Monday, May 10, 2010

think that gains for non-white people come at the expense of white people

I'm trying to come up with some handy replies to the white people I sometimes encounter who feel that whites have been getting an increasingly raw deal. These are the people who, when you get right down to it with them about the subject of "race," express worries that further advances for people of color (especially for black people) will come at the expense of white people like themselves. They see relative racial (white) advantage and (non-white) disadvantage as a zero-sum game, and as a game that whites have been losing for decades, in large part because non-whites have (supposedly) been gaining.

In a post at Working-Class Perspectives about the racial composition of the Tea-Party activists ("Tea-partying while White"), Jack Metzgar says the following on this topic.

What would you say to people like this relative of his, "Helen"?

At a recent extended family gathering a relative of mine asked me, “So what do you think of your President now?” I indicated my firm support, briefly explaining why I thought health care reform was really important and good, and then asked for her opinion. “I don’t know enough [about policies] to say, but he just scares me.” I asked why, expecting something about the deficit or “big government,” but she said, “I don’t know why. He just scares me.” I tried to probe for specific reasons, but she reported that she wasn’t sure and didn’t “want to talk politics.”

I teach my students in undergraduate critical-thinking courses that it is not legitimate to attribute negative motives to people unless you can credibly explain how these motives are related to what the person actually says. This is a particularly important principle, I say, if you disagree with someone – and even more important if you strongly disagree. By that standard, it would be wrong to charge Helen with “racial prejudice,” let alone “racism,” but in the absence of specific reasons to be scared of Barack Obama, it’s also hard to imagine that her fear does not have something to do with his being a black man.

Helen (not her real name) is a white senior-citizen widow living almost entirely on Social Security in a modest one-story house that she owns outright. She never attended college and worked as a clerical worker after she helped raise her three children as a stay-at-home mom. Her husband, who also had no college, was a front-line supervisor in a steel mill now long gone. Later in another fleeting conversation she expressed interest in and sympathy for the Tea Party.

I’ve known Helen most of my life, and I have never heard her use explicitly racist language or express anything but a kind of paternalistic sympathy for the plight of African Americans, with whom she has had almost no experience. There are many nonracial reasons why she would not and did not vote for President Obama. She is a life-long Republican, a small-town Protestant, and in her early ‘70s, somebody who is rooted in a more traditional set of gender roles and family arrangements that Democrats seem dismissive of. But she also lives in an atmosphere that is common among the white working class as I’ve experienced it -- an atmosphere infused with a free-floating anxiety that any gains for black people will come at some loss to white folks like her.

This atmosphere is not specific to working-class whites, but my guess is the anxiety is more intense for the working class than among more securely affluent whites. It is this anxious atmosphere of a racial zero-sum game that I suspect informs many of the “supporters” and “sympathizers” of the Tea Party movement,
not the boldly explicit racism of the 10% who have told pollsters [PDF] that “racial prejudice against Barack Obama” is one reason for their support of the movement. . . .

[the rest of Metzgar's post is here]

Metzgar's post is useful for delineating the kinds of racism that exist among the various sorts of white people who comprise almost the entirety of the Tea Party "movement." And again, he raises for me a more specific question, about how to answer the common claims and fears expressed by white people like his relative, "Helen."

For one thing, the implications of the little that Helen had to say about race counter what she probably professes to believe. People like her probably believe that racism is a bad thing that should be denounced whenever and wherever possible. But then, if gains for people of color are costing white people, Helen and white people like her are against such gains. And so, if racism accounts for non-white losses that are made up for by such gains, then Helen and white people like her are ultimately in favor of racism when they worry about or fear such gains.

Privilege only works when someone else doesn't have it, and white privilege is no different.

But then, does it really follow that whatever gains people of color make must come at the expense of white people?

Of course, it's certainly not the case that people of color are now generally doing better than white people. White people do still benefit from racism, in both material and psychological ways, so when various forms of racism decline, such white benefits also decline. When loan officers, for instance, extend more loans at equitable rates to the people of color from whom they'd formerly been inclined to withhold loans and equitable rates, getting such loans and rates is more difficult for white people than it was for them before. And when hiring practices become more racially equitable, de facto "white networks" don't work as well as they did before, making it more difficult for white people to get jobs than it was for them before.

But then, just because white people have had it easier than people of color in such ways, and in so many other ways, doesn't mean that advantages that "just happen to be white" are right, or ethical, or just. So when white advantages recede and non-white chances move closer to even, the white people who complain about that mostly do so, I think, because they're not seeing and understanding white privilege. They're also not seeing the racism that resulted in that privilege, and still results in it; they seem to believe that the racial playing field is already level. If that's true, then when non-whites gain and whites seem to lose as a result, those whites who complain about that don't do so because they realize that their racial group is losing ill-gotten gains. They instead complain because they think they're being cheated.

I think I'm just scratching the surface here of the many causes of this common white tendency -- the resentful and fearful belief that gains for non-white people come at the expense of white people. It's complicated, in part because while some gains for people of color actually do come at the expense of white people, others do not. And again, many (all?) of the gains that white people lose when non-white people gain have been illegitimate gains in the first place.

So what would you say to white people -- who do see their generation generally faring worse than previous ones in economic terms -- when they admit to such ultimately racist suspicions or convictions, that improving the lot of non-white people will (and has) unfairly cost white people like themselves? Where would you even start?

Finally, do you know of any good writings or other sources on this matter?

65 comments:

  1. My favorite response is a quote, the author of which I unfortunately cannot recall:

    "I don't want a bigger piece of the pie; I want a new pie."

    In other words, when oppressed groups gain rights, we don't need to think of them as coming from white people, but rather we all enter into a new way of doing things.

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  2. Ante up, bitches. It's time to share.

    Now you must work for what you want without relying on Affirmative White Action.

    Ain't that a kicker?

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  3. This is an interesting topic - but I do find it frustrating that the original author saw fit to draw a conclusion that 'Helen' didn't like Obama because she was racist simply because she couldn't or wouldn't provide him with a more acceptable reason. This disconnect seems particularly obvious in this case because the original author provided a number of perfectly legitimate reasons why Helen would feel disenfranchised by the Democratic party and may therefore not like the President.

    The topic is interesting, but this seems to be one of many instances on this blog where the example provided either has little to do wiht the topic, or where the writer could have concluded any number of things about the white person in question, but chose to conclude racism.

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  4. I think I'll just tell those particular whites that they can just pull themselves up by the bootstraps and everything will be fine.

    I like that. I think I thought of a good one.

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  5. I think Tim Wise has written about the deliberate use of race by the elite class as a wedge between working people (I don't have a link handy but its in his books and some of the articles at timwise.org). By encouraging white folk to worry about their relative position to black folk, they aren't paying attention to the fact that their paymasters are taking them to the cleaners. In a zero sum game, no one stops to consider that the size of the pie that is reserved for the top 1% in this country. Everyone else fights over the scraps as if the original allocation is sacrosanct. Game over. Capital wins.

