” I thought then, and still think, how glad I am that I can go shopping without having to prepare myself psychologically for things like this.

This is what is meant by “white privilege,” but I don’t think of it as privilege.  A privilege is something you have that you are not entitled to have.  Bankers who collect six-figure bonuses after driving their institutions to the point of bankruptcy are privileged.  Failed CEOs who retire on golden parachutes are privileged.  People who run for public office on the basis of their family names are privileged.  I don’t think I have that kind of privilege.

Everybody ought to be able to be judged on their merits in work and business, to be free of fear in routine encounters with the police, to live their lives without always being on the defensive.  The fact that I have what I ought to have does not take anything away from anybody else.  To speak of  “white privilege” implies that the aim is not to give black people equal rights with me, but to subject people like me to the same humiliations that black people suffer

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‘Forgive me for crimes I never did nor advocated’

August 20, 2010

I like this by Fred Clark of Texas on his Slacktivist web log.

As a white male Baptist, it is my duty today to denounce the violence perpetrated by Patrick Gray Sharp, 29, who yesterday attacked the police headquarters in McKinney, Texas, in a heavily armed but ineffectual assault involving a high-powered rifle, road flares, “gasoline and ammonium nitrate fertilizer.”

So I denounce this attack and state unequivocally that we white male Baptists do not believe in this kind of violent extremism. I beg you all not to condemn all of us for the actions of this lone member of our community, although of course I will understand if you decide that you must do so and will humbly accept whatever restrictions on our full participation in society that you see fit to impose. That’s only fair.

I further beg your forgiveness for my not denouncing this violent act sooner. Unlike the nearly identical failed attack in Times Square, this attack wasn’t the lead story on our local news and the newspaper I work for somehow didn’t mention it at all. Then today I was outside most of the afternoon cutting the grass and just didn’t hear about the story until now. I plead with you to understand that as soon as I learned of this incident, I rushed to post this denunciation.

That’s no excuse for the delay, of course, and in no way diminishes my obligation to constantly monitor the behavior of every white male Baptist, denouncing anything that might reflect badly on the WMB community. That is, after all, the foremost duty and purpose of every religious adherent, ethnic group and gender. My failure to promptly condemn Patrick Gray Sharp for specific actions I have previously condemned more generally cannot be excused just because the lawn needed mowing.

On behalf of myself and of all white male Baptists everywhere, I apologize for this lapse and denounce myself for the delay. (Note to other white male Baptists: You should also denounce me for this. If you fail to do so, I’ll probably have to denounce you for that.)

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Does something have to be racist to be wrong?

March 31, 2010

Last summer the big news story was the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, who is black, at his home by Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley, who is white, on a charge of “loud and tumultuous behavior,” and the controversy over whether this was an example of white racism.

The background is that Prof. Gates had returned from a long airplane flight to China, found himself locked out of his house, and forced open his front door. A neighbor thought Prof. Gates’ house was being burglarized, and phoned Cambridge police. Sgt. Crowley showed up and demanded Prof. Gates identify himself which, after some argument, he did. So far, so good; up to this point Sgt. Crowley was going his duty.

The argument is over what happened next. Click here for Sgt. Crawley’s version and here for Prof. Gates’ version. What is undisputed is that Sgt. Gates did not leave after Prof. Gates produced his ID.  Instead Sgt. Crowley invited Prof. Gates outside, where he then arrested him on a charge of making a public disturbance. The charge was later dismissed.

The question everybody asked was: Would Sgt. Crowley have behaved the same way if Prof. Gates had been white? My best guess is: Yes, absolutely he would.  I can’t of course read the mind of somebody I don’t even know, but everything I’ve read about police officer’s background leads me to think that (1) he doesn’t have anything in particular against black people and (2) he would have treated me, a white man, in exactly the same way in the same circumstances. That is to say, I could have been arrested  even though I had committed no real crime. Why is this supposed to be a consolation?

I read and heard commentary afterward about how incidents such as this should make me aware of my “white skin privilege.”  My thought is just the opposite. It is that anything that can be done to a black man can be done to me. Most of my friends are college-educated white people such as myself. We are all aware that there is an unwritten offense called “contempt of cop.” We all are very careful about how we address police officers, as Prof. Gates would have been wise to do.  Subservience to authority has become the norm in American life for everyone, not just minorities.

True, it is not the same for white people as for black people.  For me and my white friends, the issue when we interact with a police officer is whether we will be charged and what with. A black acquaintance once told me that he instructs his young son in how to behave around police because he saw it as a life-and-death matter. He thought a misunderstanding or wrong word could get him or his son killed.

I don’t have to worry about things like that, but is that a “privilege”? Isn’t that more like a right? If white people were treated just as badly as black people, would that be a solution? Not having to worry about police abuse, not having to worry about discrimination in employment or finance, not having to worry about being judged on the basis of my race – these are not things to feel guilty about having; these are things everybody should have.

I of course respect the role of the police in upholding the law and public order. I understand that police work is stressful and dangerous. I think most police officers act in a responsible and professional manner most of the time, but not all of them do so all of the time.

I have some links to background on the Gates case and related matters below the fold.

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