Sunday, February 17, 2008

White America; Accidental Beneficiary of Unmerited Privilege

The Catholic Charities paper Poverty and Racism: Overlapping Threats to the Common Good, was not written with the intention to provoke white guilt but to help white people recognize the problem. This paper does not use the term racism in the sense of a conscious philosophical belief of racial superiority; rather as an unquestioning position of unmerited privilege..."white privilege" which endow Caucasians with a network of racially conferred advantages and beliefs so deeply embedded into our culture that its barely perceptible.

The concept of "white privilege" is elusive to the majority of white Americans because it is so ingrained - the belief about the inadequacies of people of color - in our society's institutional policies, social customs, cultural media and political process that we are often oblivious to its effect. As white people, we can study issues of civil rights our whole life and still have a difficult time comprehending simply because we're white.

Could someone understand the word ‘pain’, who had never felt pain? – Is experience to teach me whether this is so or not? – And if we say “A man could not imagine pain without having sometime felt it” – how do we know? How can it be decided whether it is true? (Philosophical Investigations §315)

Blogs like Stuff White People Like, White Whine, Black people love Us humorously poke fun at "white privilege" and more than likely white people created all three sites....white people who get "it". Jonah Peretti, co-creator of (and also of Nike Sweatshop E-mail fame) said that the Web site's purpose was to "draw attention to the unintentionally offensive comments made by well-meaning white folks."

Many white folk would take offense at all three blogs, not understanding how many doors open for them through no virtue of their own. Denials that amount to taboos surround the subject of advantages that Caucasians derive from the disadvantages of being a person of color. These denials protect "white privilege" from being fully acknowledged, because once acknowledged, the possibility is much greater of those privileges disappearing.

It used to be acceptable for a white man to drive his pick-up truck with a Confederate flag, attached to the top of his truck, flapping in the wind, as a noose trails from the back, basically wearing his feelings about people of color on his sleeve. We think because it is no long acceptable to vent our feelings of superiority that we've conquered white supremacy when all many of us have done is conceal it to the point that we don't even know it's there and operates independently of our awareness.

Although it's good that explicit racism is no longer tolerated, letting "racism" simmer beneath the surface can be more dangerous. How can you fight an enemy you can't see? Touch? Feel? It's similar to "boiling the frog in the pot" metaphor. The frog knows to jump out when he is thrown in a pot of boiling water but let the water simmer gradually to a full boil and the frog doesn't sense the imminent danger. He can't see it coming.

Katrina is no doubt a manifestation of the racism that exist in today's society. Those poor people who "boiled to death"did so because "we the white people" of America, "decided" instead of declaring an all out war on people of color or declaring ourselves lord and master - which can and has been fought and conquered in the past - that it's better to cloak our racism in the rhetoric of "personal responsibility" aimed at placing societal failures on the shoulders of people who were victims.

Personal responsibility is also related to a society of remaining barriers and persistent forms of racism that refuse to allow certain people to exercise their personal responsibility.

I'm not against personal responsibility, but I am against reducing the complexity of what we deal with to personal responsibility. I am for personal responsibility in relation to social responsibility and moral responsibility in relation to intellectual responsibility and immediate responsibility in relationship to ultimate responsibility. I believe in responsibility I just believe in a much more nuanced, complexed engaged notion or responsibility than mere personal responsibility. -- Michael Eric Dyson

No matter how hard "we the White People" struggle with issues of equality, at the end of the day we can walk away. Our whiteness allows us to avoid the subtle and overt, daily issues of color, part of his/her daily norm.

"The students also reminded me that ... it's not an option for us to be Black, that's what we are 24 hours a day ... If you wanted to ... you can walk away from this thing and never look back." -- Gary Howard


Anonymous,  19:22  

I'm so sick of white people turning on other white people. People like you are the reason we have so much crime and problems in this country. You want to coddle all the minorities who bring this country down!

You suck!

Charles in Charge 19:33  

Quite the contrary. It is people like you who bring this country down.
Not that I agree with everything this blogger has to say but I do have to agree that most white people do not understand how good they have it.

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