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  6. @Frustrated: Please, take a second look.
    "By that standard, it would be wrong to charge Helen with “racial prejudice,” let alone “racism,” but in the absence of specific reasons to be scared of Barack Obama, it’s also hard to imagine that her fear does not have something to do with his being a black man."

    The OP did not call Helen racist. Now, can we focus on the topic at hand?

    This kind of fear of losing what is perceived to be a zero sum game seems to proof of a knowledge that things have been and are currently unfair (to say the least). Yet, these same people when asked will deny this to high heaven. It's very frustrating.

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  7. @ Frustrated

    This is not a blog where people come together to proclaim "everything" white people do is RACISM. The article, like many past posts, discussed common white tendecies and privileges associated with some white people's actions. The original article Macon posted in this topic explained the demographics and media manipulation of politics to influence the opinion of most citizens in this country. It's particulary interesting how the Tea Partiers are proclaiming that "BIG GOVERNMENT" will ruin America and Obama is Hitler's equal. I wonder to myself what does Helen fear about Obama? Is it the news or pundits who constantly spread misinformation or outright lies relating to Obama's backstory or policies? Or, maybe it is the combination of stupidity on behalf of the media and the subconscious racism Helen may have at seeing a mixed man who looks black in the highest office in America. I wonder if this "fear" Helen had existed with Clinton, Carter, Johnson, or Kennedy? After all, I can point to major issues and protests during the 1960s, but I suppose Helen probably supported Vietnam War and thought Civil Rights will happen for blacks in "due time." This is only my guess. In my own opinion the Tea Party is about the notion of blacks or any miniority "taking over" America and other BS with Obama leading the way to "White Slavery" again. And yes, my last comment on White Slavery was an actual sign by a Tea Partier at one rally. I can't recall a time in history when one political party was so united to purposefully destroy ANY AND ALL policies by a President, joining rallies with uninformed citizens to spew more nonsense, denial, and hate, and opposing anything related to the President's plans. If these are not some examples of white resentment towards a non-white person and secret fear of blacks being on the same equal playing level as whites, then I don't know what this craziness is right now in America.

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  8. I think @Greg hits the nail on the head in that this is about classism too. But in my experience, using such arguments don't always work. There is still the idea that in the "American Dream", you can make it big and be a multi-millionaire. So people are hesitant to criticize the top 5% (who control 95% of the wealth, or whatever the stats are these days) because one day they might be one of those people. So it's easier to criticize the PoC who come in and "take" their jobs instead.

    I mean, nobody _wants_ to lose their job or have someone else picked over them when applying for a job. So one way to approach the discussion might be to ask why, when another White man gets picked, it's "I didn't get the job" but when a Black man gets picked, it's a "He took my job". Beverly Tatum has a section on this in Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria? I don't remember exactly what she said (it was a library book), but I recall it being a very good way of framing that particular problem ("taking" a job vs "not getting a job").

    I also long for "handy replies" that would turn the lightbulb on over people's heads, because the average person on the street isn't going to want to put in the time to have a long discussion about racism. But I don't think such replies exist. It's kind of like a magic-eye drawing -- one day you just see the other picture, and then you can never un-see it. I'm not saying "Oh, well, it just has to happen, so don't try", I'm just saying I don't think there's a quick-and-easy way to present white privilege to people who don't yet understand it. Janet Helms' White racial identity model requires a significant encounter with racism to shake the person up and cause them to advance from earlier stages to later stages. It doesn't have to be an actual physical event that the person observes, it just has to shake them up enough to move on to the next stage. That's kind of like the magic-eye thing I'm talking about. Education can help you along the way -- if you know what the picture is that you're looking for, it might be easier to see part of it, and then suddenly the whole thing.

    Though actually, Chris Rock does have a "handy reply" to this issue as part of his stand-up act: "If y'all are losing, who's winning? It ain't us!"

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  9. Jon R, you read my mind with the Chris Rock quote.

    Macon, EXCELLENT post. Damn...you and Abagond are in rare form this week.

    Frustrated, thanks for playing. Now try again.

    Belkin, that was an awesome fucking reply. You just earned an "Ankhesenology" moment.

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  10. @Frustrated re: "the writer could have concluded any number of things about the white person in question, but chose to conclude racism."

    As Roxie pointed out, the writer stopped short of that, but this seems to be another bit of SWPD: see accusations of racism where they could conclude any number of things.

    Frustrated, go read Derailing for Dummies for a litany of those other things the writet might have concluded and why they are usually disingenuous.

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  11. Any racial caste system this country has embraced in the past and in the present (slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration) has depended on the notion of creating fear in working class and poor white people. God forbid low income people of all races should bond together and start a movement (like MLK, Jr.s "Poor Peoples Movement")to challenge the economic inequities in this country. Those in power have KNOWN, for hundreds of years that the only way they can reinforces a system of racial striation is to prey on the fears of the whites who are on the bottom of the economic ladder. The fear of poor white people of sinking lower in the power structure has led them to embraces racist policies, for fear that they will lose the little that they have. They are afraid of being at the bottom, so they hold racist ideals to justify the placement of minority group members "beneath" them in the power structure. Poor white people claim to not have privilege, but they perhaps embrace white privilege more than anyone else, all in the hopes of clinging to the tenuous position they have in this society.

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  12. Belkin said,
    >> "In my own opinion the Tea Party is about the notion of blacks or any miniority "taking over" America and other BS with Obama leading the way to "White Slavery" again."

    Yes, I too was going to connect this with the 'oppressor mindset' that has come up here before--the very white dogma that, in the immortal word's of Godspell, "hey, someone's got to be oppressed!"

    The examplum in the OP was a conservative, but I am dealing with the progressive version right now, I think. My disability advocacy org is focusing on a campaign to improve access to spec ed for children of color. But because "disability issues" typically means "white PWD's issues", we are being accused of focusing on race issues and not disability work. Basically, we've been getting furious phone calls from parents about how "gains for POC come at the expense of PWD" (yes, yes, I know). It's as though if we take the focus off of WP for one second, suddenly NOTHING we are doing helps whites...even though when the focus is on WP, POC are "assumed" to be helped by extrapolation! (not always the case, y'all).

    /vent. It's that kind of morning.

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  13. I would say to white people that are resentful and fearful that there are plenty of people of color that create jobs and opportunities for ALL people.

    Crain's New York (http://www.crainsnewyork.com/) always tracks the top MINORITY owned businesses in the NY Metro area and reports on them annually.

    These companies employ white people and contribute BILLIONS to New York's economy.

    So how is that "taking" away from the gains of white people?

    I don't see it at all.

    What I see is a failure on the part of white people to see non-white people as their equals in intelligence, drive, and ability.

    Non-white people have the intelligence to dream up capitalist ideas that generate revenue and create jobs for our economy.

    Non-white people have the drive to work hard to make sure their small business or global corporation is successful.

    Non-white people have the ability to provide good paying jobs that allow all people to pursue the American dream.

    If you get rid of the racist belief that non-white people are inferior then you will see that America can accommodate everyone and not just those that have privilege.

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  14. Looks to me like a lot of privileged folks imagine that "somebody's got to be oppressed" ... with the corollary requirement that it "better not be me!"

