Monday, September 22, 2008

White Privilege - The Stacked Deck

Rush Limbaugh doesn't get it, but neither does much of the rest of this country. One of the most prominent and respected anti-racist trainers in the country, Tim Wise urges white people to fight racism “for our own sake.” For most of us “white folks” that’s not an easy task, but it is probably the key reason he wrote White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son. In an article published on September 13, Tim wrote:
For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.
Before I share some of the items from his list, I want to tell you how I came by this article. It was sent to me from a good friend, who is a Mississippi son and who served with distinction in Alaska for a number of years. His perspective matters to me, especially on this sensitive subject.

Here are a few items from Wise’ list.
White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because “every family has challenges,” even as black and Latino families with similar “challenges” are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.

White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do--like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor--and people think you’re being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college and the fact that she lives near Russia, you’re somehow being mean, or even sexist.

White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God’s punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you’re just a good church-going Christian, but if you’re black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you’re an extremist who probably hates America.

White privilege is being able to go to a prestigious prep school, then to Yale and Harvard Business School (George W. Bush), and still be seen as an "average guy," while being black, going to a prestigious prep school, then Occidental College, then Columbia, and then Harvard Law, makes you "uppity" and a snob who probably looks down on regular folks.

White privilege is being able to say that you hate "gooks" and "will always hate them," and yet, you aren't a racist because, ya know, you were a POW, so you're entitled to your hatred, while being black and noting that black anger about racism is understandable, given the history of your country, makes you a dangerous bigot.

White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism and an absent father is apparently among the "lesser adversities" faced by other politicians, as Sarah Palin explained in her convention speech.
I hope you will want to take the time to mull over the examples I have cited and follow the link on “article” above and read the rest of them, as well as his follow up article. I believe he puts his finger on the heart of what this presidential election is all about. Or, as Tim says at the end of his list,
White privilege is, in short, the problem.
I believe that the election in November will be a defining moment in the history of this country. It will either be a sign that as a nation we are beginning to overcome our history of racism; or it will be a sign that we have yet to come to terms with the meaning of “white privilege.” The former will be a sign of hope, for our own people and the rest of the world; the latter an announcement to the non-white world that we continue to view the world through race-colored glasses and will most likely act accordingly. In our day that is a message we can ill-afford to send.
That’s how I see it. What about you?
- Milo

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