White Privilege

IN WHITES WE TRUST

Things are indeed good for those who are white and wealthy and healthy in America. They are even good if you don’t meet all of these criteria, so long as you are white. Black? Nope. Female? Nope. Brown? Hell no! And so on. After all of those years under the progressive tyranny of the first black President and all that business that followed, many were beginning to wonder where the country that was founded on genocide, slavery, misogynist standards, forced labor, monopolistic business practice, general segregation and paranoia had gone. Then, along came the great, white saviour in the form of a pudgy, narcissistic, failed reality-show and business owner. Donald J. Trump rode into the White House on the backs of underpaid foreign laborers to reverse the tide of progress that had captured the nation for the past 8 years. Finally it was safe to express the darkest malice of the “nationalist” spirit. Out came the hoods, the Confederate flags, the crosses and the AR-15’s. #MeToo? #Idon’tThinkSo! #BlackLivesMatter? #NoTheyDon’t! 

The Socialist myth of universal healthcare was dispelled and vanquished with the sweep of a pen. Same for the restrictive and crippling Koyoto Treaty, Paris Climate Agreement and Antiquities Act of 1906. America is about making money, which in change will bring about the most history and change. Finally the power that was seized from tens of thousands of indigenous peoples was restored back to the white men that shed blood and sowed disease to eventually overcome and wrongly claim a nation for themselves. Oil will flow freely, coal will be mined and the future of our white children shall not be clouded by the false assumptions that a warming climate brings. The great leader will also follow his promise of security for all American white men by building a Great Wall to staunch the flow of drugs, crime and rapists that have plagued the streets for decades. The future has never seemed brighter, or whiter, for a long time. And if anyone is asking, white privilege is a myth.

March

There’s plenty to be not too pleased about these days anyway. Front and center, white privilege. Or if you asked white people, that thing that doesn’t exist. When I ask close friends about it, their response is that they tend to believe non-whites who face difficulties in life are victims of their own ineptitude, laziness, poor decisions or any other factor than actually having the deck stacked against them by a system that still struggles with racial and sexual equality. The challenges raised by privilege extend to minority groups which include women. In fact, women have as much if not more of a reason to push back against the white male-dominated status quo. Females, including white women, suffer the indignity of being treated unfairly to this day in workplaces, politics, business and voting booths. America certainly has afforded its citizens a unique opportunity in which freedoms are more ample than many other places in the world, but not to everyone all of the time. The “dark stain” that is slavery goes much deeper than what most are willing to admit. In fact, it has left a lasting effect that haunts our society to this day.

A History of Prejudice

The word legacy refers to something left from an ancestor or a remainder of historical significance. If we decide to call slavery a “legacy”, then it isn’t the good kind. And if we argue whether or not we’ve left it behind us, we haven’t if we’re still debating that point. I’m not sure if I’m in favor of reparations of the monetary/compensatory sort. All of those who suffered the period in which slavery was an institution in America are long since dead and few are still alive who  recall the Jim Crow era. However, if by reparations we are considering addressing the continuing scar it left on the country then that would be a good start and the only way that any good can come from a terrible period of American history. Repercussions of the inhumanity and violence from slavery and the subsequent years that blacks struggled for equality continue to ripple across the pond of time. Occasionally it seems as if they are amplified by certain events and this period is one such example. Not that there’s anyone in particular to blame, even though it’s always convenient to have a scapegoat. I don’t directly blame Donald Trump for the country’s recent surge in white supremacist/Nazi nationalism. No more than I blamed George W. Bush for the backlash of Islamic hate following 9-11. Reactionary behavior such as prejudice demonstrates that the instinct of xenophobia is not easily trained out of human nature. The ‘shock of the other’ is a predictable and ingrained behavioral trait derived from survival instincts carried by all species for millennia. Human beings are one of the few species capable of unlearning this trait. In the 21st century, fearing or disliking others for the color of their skin or gender isn’t survival. It is racism and sexism.

