Friday, April 19, 2013

Best of the Web Today: The Privilege of Not Belonging -

Worth looking at because the White Privilege quote has been making the rounds on Facebook...

"White privilege is knowing that even if the bomber turns out to be white, no one will call for your group to be profiled as terrorists as a result, subjected to special screening or threatened with deportation," writes author Tim Wise. "White privilege is knowing that if this bomber turns out to be white, the United States government will not bomb whatever corn field or mountain town or stale suburb from which said bomber came, just to ensure that others like him or her don't get any ideas. And if he turns out to be a member of the Irish Republican Army we won't bomb Dublin. And if he's an Italian-American Catholic we won't bomb the Vatican."
We suppose it's necessary to point out that this is almost entirely bunk. There have been plenty of nonwhite mass murderers--among them Long Island Rail Road shooter Colin Ferguson (black), Beltway snipers John Muhammad and Lee Malvo (black and Muslim), Wisconsin mass shooter Chai Soua Vang (Laotian) and Virginia Tech's Seung-Hui Cho (Korean). None were treated as anything other than lone wolves, and it's been decades since America bombed either Laos or Korea.
It's true that Muslim terrorists are often "portrayed as representative of larger conspiracies, ideologies and religions that must be dealt with as systemic threats," but only because that portrayal is accurate. And many important media and other cultural voices go out of their way to argue that not all Muslims are terrorists (which is to their credit) and to play down Islamic terrorists' religious and ideological motives (which is not).
The Sirota piece isn't really worthy of the foregoing rebuttal, but we were drawn to it as a psychological case study. As you can see from the accompanying photo, the guy David Sirota was hoping the bomber would turn out to be bears a striking resemblance to David Sirota. What leads a white person to be prejudiced against "his own kind"?
The answer is white privilege: a phenomenon of which Sirota turns out to be less a serious critic than a poster boy.
It is tempting to dismiss "white privilege" as just another crackpot multiculturalist conceit, and of course it is that. But one evening in 2011 we were chatting with a young black gentleman at a party, and he described for us the difference between being an undergraduate at a historically black college and a graduate student in the Ivy League:
"At Morehouse, I was never aware of my race, and there were no excuses." He said that at Columbia, racial awareness was constant, and when a black student slipped up--say, by showing up late for class--allowances were made because of his race.
It occurred to us that the experience he described was probably rather common among blacks and quite rare among whites. As we summed up the insight: "To be white in America is to have the privilege of being able to go through life without being made self-conscious by one's race." From Sirota's strange essay we shall derive a related insight.
Of course "identity politics" generally refers to the practice of organizing one's politics around aspects of one's identity that are not inherently political, such as race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. (Sex is a separate case, given the biological necessity of alliances between males and females.) Such identities are strongest when they also provide security--or, to put it another way, when the real or perceived need for security is heightened.
Thus, for example, a strong black identity was forged in the face of genuine oppression, and is kept alive by fanning fears of racism. Likewise the distinctive gay identity, which may lose its distinctiveness in another decade or two, if current trends in general public attitudes toward homosexuality continue.
Some largely white ethnic or religious populations--Armenians, Jews, Mormons--have identities forged out of similar adversity. But because being white has never been a source of insecurity, whites as a whole, at least in America, have no such racial identity. That means being white is not a constraint in the formation of one's political identity the way being black is.
Thus today's insight: To be white in America is to have the privilege of being able to define one's political identity in terms of one's own superiority, whether real or imagined, over other members of one's own race.

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