    This argument gets used against equal rights and privileges for women, gays, old people, people with disabilities ... always the party in power thinks the party not in power wants to take something away.

    I wish it didn't look so much like white temporarily-able-bodied males never learned to share.

    Humans are so ...

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  15. These are complex issues. There are real conflicts of interest. Redistributive policies do benefit lower income people at the expense of higher income people and it is crazy-making (in my opinion) to try to say they don't. There are a lot of relatively high income people who are willing to support policies that go against their own short-term financial interests in favor of more social justice.

    Older official policies of discrimination against Blacks and other minorities did benefit Whites by removing some of the competition. Scholars debate about whether the gains to working class Whites from this reduced competition were exceeded by the losses due to divisions in the working class: some say yes, some say no. The removal of any past privilege is experienced as a loss, at least at the first level. When we tell folks they have White privilege, we mean they benefit from it, and the elimination or reduction of White privilege will "cost" White people something. I don't see how we can talk about White privilege as something that benefits Whites without talking about the costs to Whites of losing White privilege. At the same time, there are all kinds of misperceptions flying around, so that White people often believe that Blacks and other minorities have an advantage in the job market (contrary to most of the evidence, which shows a continuing pro-White bias in employment that is stronger in the private sector and weaker in the public sector), and in college admissions (where the data do show some advantage, depending on the particular school and how you measure it, but not at the level Whites imagine). Whites are often completely ignorant of the impact and importance of racial segregation in housing and education and ignorant of the discriminatory practices in the criminal justice system.

    At the same time, the game is not entirely zero sum. There are common benefits of a just and fair society with relatively low levels of inequality, and there are social policies that can redistribute across class lines and generate common rather than opposed interests for working class people of different races. There are huge issues of identity construction around who you see as "us" and "them" when you are considering interests. And, I repeat, there is lots of evidence that many people will support policies that are against their own short term (or even long term) interests when they believe those policies are in accord with higher principles of morality or justice or social peace. For example, in one survey taken in late 1967 or early 1968 (after the Newark riot), 53% of Whites said they would approve of programs to improve living conditions for Blacks even if it cost them a 10% tax increase! (Source is a report titled One Year Later: An Assessment of the Nation's Response to the Crisis Described by the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, written by Urban American and the Urban Coalition and published by Praeger in 1969.) Today there are lots of well-off liberals willing to support policies that tax themselves for the social good.

    An additional political problem is the class divide among Whites, where it may be argued that well-off Whites who don't expect to lose their class privilege in a more racially just system may act and talk in ways that seem to blame working class Whites for their fears and frustrations. Which isn't to justify racial prejudice, just to say that the dynamics get complicated, especially when some politicians pander to these fears and overtly promote racial hostility.

    What is hard is to have a discussion that talks clearly about these issues and the interplay of interests and morality.

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  16. @Maggie--while your statements may or not be true, the focus here is on racism. That is, the tendency of white people "never [having] learned to share," as you say, with people of color. What you are doing is "derailing" the conversation to shift from racism, a topic that is apparently uncomfortable for you (and Frustrated). White people do this thing to people of color. Refusing to admit that doesn't make it not so and it doesn't make it so that you aren't doing it.

    I think that it might be useful, in a conversation like the one described, to actually point at the elephant in the room and say, "Are you scared because President Obama is black?"

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  17. @olderwoman re: "I don't see how we can talk about White privilege as something that benefits Whites without talking about the costs to Whites of losing White privilege."

    True, but how we talk about it can affect how it is received. Since it is unusual for white people to identify themselves as part of a racial group (asserting individuality instead), I think that white people fear losing something on an individual basis, but the benefits of white privilege accrue mostly to the group. I can see that we have to look at the cost in terms of losing the benefits of white privilege, but if white privilege represents the difference in treatment of white and non-white people, then losing white privilege can also mean eliminating the differences.

    I have had students respond to the notion of white privilege by saying, essentially, that everyone should have these privileges (e.g., the confidence that one's race is not a negative factor in applying for credit). This overlooks the very structure of what we call privilege; for some to be privileged, others have to not be.

    Nomenclature aside, though, this is correct. Whites would lose privilege if everyone were regarded equally and nobody were "underprivileged"--if everyone could be certain that race doesn't work against the appearance of financial stability, for instance-- and would not actually be "losing" anything from the point of view of individual white people.

    As far as "losing" individual jobs and so forth, the absence of white privilege would just mean restoring to the marketplace the competition on a level playing field that WP already think exists, so again, it doesn't have to be characterized as a loss--more of a return to true competition as opposed to a fixed game.

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  18. A thought experiment:

    If we accept the following as facts:

    1. Obama is nominally a "black" man.

    2. White person X dislikes Obama merely on account of his skin.

    3. White person X also dislikes Obama's bailout of the banking system.

    4. In time it is proven beyond refute that the bailout led to horrific economic problems.

    5. Can we conclude therefore that: White person X's initial dislike of the bailout was due to Obama's race and, moreover, was that (proven justified) dislike of said bailout made invalid solely on account of X's bigotry?

    My opinion: Someone's disdain for Obama's blackness has no bearing on whether or not Obama's policy decisions are good or bad. In other words: I can dislike Obama because he's sort of black and, I can dislike Obama's policies because I think they suck.

    Easy proof: Insert McCain in the office for the past 16 months - do the same policies suck, yes or no??

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  19. Can we conclude therefore that: White person X's initial dislike of the bailout was due to Obama's race and, moreover, was that (proven justified) dislike of said bailout made invalid solely on account of X's bigotry?

    No.

    You're (1) stating the obvious and (2) missing the point.

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  20. There is another common thing I've noticed many WP do/say/think, they genuinely feel like they have gotten where they are in life because they worked hard and earned it - they followed the "American Dream." Now, I'm not denying the people I've talked to have worked hard and earned their way, but there's also no sense of understanding that being white made the obstacles that stood in their way easier to get past. They have no idea how much they benefit from going on interviews at predominately white companies, or having the stereotypical face of honesty and integrity in the white gaze.

    I find having this conversation in particular, the judgments made about people these people have never met, to be absolutely infuriating - to the point of madness. When I ask why it seems so many POC seem to be disadvantaged, the answer is that they aren't trying hard enough. I'm quick to point out how problematic this way of thinking it, but I end up having to resort to an elementary lesson on white privilege before I can even get off the ground with it.

    It's really "funny" how when a white person makes it to higher places, he got there by sheer determination, a will to succeed - all alone. But when a POC makes it, he "played the race card," took jobs and hand-outs, hell, even how he paid (or didn't pay) for his education is in question. And after all of that, he rallied the monolith to help him.

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  21. Another great article. I'm going to have to write a whole post to reply to this properly.

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  22. @BiteMe re:

    "I can dislike Obama because he's sort of black and, I can dislike Obama's policies because I think they suck."

    And you can think they suck because he's black. Or you can make a coherent argument about why they suck (but not here, please) instead of stating your position as if it didn't need any backup. That's what leads some of us to suspect the racial motive for so many disapproving statements about President Obama: there doesn't appear to be anything else behind the statement, just bluster.