If there’s something that power fears it is equality, this is how the story has played out for centuries. Hinduism calls it castes, monarchies call it feudalism, the west calls it nationalism. Since the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, at least officially, the former shareholders of industry in the south engaged in an insidious campaign to maintain control over the method of goods produced and the least expensive way to procure them. What emerged were called “Jim Crow” laws; a carefully devised strategy of segregation carried out by state and local legislation that employed resource restriction and a horrific campaign of white violence towards blacks that saw the rise and empowerment of the Ku Klux Klan. Post-war Reconstruction was a period of domestic terrorism that the country has never seen the likes of even in respect to the recent trend of mass shootings in schools, theaters and other public spaces. Lynchings carried out in the wake of slavery’s abolition were innumerable and frequent enough that even the numerous records taken of lynchings are likely but a small fraction of the murders carried out. Entire towns attended mass lynchings of blacks while local government usually ignored the atrocities that took place in plain daylight.

The Case Against Whiteness

Just as the strategy of denial and concealment made it difficult to accuse and punish those who carried out acts of terrorism against blacks decades ago, so has the evolution of denial evolved to thrive today. A familiar tactic of denying wrongdoing involves an elaborate ruse of blaming the victims, blacks. The act of shifting blame to the victim has proven disturbingly effective in cases involving racial violence as well as violence against women. The spillover effect of this is that its victims begin to believe this and assume a guilt invented out of the illusion of denial. The act of perpetrators insisting their innocence while at the same time questioning the integrity of the victims increases public doubt and effectively sets up a false narrative. This has effectively become a strategy used to escape direct confrontation of race by whites in this country. Even if this does not prove the innocence of those inciting or committing violent or hateful acts it distracts observers from seeing the truth of actual oppression and of taking direct action to address the means necessary to bring about its end. In this way, America has absorbed a cultural standard of white ignorance and black shaming that has effectively maintained the racial gulf.

In his book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, Eric Michael Dyson lays out an organized prosecution of whites. Citing every aspect of discrimination from slavery to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, Dyson dissects the culture of racism on both the black and white side of American history and culture. What it reveals is a tragically perseverent vein of dishonesty that our country has endured and nurtured from even before its very creation. He pleads with white Americans, imploring them to understand what it is like to be non-white in America. Those who have never had to endure the impact of racism are not privy to understanding the scope of its effects: humiliation, alienation, fear, oppression and also shame. Dyson points out that whiteness and racism has become so entwined in American culture that both blacks and whites alike fail to recognize its presence and effect on everyday life. The impact of this dominance has taken place in every aspect that determines our lives including schools we attend, neighborhood we live in, clothing styles, music, hairstyle, job/careers, health factors, even death. Most often, death. Blacks and minorities have a distinctively higher risk to violence, often at the hands of those charged to protect them.

America has moved forward by forgetting and rewriting its own account of history: the good account. Our schools teach us that the North fought and won the Civil War but not that freed slaves were far from that for decades after. In fact, blacks were not able to fight in integrated regiments until after World War II and only after an executive order mandated it. A list of great American inventions laud the works of Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Philo Farnsworth, etc. But how many know who invented modern heating and air conditioning, traffic lights and even golf tees? You’ll be surprised what a Wikipedia search of “African-American inventors” will turn up. History records the talents of Jessie Owens, Carl Lewis, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods but fails to point out that Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, George Mikan and Johnny Unitas dominated their sports before blacks were permitted to play on the same fields. If the history that a nation teaches itself is incomplete and dishonest can it truly be considered history?

KKK

The Mechanisms of Discrimination

Racism has many ways of manifesting itself. The kind that our country has harbored for blacks for so long has found ways of metastasizing into almost every aspect of African-American life. Unacknowledged by whites are the instruments of repression that silently work against integration, these are measures that are condoned by a willful population and instituted by law and legislation. The key instruments to success have been identified as the ability to seek lucrative jobs through a combination of secure and stable households, access to affordable food and resources, and hope for a greater future from an education system. In 1933 the Federal Housing Administration enacted a series of measures that provided housing to impoverished Americans, unfortunately it only assisted impoverished white Americans. Blacks were conspicuously excluded from the push to move inhabitants from the cities to the suburbs, thus began the practice of redlining. Over time, this practice led to the decline of housing values and urban geography that not only eroded the quality of black-inhabited neighborhoods, but also negatively affected the capability of blacks to send their kids to better schools, build valuable home equity based on property values and ultimately influence the entire dynamic of social life including interactions with local law enforcement.

