A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
by Tim Wise
For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are constantly looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.
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 call yourself a "fuckin’ redneck," like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you'll "kick their fuckin' ass," and talk about how you like to "shoot shit" for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.
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 when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you’re "untested"...
You really should read the rest.
Readers, especially my white readers, should perhaps note that White Privelege is not, in itself, an accusation or indictment. I learned in some valuable diversity seminars (seriously, they were good) at my old job that it takes quite a bit of work for a group of people of different races and backgrounds to come to believe and understand simultaneously that: a) there is still racism, which has likely negatively affected minorities in the group (including women -- "minorities" in this sense means groups whose sociopolitical power is "minor to" their proportion in the population), and b) it is not personally accusatory for it to be said or believed that racism is still at work within an institution. Indeed, there's a phrase for it: institutional racism.
As with White Privelege, the point is not that White People Are Bad or some similarly simplistic message ("This Is Your Fault"), but rather that the system we've inherited, incontrovertibly, was built on a racist heritage. White people, normatively speaking (being that they are normatively better off) are better off in no small part because of past discrimination. I think of it this way, in part: if my grandfather stole your grandfather blind, and was able to raise my father in a better environment and send him to a better school (or was able to help found, support and build a better school), then I have benefitted from the ill actions of my grandfather, and your family has been hurt by it. Property law certainly can be interpreted to mean that I owe you what was stolen, since I have gained from it -- whether or not it was my fault, my success is in at least some part due to an ill-gotten heritage -- but more important than property law is, I believe, an obligation to help those who are worse off, especially if the source of their difficulties is in some part tied to the source of my advantages.
The point of all this is that responsibility doesn't start, or end, at guilt, but rather that fighting racism doesn't simply mean not being actively racist oneself, but also fighting the vestiges and inequalities today that it generated. The fact that one is Priveleged does not mean one is Guilty, but I would argue it does morally impel one to Responsible Action to work to remedy the source of such privelege, regardless of personal, individual responsibility for that source. Some people (achem, i.e., libertarians) ignore or disagree with these view to responsibility, as apparently there is a statute of limitations such that if I can rip you off and get away with it, once I can pass it to my kids, it's not their problem and you or your kids don't deserve anything despite the wrong against you (see Dick 2, 2 Hank 4, and Hank 5 -- that is, Shakespeare's Richard II, Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V).
Anyway. Sarah Palin. More bad stuff. White privelege. And did you freaking hear about the rape kits -- Palin's city of Wasilla's former policy of charging raped women for their rape kits? Even the conservative National Review Online sees this as pretty egregious, and though it argues that there's no evidence Palin knew about it, they do concede that she had a responsbility as mayor to have known what her Police Chief was doing and put a stop to it. It is interesting that the NRO reporter engages in what can only be called moral relativism, in that he tries to excuse the situation by saying: other places have charged for rape kits, and (more non sequitirly) Obama voted "present" on an importnat bill on child abuse. (I was inclined to examine and defeat that last claim by the NRO, but for now it suffices to say that this is irrelevant as to the question the article is nominally about -- Palin, Wasilla, and rape kits -- and that I somehow doubt that the implied characterization of Obama's vote is wholly accurate or impartial.)