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  23. Sara said:
    "I think that it might be useful, in a conversation like the one described, to actually point at the elephant in the room and say, "Are you scared because President Obama is black?"

    And I COMPLETELY agree! I'm all for this. Just SAY it!

    I think not saying it perpetuates the very feeling of loss being talked about in the post. You don't say it because you don't want to lose a friend, or who you are in your social circle, or have family members stop talking to you. You don't want to find out that your friend is actually willing to openly admit that he or she is scared because Obama's black - you lose respect for that person. Or you lose your ability to trust that friend because he or she WON'T admit it is about race, but deep down you have a feeling it is. You lose the sense of being able to enjoy this person anymore. You lose a lot on a personal level when you try to make race something EVERYone is accountable for.

    That's the price, though. You're still going to lose out when you have to sit there and pretend what someone is saying doesn't bother you. Or you have smile in his or her face to hide the disgust you feel. The gains you make might not be visible to you in the wake of your losses, but they exist and will become increasingly more apparent in time. You're also making gains for people other than yourself.

    If you're a WP and you're fighting for (or talking about) the rights or equality of POC, you should get used to being uncomfortable in places you were once comfortable, never seeing tangible results of anything you say or do, being called names like "self-loather" and "race traitor," having people you trust be too weak to get your back - and get used to losing things. In fact, find a way to embrace that so that it doesn't deter you from saying the things that need to be said.

    When someone is hinting at being racist, gauging you to see if it's ok to say it - call him or her on it. Let him or her know that someone they respect says that it is NOT ok, and tell him or her why. You don't have to be aggressive, do it in your own style, but never back down.

    If you want to create some semblance of equality - you have to be personally willing to lose and sacrifice your own privilege. Part of that is shutting down safe places for people to be racist when in your presence. You have the privilege to do that. You will make people so uncomfortable that they will stop talking about it and walk away, or they will leave all together. But I encourage you to stick around and marinate in the uncomfortable silence that lingers after someone bitches about Affirmative Action, and you shut him down.

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  24. @BiteMe

    "In time it is proven beyond refute that the bailout led to horrific economic problems."

    I'm thinking that the trillions upon trillions of dollars spent unchecked for the 8 years before Obama was in office MAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYbe the cause of these "horrific economic problems". Thanks for your attempts at derailing. Please return to your tea party.

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  25. The funniest thing is, a lot that those same white people who swear they got where they got through hard work and determination were born into middle class/ upper middle class families, never had to take a job before their college graduation, were always told college was not only an option, but a requirement, and were educated in schools that at first adequately, if not excessively well funded, and then (in college years) were paid for by their well to do parents. Many of them obtained jobs through "networking" with members of their suburban, upper middle class community, friends of their parents, and alumni of their colleges/fraternities/sororites. Instead of seeing all of these things as part of their white privilege, they choose to go on and on about how hard they worked to get where they are. It is not to say that they DID NOT work hard, BUT what the neglect to realize is that people who have not led the same (white) privileged existence they have must often work three times as hard to obtain the same results.
    I see it all the time where I live. I grew up in an upper middle class, 95% white community. Most of the kids I grew up with never had to work in HS or college. Their education was fully funded by their parents. When they got married, their parents paid for the wedding. They were given huge cash gifts, maybe a down payment for a $500K house. They have never had to struggle to put food on the table. Their idea of hardship is having to buy a $30K car instead of a $50K car. Yet they preach on and on about how they know what it is like to be in need, how they worked so hard to get where they are.

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  26. @victoria

    They have no idea how much they benefit from going on interviews at predominately white companies, or having the stereotypical face of honesty and integrity in the white gaze.


    i am dearly, desperately guilty of that. i got full financial aid to college, and my family has always sat on the lowest end of middle class, and of course i worked hard at school, so i was convinced that my life was built on my own merits alone--

    and it took me so so long, and i likely ruined so so many friendships in the process, to understand the deeply rooted mistakes in my perception of myself and of my situation.

    it's humiliating, in a very important way, to be exposed as fundamentally wrong about yourself. i'm not surprised that white people so fiercely cling to their ignorance, but it makes me sad, because becoming less ignorant is one of the best things to ever happen to me. how can you engage with the world if your perception is built on a lie?

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  27. “I’ve known Helen most of my life, and I have never heard her use explicitly racist language "or express anything but a kind of paternalistic" sympathy for the plight of African Americans, with whom she has had almost no experience.”

    Racist language isn’t needed when you know you’re on top- the privilege lies in never having to talk about the realities of race. The security lies in never viewing yourself as anything other than mainstream. Racial name-calling, signs and pickets come into play when whites feel their privilege/rights are being threatened. One doesn’t have to be a member of the tea party movement to feel this way, any gain (be it social or political) with respect to non-whites could be perceived as a threat to your way of life. Even when you’re reluctant to admit you have it, you know something’s bothering you about a black president. It’s hard to put a finger on something you’re not willing to acknowledge, so the answer must lay in anything other than the privilege that fuels your fear.

    Throughout history whites have been able to consolidate power to protect their own interests, and I see no reason why this practice would stop considering the times we live in. For the first time in Helen’s long life her destiny is not being controlled by someone who looks- acts, walks or talks like she does. As a republican, Helen knew that even when a democrat was voted to the highest office in the land she could feel comforted, knowing the victor was a white man.

    Helen seems old enough to remember how things were. She hearkens back to those good old fashioned (Mayberry-esque) values that made this country great. Were whites were portrayed as just everyday folk, and minorities (in her world at least) were conspicuously absent. For the first time in her life she must acknowledge that minorities have an equal claim to the pie as she does, and may in fact assert more of a share as white influence declines in the world.

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  28. I don't know, but something bothers me about people talking about "POC's slice of the pie and white people's slice of the pie"

    To me, it just seems when we use this language, we're saying that one group of people is ENTITLED to something. I dunno.

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  29. This might have nothing really to do with this post, but it brought up an incident that happened to me a year ago:

    I was adopted and have two older white brothers. I had always been annoyed that they did not have any friends of colour, despite having two black sisters. One of my brothers is somewhat religious and married, with three kids.

    On my birthday last year, he invited me to his house for dinner and insisted that he drive me home ( which is about an hour from his house in the suburbs). I thought that was odd, and at dinner, his wife (whom I love dearly) seemed to be a bit distracted. On the car ride into the city, he tells me that a couple of days before, they had been parked at a commuter station, and my sister-in-law was breastfeeding the youngest child. What they did was that she would feed the kid, hand her over to my brother and then go on the commuter train and head to school, where she is doing her Masters.

    Apparently, there were two young black women in the car beside them, and when my SIL was finished, she got out of the car and her door apparently bumped the car with the two black women. The women jumped out and started screaming at them, that they had scratched the car and that "they were gonna pay." My brother said that he said that if there was any damage got out, walked over and looked for a scratch or any damage. Seeing none, he told them that he didn't see any damage and that perhaps they should call the cops to assess the situation. The women went silent, got into their car and sped off.

