White Privilege and Me

 

While wasting some time on Twitter, as I’ve been known to do from time to time, a certain linked article caught my eye. It was the work of a black female author who calls herself LaSha, and it seemed to be a schadenfreude piece regarding some American men who found misfortune abroad. * The first, mentioned briefly, was Michael Fay. You may remember Mr. Fay from the early 90s as the American who decided to commit an act of petty vandalism while in Singapore, and who subsequently received a caning for his efforts, courtesy of the Singapore government. * The second mentioned, and primary focus was Otto Warmbier, who after an even smaller act of unsanctioned souvenir procurement found himself sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea. * Now, setting aside for the moment the judicial wisdom (or lack thereof) featured in authoritarian regimes, there are a few conclusions that one could make as to why these youths behaved the way they did. First, there’s the ugly American trope that’s been the bane of American tourists for decades. You probably know what I’m talking about, that rude “Out of my way! I’m an American!” attitude that is sometimes displayed by Americans sightseers. Second, you could attribute their societal sin to being spoiled rich kids, undisciplined and corrupted by the air of wealth. Third, you could chalk it all up to transgressivism, stupid youthful hijinks, which is a trait common among those too young to possess fully formed frontal lobes that, especially with the buttressing effect of proper moral training, would have otherwise warned them of the ill-wisdom of their hasty choices. Most reasonable people could agree, while perhaps sharing a small amount of pity for the harsh sentences that accompanies such indiscretion, these men should have known better than to behave the way they did, especially when visiting police states. However, while similarly believing that these young men acted in an improper manner, the author identified another culprit behind their decision to behave poorly, one altogether different than I or most rational people would conclude. And Instead of being able to ally with the author in an otherwise cautionary tale about avoiding arrogant and reckless behavior, I found myself lumped in with the condemned. You see, in the author’s mind, we were and are the beneficiaries of hundreds of years of carefully crafted societal benevolence bestowed solely on the basis of our skin being a pallid pigment. That’s right! White privilege was the real offense. And despite her declarations to the contrary, it became clear that she found a certain satisfaction in the suffering of these white men, as if their punishment took on a larger significance, the scourging of the image of an imagined pale-faced persecutor. It was very clear that she saw herself, a black woman, as oppressed by American white society, and now Otto was going to experience some of that oppression. Adding her blessing to that sentence, her article’s title declared to him that You Gon Learn Today. * This is not a topic that I’ve fully addressed before. However, because I was disturbed by the animus that the author seemed to hold for white people and a world where (as she put it) one is pedestaled “simply because your DNA coding produced the favorable phenotype,” * I felt obliged to address it. After all, this form of racial theory is growing in popularity, not only among non-white groups, but also among virtue-signaling whites that hold with the dogmata of political correctness. What is white privilege, and what are its implications and obligations to those thought to possess it? The following is my impressions and thoughts on this philosophy.

Those of you that paid attention to the meteoric rise of University campus progressivism might be familiar with the term white privilege, a political phrase that has gained popularity in recent years, among such august company as micro aggression, cultural appropriation, cisgender, and mansplaining. According to Wikipedia, white privilege “(or white skin privilege) is a term for societal privileges that benefit people identified as white in Western countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.” ** Basically, what this means is if you are white, automatically you have a leg up on everyone else who isn’t. White privilege theory goes beyond the principle of racism. You could see yourself as the most volitionally un-racist person in the world, but if you are white, you must be enjoying ill-gotten gains and as such share guilt with any white person of the past who at any point subjugated a non-white. Implicit (if not explicit) with those that promote this philosophy is the imperative that people with such privilege give it up in deference to a non-white. Derrick Clifton, .Mic commentator, in his article 7 Ways White People Can Combat Their Privilege, had this to say, “It’s important for everyone to begin thinking and behaving in ways that relinquish white privilege and white supremacy when it noticeably impacts daily life. Because it’s not about admitting it anymore. It’s about giving it up.” *** However, if white privilege is something that I must personally combat, the how is fraught with difficulties for me. As a white man married to a black woman with a bi-racial child on the way, what am I to do? And what of my child, will they have partial white privilege from which they will benefit or for which they must atone?