The recent movement of “Black Lives Matter” is just the latest in a long struggle for blacks to force society to recognize disproportionately biased treatment by the police. This is a struggle that has taken place since before blacks were freed from slavery. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the routine beating, accusations and race-based persecution was an expected standard. Police regularly did what they wanted with blacks, often singling them out and treating them as second class citizens. Jim Crow laws and negligent state and local authorities provided carte blanche for this form of permissible prejudice. African Americans fought in each war since (and including) the Civil War and by the 1950’s the time had come to take matters into their own hands as it was evident that whites were not going to make the right choices on their own. Throughout the next decade and a half, blacks marched alongside whites for equal rights and the true end of segregation. Nonviolent protests were almost always met with violence from police, whites and even the National Guard. The situation came to a head in 1965 with the Selma-to-Montgomery march which was stopped at the Edmund Pettus Bridge by a brutal assault leveled by state and local law enforcement. The event opened the public’s eyes to what was happening in the country and what had been going on for more than a century. The U.S. Government responded with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which signalled a tremendous milestone for the movement. However, the efforts of desegregation still had far to go in the courtrooms and even farther in a society that struggled with endemic racism.

Mass incarceration rates, police violence, segregated housing and education disparity to name a few continue to affect blacks today. Although only accounting for a fraction of the country’s demographic population, blacks are far more likely to be arrested, incarcerated and shot by the police. Additionally, those accountable for these murders are unlikely to face punishment or even legal repercussions. The effects of economic, social and educational segregation continues to echo the specter of violence that blacks have struggled to escape since their ancestors first arrived on the continent. This is exercised not only through disparities of housing and resources but also repeated in practices of businesses, education and finance. It took additional measures such as the Supreme Court decision Brown vs the Board of Education to allow blacks into previously white schools. Yet colleges continued to exercise preference for white students long after this ruling and even today many prestigious schools have been accused of biased admissions. Financially, property values and loans see a different rate of value between blacks and whites and often keep blacks from moving to more desirable, affluent neighborhoods. The resulting ghettoes, slums and depressed properties that black neighborhoods end up occupying become increasingly at risk for drugs, violence, neglect by municipal policies and even natural disasters. The racism that the Civil Rights movement fought so hard to end is a much more complex social problem that appears alive and well in the 21st century.

Not Just A Blacks-Only Club

While African-Americans can certainly claim a share of the short end of the race stick, they certainly aren’t alone. White privilege has at one time or another flexed its will against every other demographic to occupy the continent, including what would be today considered caucasians. Irish, Italians, Polish, Chinese, Japanese, Latinos and countless other non-white or mixed race immigrants flocked to eastern shores to seek a new opportunity. They were frequently met with resent, prejudice and mistreatment. One group more plagued by the invasion of North America by white Europeans are indigenous people. Before blacks were forcibly shipped to the young nation for a life of bondage, the continent had to be purged. European Christianity thought little of the hundreds of individual nations that already called this “wild, uninhabited frontier” their homeland. They were hunted like animals and slaughtered like vermin. Add the misfortune of disease and advancements of technology, and Native America was not destined to remain entitled to the land they called home. Displaced of their lands and thinned to a shadow of their tribes and identities, they were shoved into the least desired corners of the land to make way for the “progress” of the white man’s cities, industry and agriculture. To this day, native populations remain plagued by alcoholism, poverty, racial segregation and have been victimized by the revisionst sweep of white U.S. history. Even the few instances of cruelty mentioned in history books do little to reverse or atone for the genocide the founders of the country engaged in.