    So I guess it shook my SIL up pretty bad so my brother then starts to interrogate me, like as a black woman, I should automatically be able to read what the two women were thinking. I gave him the "I dunno maybe they really thought that you scratched their car, or maybe they were trying to rip you off" thing, but he wouldn't give up. He was outraged.....to make a long story short, he started rambling and sounding a lot like I imagine Helen did - someone whom while he really didn't think he had any racial bias, did. I was so angry and as my big brother, had a hard time telling him off. But he had that, "we did so much for you people and this is what we get in return?" attitude, it really hurt me. I've barely talked to him since and not really forgiven myself for not telling him to go to hell.

    I had a grandmother like Helen, God rest her soul. And I also had a very difficult time reconciling that she would never introduce me or my sister as her granddaughters. I complained to my parents a number of times and I got, " well, that's her generation." I never bought it. If people want to be a certain way, they will. If they don't and care enough to look at their own, ahem, "issues," they will. No matter who they are.

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  30. God, Pilius...that sounds AWFUL.

    Write him a long letter. That usually helps me.

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  31. Pilius... I have noticed a lot of white people believe that if they have a Black brother or sister, or date a Black man or woman or have a Black child it is somehow IMPOSSIBLE that they are racist. They swear they are "colorblind", but they are lying to the world and to themselves. Dating a Black person does not take away your racism. Having a Black child or sibling does not take away your racism. White people are taught since birth that somehow they are more deserving than others, that somehow they are smarter, more moral, better behaved, more attractive, and on and on. I have never met a white person, no matter how open minded the people who have raised them are, who has escaped this. HOWEVER, it is the responsibility of the individual to deprogram themselves, to educate themselves to the truth, to reject the trappings of white privilege. I see it in myself. When I entered college, I NEVER would have thought of myself as racist. HOWEVER, I had that feeling of entitlement common to those raised with white privilege. I believed it when the media portrayed non-white individuals as criminals. I bought into the idea that affirmative action was "reverse racism". I was thoroughly ignorant. I began exploring race, racism and culture when I was in college. I had a gentleman who I used to speak to in the cafeteria. He suggested that I read "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" I did as he suggested, and started to see my own biases and prejudices. I chose to overcome them with truth. Through reading, talking to new people, listening to new ideas, I started to remove myself from my insular world of white privilege. I started to see the evidence that racism and prejudice are alive and well. I examined myself and saw that I harbored certain prejudices that I needed to overcome. I am only human, so at times, I still find myself thinking in terms of stereotypes. BUT, I am aware of when I am doing it, and counter my prejudiced thoughts with what I know to be the truth. And if I do not know the truth about an issue, I search for the answers. Being colorblind is not the answer. Being aware and open to the truth is so much more important. Not seeing someones race is not the answer. If you can't see, then you cannot appreciate. Instead of trying to see past race, we should embrace and celebrate our diversity.

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  32. @Victoria:
    Now, I'm not denying the people I've talked to have worked hard and earned their way, but there's also no sense of understanding that being white made the obstacles that stood in their way easier to get past.

    I share your frustration at this, especially that it seems to be an "either-or" for most people. As in, either they earned everything, or they didn't work for it at all -- there's no middle ground.

    One common metaphor (which has its drawbacks, see below) I come across for this specific case is to think of it as being White getting you the pole position in a race. If everyone in the race runs exactly as hard as you do, you're still going to cross the finish line first. If you run slower, you're not going to win. But someone on the outside of the track has to run twice as fast to overtake you. That can sometimes help people see that they did work hard, and everyone else was working hard, but they still got where they are because of their starting place (i.e. privilege). (The downside, of course, is that life and especially race relations shouldn't be thought of as a "race" that you can "win".)

    Deconstructing specific self-made-man myths helps too. Bill Gates, for example, is often given as an example of the American Dream. Maybe even better than the American Dream, because he stuck it to the man by dropping out of college and still making it big. When you point out, however, that the college he dropped out of was Harvard, and that he had access to a computer in high school in the late '60s (which is basically the equivalent of having your own rocketship now), his story becomes a little less alluring. The idea is not to shit on Bill Gates, but to point out that he got where he is because of a lot of advantages.

    When I ask why it seems so many POC seem to be disadvantaged, the answer is that they aren't trying hard enough.

    I think maybe we need to start phrasing the question differently. Sociologist Michael Kimmel at SUNY-Stony Brook has done a lot of writing about gender inequity, and encourages people to stop asking "Why do women earn 75% less than men?", and instead ask "Why do men earn 33% more than women?" So given Victoria's question above, maybe we should start asking "Why are White people so advantaged?" And sure, people could still respond "Because they try harder", but hopefully that sounds a little more ridiculous that way.

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  33. It's only logicalMay 11, 2010 at 11:11 PM

    I've waited for this post because this is the main reason white people legitimately fear and resist total equality.

    Human beings benefit from being in many groups. Some by choice others by birth, but there's a competition for resources each group fights. I'm a white, male in my twenties and I belong to many groups. My family, friends, city, state, American, white, male, poker player, etc...and each one of these groups tries to maneuver to pull resources from the whole into that group. Some people were born into groups that have been more effective in pooling resources from the whole and that benefits them while others are born into groups that lack those advantages. The group they're in took the "lead" at some point in history for whatever reason (I want to note I have no idea what that reason is as I haven't done any research) and those who are subsequently born into that group benefit.

    An example would be Americans. Anyone born here has an advantage over many others in the world because of the work of Americans who came before them, but is that an illegitimate gain or something that Americans should work to give up? I don't believe so. The group we happen to be in earned that advantage that we now enjoy. I really don't have anything against people of different backgrounds and I don't fault them for competing to get a bigger piece of the pie, but I'm going to compete to not give up what I have and I don't feel bad about it.

    Also, I disagree that most whites don't see white privilege. I mean, if you really got a straight answer I think most would tell you that yeah we have some advantages, but our group earned them at some point in history and I'm not about to just give them up because that would hurt me, my family and most of my friends. So while I understand POC wanting to get rid of these advantages, it's logical from their point of view, it's not in my best interests to just agree to a severe lowering of my group's standard of living.

    The crux of my post is this: The world is a big competition and everyone belongs to many different groups some more successful over time than others. Capitalizing on those past group successes is human nature and very logical.

    So feel free to bash away as I know my rational, logical approach isn't what POC or white people who read this blog subscribe to, but deep down most people do. When push comes to shove a person's best interests are what dictates his behavior and it's why whites, males, Americans and many other groups all over the world won't give up their advantages without some major event that I can't visualize happening anytime soon.

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  34. This is thoroughly the most intelligent discussion I've read on blogger. The shear honesty of the participants is amazing. If this was to happen on a national scale we could possibly eradicate the issue. However we'd have to admit that as a nation we have an evil inheritance, which I believe is central to the issue, well...you know the rest. All the isms, (racism, classism, gender inequalities, and such) are tools of the overall system. A system we fail to recognize. Which brings me to the point that the very notion of "America" is not what we were taught it is.