Before I get too far into this, let me agree that on some level, white privilege exists. Yet, when I say it exists, I don’t mean like those who promote it as the invisible hand, a malevolent phantom force on which a person of color can blame all their woes, but in the sense that people who have lighter skin color have historically had an easier life than those not in the majority population, if only in small ways. The same, to varying degrees, could be said of other majority populations in other countries, such as the Chinese in China, Indians in India, or Arabs in Saudi Arabia. If you are to live in those countries, you will have an easier time being of the majority population, if for no other reason than that you won’t stand out for looking different. However, that can change quickly, depending on which side of the country you’re on.  Afterwards, your other attributes determine your order on the privilege ladder. Much like a flock of gulls that attack their identical brethren for acquiring a soda can ring around its neck, all human peoples are adept at sizing up and segregating individuals, even among their own tribes, for the most miniscule of differences. However, in examining white privilege, it must be understood that it is not universal, and can exclude great numbers of people from such birthright privilege, questioning the accuracy of its name. Certainly, when one considers Irish indentured servitude, Italian ghettos, or German internment camps, a concept such as white privilege may seem very limited indeed. But one must admit that white skinned peoples were not the victims of slavery, westward expansion, or Jim Crow, which were terrible crimes perpetrated in legal and cultural realms. Even today, there remain people who remember life in a segregated society. These unjust states, though long gone, have left their mark. In consideration of these, it is conceivable to argue that in the attitudes or cultural norms, some vestigial privilege still exists, apart from other considerations such as economics. Nevertheless, I would argue that those privileges would have to be very minor in order to be universally applicable to all whites, from the poorest to the richest. And for whites born after Jim Crow and raised to not believe in racialism, such privilege would seem a foreign thing. Having said that, what can or should be done about it? One can learn from the sins of the past. One can redress the legal issues that may advantage one group over another, and certainly, we’ve had civil rights legislation making all races equal under the law for over fifty years. After the legal questions have been dealt with, one would assume the important work has been accomplished and the rest is left to the individual, in the moral choices they make and in the honor of the individuals they elect to dutifully execute the laws of our land. However, the proponents of the white privilege argument would say that this is not enough. They would claim that the government needs to insert itself, putting its thumb on the scale of justice in favor of minorities and against whites. If whites aren’t themselves willing to give up the benefits of their progenitors that must have created it on the backs of colored peoples, benefits that they may even be oblivious to, it is down to Big Brother to settle the score. In a phrase: legal systemic racism benefiting non-whites. This is exemplified in the recent Supreme Court ruling that allows for state-run universities to turn down more qualified white applicants in favor of darker skinned students in pursuit of a racial quota. **** Far different from the odd policeman or politician who might seem to show favoritism based on race, this is the highest court in the land saying that it is permissible to deny access to state-run institution solely based on the color of their skin! I thought we were beyond such base considerations. And amazingly, among supporters of such legal racial discrimination for the purpose of equalizing perceived racial imbalances, you’d be hard pressed to find any who can articulate a future end to such an arrangement, creating a sort of perpetual anti-privilege for whites, generations removed from injustices such as Jim Crow and slavery.  One might as well ask “How much longer until we’ve perfected the human heart?”

I have and always will reject the belief that a race can be inferior or superior to another. In my experience, race tells very little about a person, whereas culture, religion, family, and ultimately the deeds and words of the individual tell infinitely more about what sort of a person one is. Like many who care about moral discipline, I have generally behaved as a civil person, but I’m being told that despite my efforts and because of my skin color that I need to accept a permanent secondary status in the eyes of the state and in the culture. Such laws don’t make me feel privileged, and I guess that’s the point, though no one can tell me what sin I’ve personally committed that deserves such judgement. To punish someone for a wrong perceived to have been committed by an ancestor is antithetical to justice. Is it too much to ask that I be judged for my own actions rather than by those committed by people that look vaguely like me? Although, such a practice could streamline police work if all the cops had to do was to grab the nearest guy of the same race as the perp to appease the masses! “Sergeant! B&E on the West side, hook a white guy!” As it becomes more and more acceptable for people in the media to speak of white people in very hateful terms, while the slightest hint of bigotry against non-whites meets with the severest sanctions, it remains hard for me to envision the throne of privilege that I’m supposed to sit on. And when uttering the phrase “all lives matter,” instead of “black lives matter,” becomes controversial, ***** it would seem closer to the truth that I am disadvantaged by my race than the reverse. From where I stand, social-justice, under which these sorts of policies or beliefs are grouped, seems to be anti-justice for millions of white people of good will.