Asians are considered a demographic that is least likely to face racial discrimination in America. This has not always been the case. In the early 19th century, Chinese workers arrived at the United States looking for the opportunity to start a new life like so many other immigrants. Many of them made their way west and soon found work forging the iron highway of the American West: railroads. Their numbers were undocumented as were the casualties and hazards. No one knows how many workers lost their lives laying the foundation that connected the country from coast to coast and facilitated the expanse of industry that buoyed the economy into the 20th century. Facing meager pay and squalid living conditions, Chinese immigrants were forced like so many other estranged cultures to carve out their own corner of the new world and thrive even when given little to subsist on. They were buried in unmarked mass graves that to this day are only identified by memorial markers when they can be verified.

World War II brought the reality of Germany’s atrocities with their concentration camps, a fact that the world found appalling. But silently, the U.S. instituted its own camps. In the wake of the attack of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which authorized the imprisonment of all Japanese-American citizens under suspicion of espionage. Thousands of Japanese citizens saw their property and possessions seized, families separated and were herded into small communities of shacks built in disparate corners of the country. Although these were not the death-machines of the Third Reich, many of the interned which included young and old did not survive the ordeal. At the end of the war, the camps were disbanded and the prisoners freed. And make no mistake, the Japanese had been prisoners in their own country. Additionally, the distrust from the infamous attack lasted for generations as whites exhibited a lasting prejudice of Japanese and many other Asians as traitors that persisted in American culture for decades after the war. This prejudice was reinforced decade after decade with wars the U.S. fought in Korea and Vietnam. If any of the ethnic groups have experienced a sort of sea change in white public portrayal or opinion it is Asian-Americans. However this does not mean that the sins of the past are absolved by a culture which essentially once imprisoned them as enemies.

Much has been said about Latinos lately, particularly with a Presidential administration that vilified Mexicans from day one of his campaign. At times the U.S.’s relationship with Mexico has been a rocky one. In the 1800’s annexed territories from Mexico were worth waging war over and often the invading army of the U.S. crossed the line that distinguishes combat and war crimes. Allegations of rape and pillage were not uncommon in the skirmishes and U.S. forces were known to invade occupied Mexican territories to raid and spread terror campaigns which included burning entire towns to the ground. Fast forward to our present-day where the ongoing debacle of border detainment has resulted in the inhumane treatment of hundreds if not thousands of Latin-American immigrants. Families separated, children in cages and even deaths have been reported. All of this while the country’s administration stands callously by and insists that all of the controversy surrounding this human rights violation is actually impeding the process of assuring the nation’s security. And that’s a familiar drum to beat, echoing the statement of how invading and attacking Middle Eastern countries is the best way to punish a small group of extremists. If drugs are the true heart of this matter, then we are addressing the wrong end of the snake. All of the drug traffic coming to the U.S. is associated with one factor: demand. The cartels of Mexico are getting rich off of our habit and also creating a hazardous and often deadly situation for their own citizens. Hence the impetus to flee to the U.S. for protection and the chance at a better life. By punishing immigrants, we are further victimizing the victim. If we truly wanted to address the drug cartels we would seek to starve them by reducing America’s addiction to narcotics. That is the true head of the snake.

Let’s not forget that Latinoes are second behind blacks to face police discrimination in this country. There’s an entire federal division devoted to the pursuit and prosecution of illegal immigrants: I.C.E. or Immigrants and Customs Enforcement. Although technically ICE is tasked with targeting all activities carried out by foreign individuals or organizations that negatively affect U.S. commerce and security, a lion’s share of their activities are directed towards Latin American sources and people’s. On more than a few occasions they have forcefully separated parents from families who have lived in the states for more than 20 years. Dream application and DACA policies are constantly under attack, especially during conservative administrations. Ironically it is exactly those who benefit the most from immigrants that vilify their sought citizenship the most. The United States government is composed by a majority of wealthy white men who have risen to power and prominence on the shoulders of those who do the work they are often unwilling to do themselves. Donald Trump himself has been accused of unfairly compensating employees who work at his hotels, casinoes and resorts which by majority require labor most frequently occupied by Latin-American immigrants. Citizens or not, America would be a different country if less brown people supported the network of manual labor necessary to keep the country and economy running smoothly. And for their services they are instead denied true citizenship and subjected to a prejudiced system and society.