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  35. SWPD: "think that gains for non-white people come at the expense of white people"

    It's only logical said...
    "So while I understand POC wanting to get rid of these advantages, it's logical from their point of view, it's not in my best interests to just agree to a severe lowering of my group's standard of living."

    LOL! Way to be the poster boy for the fucking title. Congratulations.

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  36. about "it's only logical": As I said above, I agree. BUT I disagree that personal-self interest is the ONLY motivation for most people, although I agree that there are a lot of ideologues who think it ought to be. There are two reasons. First, many people really do care about justice, fairness, social equality and social peace. They don't want to be the person who lives in luxury while others starve, they don't like the feeling of doing nothing when others are brutalized. Second, people do distinguish between "my group" and "others," and are typically moral only to "my group," but how the in/out boundaries get drawn is not fixed. Both moral/ethical principles and in/out boundaries are things societies create and people can change.

    I do think it helps to talk in a straight way about interests, but then not be afraid to also talk about facts -- who really has and gets what as opposed to what the generally-uninformed white majority believes about racial patterns -- and about moral principles.

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  37. @sara

    You're right. I apologize.

    Everything else I could say sounds far too much like 'defending my derailing' or 'trying to explain it away,' so I won't.

    Looks like I need to step back and just read and learn. And maybe wonder what was up with my mom (and my white upbringing generally) teaching me to say 'oh yes, that's just like my experience with something different' instead of 'I agree' or 'I'm sorry this happened.'

    Just now I'm suspecting that we were taught to derail as a way of dealing with all sorts of uncomfortable feelings ... but maybe this sentence is derailing as well.

    (sigh).

    Thanks for the education. I'll sit quietly and read some more.

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  38. @Jon R

    "So given Victoria's question above, maybe we should start asking "Why are White people so advantaged?" And sure, people could still respond "Because they try harder", but hopefully that sounds a little more ridiculous that way."

    I really like this suggestion. I'm sure the response will be "We're NOT! My family was poor!" but I'll find a response to that.


    @ It's only logical

    Your entire argument falls apart at the very beginning of it. You talk so much about "earning" yet you have reminded everyone several times that we're BORN into our groups. How's that earning something again? Oh... right... it's not.

    Sure, your argument is "rational" and "logical" but it's the logic of a sniveling, privileged baby. Man, you sound like a 7 year-old. "It's MINE! I got it first!" And you know that without your LUCK (read: not your earning anything) you'd be too weak to "compete" against anyone. You are where you are because someone else did all the fucked up dirty work for you. You know you're the first one to cry "No fair! He had affirmative action! (or scholarships, grants, etc.) because he's a minority" as soon as you have any real competition with a POC.

    Your wonderful American education seems to have neglected to inform you of how WP "earned" things. Here, let me give you a quick lesson. We "earned" it by brute force, mass murder, stealing, rape, torture, and we maintain it all today by constant oppression. But you can be proud of that, right? You enjoy being a part of that rich history. You really think you earned your spot as a white dude, and you should be able to be proud of it without that shitty "white guilt" people talk about. I'm embarrassed FOR you.

    By the way, this post was about how you don't lose anything because someone else gains something. Not about how you shouldn't have to give anything up. Thank you for being the example of exactly what the post is talking about.

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  39. @ it's only logical...

    "...I think most would tell you that yeah we have some advantages, but our group earned them at some point in history..."

    Earned. Hmmm. I don't think that word means what you think it means.

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  40. >> "it's logical from their point of view, it's not in my best interests to just agree to a severe lowering of my group's standard of living."

    But you are defining 'best interests' here in a very particular sense: maximization of economic gain and 'white comfort' (referring to white dominance of pop culture media, academia, public office, gathering spaces for wealthier people, etc--being able to be where you [WP] want to be and be mostly w/other people of your own race).

    Some of us would define "best interests" very, very differently. Apparently, a lot of us--refer back to olderwoman's post, for example. We think a little thing called 'justice' is in our own best interest, to say nothing of in everyone's best interest.

    Even leaving aside the very true point that systems of oppression are mutually reinforcing and that we will never end other -isms so long as racism/white privilege endure:

    If one values things like being a good person, the Golden Rule, having a conscience, bedrock principles of major world religions, etc...the idea that wealth and white comfort alone define "best interest" is ludicrous.

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  41. @ Victoria,

    >> "I'm sure the response will be 'We're NOT! My family was poor!' but I'll find a response to that."

    Have you read How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America? The author talks a lot about how the GI Bill, early affirmative action, and other racist systemic practices benefited WP--yes, even lower class WP--at the expense of POC. It could give you some good fodder for responding.

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  42. @ Victoria & Willow,

    I'd second Brodkin's book, and I'll add Oliver & Shapiro's Black Wealth/White Wealth and Lipsitz's The Possessive Investment in Whiteness.

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  43. @It's Only Logical
    Apparently you believe it doesn't matter HOW or WHAT white people did to gain the advantages/privilege that they have. I use this analogy OVER and OVER. If a man from out of town came to YOUR house, slept in YOUR beds, redecorated, and forced you and your family to live in the coat closet, could he legitimately state that he "discovered" your house. Could the other people from his town then come into YOUR house, set up a new household, and say they FOUNDED your house? Can he travel to all of your neighbors houses, force your neighbors to wash his clothes, weed his garden, burp and feed his babies and CLAIM that they are better off since his "civilized them"? If this person from the next town over did all this to you are your neighbors, and you all decided to protest and rise against him, wouldn't he OWE you some sort of restitution? Wouldn't you deserve the opportunity to reclaim your OWN home? Would you feel that you should remain in the closet he has forced you to live in because you don't want to hurt his children? Should his children be afforded the opportunity to decide what happens in the house forever because HE STOLE IT FROM YOU , and now they consider it their rightful inheritance? Shouldn't you (whose house he stole) and your neighbors (who he forced to serve him) have the right to AT LEAST have the same opportunities as him and his children, and his grandchildren and on and on. White people DID NOT EARN the advantages/privilege they have, they STOLE IT and in the process stepped on the backs of non white people ALL OVER THE WORLD. The ladder we, as white people climbed, was made of oppression, it was created by thievery, it was supported by the ignorant belief that we deserve more, that we are better than nonwhite people. I do not believe that advances for nonwhite people come at the expense of white people, BUT I also firmly believe that EVEN IF white people DID have to give up something, it is perfectly justified, and anyone with any knowledge of history should realize and accept that. Why should we be able to keep advantages that were obtained through criminal/immoral means?

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  44. I interpreted logical's "earned" to refer to what he believes most white people believe than to logical's own opinion, but as others have criticized this notion, I just want to be sure it's clear that I criticize it too. White people generally have a lot of misinformation about how they have benefited from racially discriminatory practices, how people of color have been hurt by discrimination, about the level of social support ("welfare") that is available to people of color, and a lot of other stuff.

    As just one little example, I have learned (to my shock) that SOME employers tell white men they did not get a job "because of Affirmative Action" even when the person hired was, in fact, a white man. They think it is more ego-saving for the white man! I don't know how prevalent this is, but I was deeply shocked when I heard of specific instances of this from reliable sources. Whites mostly do not know that job discrimination still favors whites, for example. And they believe that POC get into selective colleges with no regard for their academic merit, as another. Not to mention not understanding how they benefit today from the discrimination that favored their parents and grandparents.