Ultimately, I am still a so-called white man, and in the eyes of some, my word is not considered legitimate in discussing such matters. In an effort to check my privilege, which is the popular phrase used to end discussion when a person of the wrong color forgets their place, I reached out to a friend of mine (and person of color) to get her take on white privilege. Patty Politics is where you’ll find her on YouTube and Twitter (I encourage everyone to take a look). Here’s what she had to say about it. “To me white privilege is like a rehashing of Christian concepts like ‘original sin’. Except instead of applying it to all humans, [social justice warriors] only apply it to people they perceive to be white. This is obviously racism, it applies stereotypes of someone’s life or thoughts based on their skin color, and it makes people hateful and resentful. I’ve rejected the concept of white privilege despite it not being normal for black people in my age, [who are] fairly college educated and learning about privilege in college for these specific reasons.  Privilege exists no matter who you are.  It’s impossible to escape a form of privilege. Having a bed is a privilege. But we cannot say that because someone is white, their bed MUST be better than others, when it’s possibly untrue.” I appreciate Patty drawing a parallel between religion and the concept of white privilege. So much of progressivism behaves like the blindest of faiths, and white privilege is no exception. The white transgressor is rebuked for their sin, being exhorted to confess and atone for it. This can be accomplished by professing adherence to the new faith, spreading its creeds, and giving deference to its prophets and chosen peoples. Under this arrangement, white people will be required to proclaim the sins of their forebears in verbal flagellation, while at the same time affirming the incorruptibility of non-white peoples of the same sin. As it’s often been said, people of color are incapable of racism, as they are not in power, ****** a belief ridiculous to any who can use a dictionary. The effect is purposed as a sort of cultural Marxism, with whites playing the role of the bourgeoisie and people of color as the ascending proletariat. They claim that this will make things equal, that this will free society. They are mistaken. Preaching against white privilege and the like has resulted in further dividing society along racial lines, and cementing that division with hatred. On one side, persons of color are taught to blame their problems on people wholly unconnected to them. Aggrieved, they give way to license which often takes the form of criminal and anti-social behavior. On the other side, whites, who are tired of being continually cast in the role of the villain by the media and educators, and chafing under discriminatory laws, also feel aggrieved. They are then easy prey for truly bigoted philosophies that tell them that they are going to be labeled racist anyway, and so they might as well act to preserve white society. And as perception of racial bias against whites continues to rise even as perceived racial bias against blacks is decreasing, as one Harvard study found, ******* racial divisions continue to deepen. One need only watch footage of Trump rallies to see the license that whites are giving themselves, such as sucker-punching a restrained protestor, flashing Nazi salutes, or violently shoving a black woman who was being no more than verbally disruptive. The cycle continues with following attacks on Trump supporters, and so on. The continuance of this philosophy will result in racial segregation at best and full-blown race riots at worst, scuttling the gains of MLK and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

The problem with the theory of white privilege is that it gives one group of people permission to hate and blame problems both current and ancestral on another group who likely had nothing to do with it. It robs a person of their individuality and agency, it offers no real solutions, but it encourages hatred and bitterness. It’s hypocritical and destructive. Belief in such things does not bind peoples together, but tears them apart. It would be far better to fight injustice, irrespective of skin color, with one law for all, and cultural encouragement to reject bigotry in one’s personal life. Understanding, grace, and friendship are uniting elements that are far more effective than saddling an otherwise good person with imagined congenital crimes. A person like me can agree that demonstrable racial bigotry is evil, and I have and will speak out to counter it. In such an effort, I’d readily collaborate with just about anyone towards such goals. However, when the argument against racism shifts to an argument of remedying white privilege, I can no longer be counted a compatriot because I’ve now been made one of them… the enemy. Advocate as you please, but I would encourage all adherents of le foi nouveau to consider the lack of wisdom inherent in bearing such malice against so many people who are not already opposed to you, shaming them, doing them injury, and leaving them little place of acceptance as an equal but among those that promote white nationalism. However, if you had already purposed to indulge such errant beliefs, I’m guessing there’s little my essay could do to dissuade you. So be it. But know this: I will not give up the so-called privilege that you perceive me to have; I will not repent; you will not hear my confession of faith; I will not pay any submission taxes nor give deference to any on the basis of skin color; and I will oppose you with the same resolve as I would oppose any peddler of racist dogma. Additionally, I plan to raise my child as untouched by your poison as possible and with as much privilege as I can bestow. Privileges, such as to have both a mother and a father, of being trained in the ethics and morals of Christianity, of being taught to believe in American founding principles such as the creed that all men are created equal in the eyes of God, and of knowing that race is inconsequential whereas the character and conduct of a person are of utmost importance, these I would readily provide. These are privileges that parents of any race can and should give their children in order to prepare them for a good and successful life. Black, white, or any color, it seems to me that if all people were raised in this way, many of the problems that we cling to would vanish. Perhaps that’s the difficult part. After all, what would we do without our most cherished problems? How could we go on without our favorite devils?

 

– Ryan Thorson

 

Special thanks to Patty Politics. Please check out PattyPolitics@ youngblackcon on Twitter and YouTube.

 

 

*          https://kinfolkkollective.com/2016/03/21/you-gon-learn-today-on-the-revocation-of-white-privilege-in-north-korea/

**        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_privilege

***      https://mic.com/articles/100716/7-ways-white-people-can-combat-their-privilege#.OQFQdyWqU

****    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/24/us/politics/supreme-court-affirmative-action-university-of-texas.html

*****  http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/06/24/hillary-clintons-all-lives-matter-remark-stirs-backlash/?_r=0

******http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/32727016/i-cant-be-racist-if-im-from-an-ethnic-minority-discuss

******* http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1390205/Whites-suffer-racism-blacks-Study-shows-white-people-believe-discriminated-against.html

 

 

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