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  45. @It's only logical re: 'The group they're in took the "lead" at some point in history for whatever reason (I want to note I have no idea what that reason is as I haven't done any research) and those who are subsequently born into that group benefit.'

    I'm guessing that "at some point in history" means prehistory, even before colonialism and conquest. You admit you've done no research, yet you use the word "earned" to describe how white people ended up on the top of the heap. Do some research. It wasn't that white people were smarter or worked harder. Read (or watch the National Geographic special based on) Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel. It might be hard for you to accept, but his eminently logical theory (in very short form; the whole of it is inclusive and elegant) is that it was coincidences of geography--specifically climate and the native plants and animals available--that set the forebears of white civilization on the path to high technology and an economy based on getting and having as much stuff as possible. They didn't work any harder than other people; they just had the luck to be in an area where wheat and barley were native plants.

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  46. I would like to recommend Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen for those with historical amnesia.

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  47. People on the top of a hierarchy of oppression have a tendency to view the way things are as neutral. So if imbalances even seem to be starting to get corrected, the people on top will see this as the new imbalance. I see this in men, whites, straight people, cisgendered people, Christians, the upper classes, Americans, the able-bodied, and anyone else in the powerful group that is always centered.

    I used to really resent seeing even laughably small efforts to include POC in class discussions and the like. Because i didn't even notice how centered white experiences were. I thought discussion of POC perspectives marginalized me. It was like I was addicted to my race being the center of discussion at all times. I didn't notice how imbalanced things were. I just assumed they were balanced and that the feeble efforts to rectify this imbalance were themselves imbalance. I felt like something was being taken away from me. This was ridiculous, stupid, and racist of me. But I didn't even notice for many years, at which point I vowed to always point this out when I saw people pulling this shit be it about race or otherwise. Including myself. It's one of those pieces of selfish self-centered bullshit that makes me give myself a slap upside the head when I notice my thoughts veering in that direction. It's amazing how power warps the mind to justify and maintain itself.

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  48. Thanks for this. I need to go back and read all the comments later when I've got time to digest them. I would really love to know what to say to fellow white people who believe in this crap.

    The best I've been able to come up with is, what if it wasn't poor POC, but poor white people who were getting a leg up from government? Would Helen think they're stealing a piece of her pie? If not, and race is the only factor that's different, that position is inherently racist and inherently irrational.

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  49. Willow said...
    "Have you read How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America? The author talks a lot about how the GI Bill, early affirmative action, and other racist systemic practices benefited WP--yes, even lower class WP--at the expense of POC. It could give you some good fodder for responding."

    From an archived Time Magazine Article: “Throughout the South, Griffin encountered what he calls "the hate stare." Offering his seat to a white woman in a New Orleans streetcar, he watched her face stiffen into hostility. "What are you looking at me like that for?" she asked sharply, and turned away muttering, "They're getting sassier every day." Hitchhiking through Alabama, he was picked up by a white truck driver who inquired, with a leer, whether Griffin's wife had ever slept with a white man, informed him that "we're doing your race a favor to get some white blood into your kids." A factory foreman in Mobile, to whom Griffin applied for a job, told him coldly: "We don't want you people. We're gradually getting you people weeded out from the better jobs at this plant. Pretty soon we'll have it so the only kind of jobs you can get here are the ones no white man would have." Wherever he went, he could get only the most menial work.”

    The article continues...
    “After four weeks as a Negro, Griffin harbors new doubts about his own race. "I like to see good in the white man," he said last week. "But after this experience, it's hard to find it in the Southern white."

    I would add the northern white as well. Many blacks found that once they migrated up north to escape the oppression of Jim Crow, racism was just as prevalent if not more so. And to think- the systematic exclusion of jobs and housing opportunities was practiced by the same white man who would snub his nose at his southern counterpart for not being as “tolerant” of the darker races as he was.

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  50. I think if I could talk to Helen, I'd just say what Bill Maher says in this week's "New Rules": that working-class whites like her are angry, or scared, or whatever, about the wrong people.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_fwNN_PYyw

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  51. @its only logical

    Your logic is flawed.

    You've done a good job of explaining why people with privilege resist giving it up, but you've made a BIG mistake in assuming that this somehow justifies their behaviour. It doesn't.

    Human civilization is, by definition, all about resisting our basic evolutionary drives in order to reap greater overall benefits. A dismantling of white privilege would benefit the majority of the human species (who are not white), and lead to greater overall social cohesion and order, which would benefit all people, including white people.

    As an analogy, think about the emancipation of women. Did that adversely affect males? I suppose you could theorize that men have lost out on jobs and resources that now belong to women, but that loss is completely insignificant when you consider the overall benefits that men have reaped due to the economic contributions, scientific discoveries, etc of women. Not to mention that young men are now being raised by educated, confident mothers.


    So you can keep telling yourself that "it's only natural" to want to keep PoC in their place beneath you, but you're just deceiving yourself.

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  52. jujube said ".....(WP) were educated in schools that at first adequately, if not excessively well funded, and then (in college years) were paid for by their well to do parents. Many of them obtained jobs through "networking" with members of their suburban, upper middle class community, friends of their parents, and alumni of their colleges/fraternities/sororites. Instead of seeing all of these things as part of their white privilege, they choose to go on and on about how hard they worked to get where they are."

    I know you said many, but this definition of white privilege is what I had in mind when I foolishly stated on this blog "where's my fucking privilege" (sorry btw) because I didn't have any of that stuff you listed. lots of us don't have that life yet we still have white privilege. That portion of your post in my mind just obscures the definition of white privilege and lets people like me and millions of other WP including most of the tea party off the hook making it less likely that they/we will ever acknowledge it.

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  53. Not only middle and upper class people benefit from white privilege. Think about it, if a white person gets a job, people assume they got it through their own merits. If a Black person gets a job, people assume it was a result of affirmative action, and that they are somehow less qualified. When a white man goes into a job interview, the interviewer does not have preconceived notions that he will behave or speak a certain way, but they often do with people of color. Even if you grew up dirt poor in a trailer park, you can throw on a suit, go wherever you want and people will not make assumptions about you. You do not have to worry about people avoiding you on the street, or holding their pocketbooks closer when you pass. If you are a poor white kid growing up in a trailer park and decide to sell drugs to make ends meet, there is a miniscule chance of you being arrested or convicted for any crime because although white people are more likely to sell and use drugs, people of color are the ones who are arrested (due to the way the drug war is waged, but I won't get into that right now) When a white person murders a child, or rapes a woman, he is seen as a sick individual, not as a representative of his whole race.
    I can go on and on, but I will stop here. And BTW, studies have shown that tea partiers have more money then average, and are more highly educated. THe average tea partier is white middle to upper class. They are the ones who like to cry about how they had to work so hard to get where they were when for a lot of them, they started in a place where a lot was handed to them

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  54. "Any racial caste system this country has embraced in the past and in the present (slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration) has depended on the notion of creating fear in working class and poor white people. God forbid low income people of all races should bond together and start a movement (like MLK, Jr.s "Poor Peoples Movement")to challenge the economic inequities in this country."

    @JuJuBe : this is more than a little ahistorical in the amerian context no? after all, the most vile forms of racism--jim crow, lynching, segregartion--went hand in hand with polical movements designed to "challenge the economic inequities." consider the following:

    1. during the entire jim crow era the south was monolithically democratic.

    2. the most progressive prez in history was Woodrow wilson, who help start the 2nd Klan (by advocating the film birth of a nation) and segregated the govt. the progressive movement at the time was infused with racism (think eugenics)

    3. the klan was connected to the progressive movement thru prohibition ( a big progressive cause for some reason) and was the terrorist arm of the democratic party, enforcing the one-party state lasting about a century.

    4. fdr's new deal, labor and child welfare laws, Social Security and FDR’s New Deal were created as the result of a gentleman's agreement to ignore segregation and the lynching. most dixiecrats were new-dealers

    this is a great subject and i think it helps explain how the most vile forms of racism could becaome associated with the more progrssive party for over a century, one of histories great ironies no doubt. the connection is economic populism...the view of economics as zero-sum-game which drives much of the left's raison d'etre.

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  55. @Manju re: "this is a great subject and i think it helps explain how the most vile forms of racism could becaome associated with the more progrssive party for over a century, one of histories great ironies no doubt."

    Yes, we're all implicated in racism as long as there continues to be a racial gap in opportunity and well-being in this society.

    On your main riff, you know, don't you, that political labels like "progressive" are rather fluid and amorphous, so that a party calling itself "progressive" in one era can be quite unrelated to a similarly-named movement in another?

    If irony is your thing, what about the first Republican president being the one who proclaimed the freedom of a huge number of black slaves while subsequent Republicans (e.g. Nixon, Bush I) have used the fear of black power as a politically divisive tool?

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  56. "On your main riff, you know, don't you, that political labels like "progressive" are rather fluid and amorphous, so that a party calling itself "progressive" in one era can be quite unrelated to a similarly-named movement in another?"

    I’m tempted to agree and ultimately I do. History is not destiny. And as a conservative I can certainly feel your pain. We too would also like to detach ourselves from our asshats. But therein lies the problem: I’m sure if a conservative were to pop in here and say the modern conservative movement, perhaps states rights itself, is quite unrelated to the similarly named social conservatives of the confederacy to jim crow era, howls of protests would ensue and all the connections would be revealed, like WF Buckleys jawdropping defense of Jim crow.

    So I don’t think its quite accurate to say modern American progressivism is unrelated to Woodrow Wilson, fdr, and the new deal. Perhaps planned parenthood is effectively detached from the eugenics philosophy of Margaret Sanger, but they’re not quite willing to own up to it, as far as I can tell. Dems are certainly still the party of jfk and lbj, but lost in the revisionism of them as civll rights heroes is the fact that they effectively killed the 1957 civil rights act by inserting a trial by jury provision for cases involving voter intimidation/ fraud (knowing damn well all white jurys in the south would never convict---jury nullification was rampant). In contrast, civil rights villains , nixon and goldwater, supported the stronger bill. needless the say, the jfk/lbj ticket took the southern states.

    How this came to be is certainly a puzzle worth pondering.

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  57. @It's Only Logical

    For the love of all that is good, put down the Ayn Rand and open your eyes. That is not neutral or logical thinking. It is selfish and vile. It might be "natural" to sociopaths, but not to those with healthy senses of empathy or justice.

    This has been a good thread. Can't wait to do some of the suggested reading. Thank you, Macon and contributors (aside from Cap'm Fountainhead up there).

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  58. @it's only logical: Seriously? You need to get your history straight. You're sitting here saying that "American's" (who, in your definition, are the white people you represent) have EARNED this advantage though "the work of Americans who came before them," and then you ask "is that an illegitimate gain or something that Americans should work to give up?" Well YES.

    It's obvious to me that you are of the camp imagining that the good ol' US of A was an empty stretch of land when the first settlers showed up here.

    Get a clue. I'm not going to sit here and give you a history lesson, but why don't you go grab a copy of "A People's History of the United States of America." It was written by a white guy, so you're sure to love it.

    When you say "I'm going to compete not to give up what I have," are you trying to say that you personally fought some epic battle to get your bigger piece of the pie? Of course not. You got born white, sat back, and reaped the benefits brought to your doorstep UPFAIRLY through centuries of genocide. GET A CLUE.

    As for white privilege: you can disagree all you want that "most whites don't see white privilege." You would disagree very ignorantly. Again. Please, get a clue.


    @R.A. Bringing up the topic of women's emancipation might not be the greatest way to convince people (or a little white boy with his head up his ass) that changing of the old ways makes room for better things. There are a lot of men out there who would affirm that yes, women's emancipation DID adversely affect males, in more ways than economic ones. It's a discussion for another time and place, but possibly not the best persuasive material out there... If you're curious, run a google search for "male studies," or "Men's Rights Activists."

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  59. "most whites don't see white privilege"

    Race 101: White Privilege works in ways that white people are unaware that it is working at all. White Privilege is about the things you, as a white person, do not have to experience and/or see/do. Things that you would see/do/experience had you been born in a browner skin.

    Experiences that POC are so intimate with that we take them for granted that in turn totally surprise & blindside even the most "good" white people as shockers.

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  60. @It's only logical

    You live in a fantasy world.

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  61. Ah, serendipity and the internet...I just happened across a Natalie Dee cartoon on this very subject. I think it's pretty spot-on. The only thing it misses is that, as someone in this thread already mentioned, teabaggers are generally wealthier than average (but I think that's part of it too--they don't *feel* wealthy, they feel exactly like the cartoon says).

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  62. SWPD: "think that gains for non-white people come at the expense of white people"

    I have a friend who has Helen-like fear and Helen-like inability to "explain" his fear of China's emergence as an economic power.

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  63. @kateris

    Thanks for the suggestion re. men's rights movement! I've looked into it.

    It's a very interesting topic, and I do think it has relevance to our current discussion, as others have pointed out that a true dismantling of white privilege would technically adversely affect white people (in relation to our current privileged status). Since race is such an ingrained construct of our society, it makes sense that a loss of white power (if it ever truly happens) would cause a certain degree of social upheaval. But personally, I see this as a small price to pay for the emancipation of the majority of the world's population, as I'm sure you understand. So you're right, it's not exactly a convincing argument in a sunshine and rainbows kind of way, but it might be more honest. Sadly, it won't convince white people who are purely selfish. (I view the masculism movement similarly. Definitely an important compliment to feminism, but it doesn't negate the value of feminism. This is getting offtrack, though, so I'll shut up about it)

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  64. AMEN.

    Example from recently. A message board I post on for English teachers in Japan (white American expats are notoriously racist when out of hearing of nonwhite Americans) just the other day reminded me of this.

    A poster (white) was one of two final applicants for a job. His opponent was black, so he said "well fuck, we all know what's gonna happen now."

    SO SICK OF IT!

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