The Shortest End of the Stick?

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones

    and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called ‘woman,’

    for she was taken out of man.”

That passage doesn’t exactly reinforce the notion that men and women are equal, neither does it reinforce the notion that they are not. If nothing else, it indicates the fact that men and women are one and the same. In life and life giving they form a symbient partnership. Perhaps the women represent more of this essential biological strructure as they are the ones charged with carrying offspring until birth. History has shown that men do not treat women as equals regardless of whether they consider themselves religious or evolutionists. American history features well-documented efforts and movements that attempted to break the staid, traditional positioning of women in society. Confined to the home, the woman was relegated to a life of subservience and secondary existence. She served the master: her man. Ironically, the beginning of the 20th century marked a change for American society that would see cultural and societal standards alter drastically in favor of progressive improvements. Guided by world events and demanded by a new sense of individualism, women found empowerment in the roles they assumed through World War I and II. With men shipped abroad to assume their responsibilities in the military, women stepped into their shoes in factories, offices and even stadiums across the country. The motto “Yes We Can!” was born with the determined illustration of Rosie the Riveter taking her place in the cultural hall of fame.

Following the wars, America found itself walking down a path that it could never reverse. Unexpectedly, a theater that was designed to put the world’s harshest test upon men had also allowed his opposite to prove their mettle. The dawn of woman had arrived. However, the slow march of history always shows that change is slow to come when it comes to the established status quo. Not unlike the resistance to desegregation, equality between the sexes was a game that the white man controlled. And if the white man was to have any say in it, no change was better than shaking up something that worked for them so well for so long. The Women’s Rights Movement is credited for its origins in 1848, but it was a long struggle before even voting rights were established in 1920. Following the struggle to gain the right to vote was the right over their own bodies. The 1960’s saw a second effort embodied by the intention of controlling what happened to their own bodies. Birth control was, and continues to be, a divisive issue. Many hiding behind the moral pulpit of Christianity continue to deride the right for a woman to control their own pregnancies. However, in 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this right was defensible and irrevocable to certain limits of prenatal health and safety. The struggle continues. Statistics show that along with blacks, women experience similar levels of income disparity due to job/career discrimination. Stereotypes about women often persist just as they do for blacks and other minorities. While the current administration is repeatedly questioned for their opposition to the Roe vs Wade decision, no formal attempt to question the decision has been made yet. Many states are taking it upon themselves to declare resistance to the decision, banning or restricting abortion to the dismay of many. The battle must still be fought as long as so many minds continue to live with the mistaken values and perceptions of the past.

The United States of America is considered by most to be the greatest nation in the history of the world. That is a very significant statement, and one that I agree with. This does not mean that there isn’t room for improvement; perfection doesn’t exist. With history as a guide, we know we can do better. Although America was “domesticated” by white, European colonizers, this occurred on the heels of one of the most heinous genocides ever committed. Even the Founding Fathers had enough vision to extend the pretense that our nation could become one that not only accepted all races of the world, but offer them a place to thrive and live in harmony. The problem that is presented from white privilege is that the forces in power have little or no context to put themselves in the shoes of those who have less. Someone who has never been pulled over or accosted by police just for driving a vehicle or shopping at a mall has no idea of how this affects the psyche of those who have. Growing up in a tree-lined suburb with a middle-class security network instead of a run-down ghetto living day to day is a stark difference. Ever spent a night in jail? How about half of one’s life? And what to make of individuals who are essentially placed in a situation like this for merely trying to escape a life of peril?

Certainly there is passion behind efforts to bring these modern day immoralities to light. The Me Too Movement, Black Lives Matter, DACA, and other various social causes crowd our social media feeds and the evening news daily. However, balance is balance and the way this country is structured has always tipped favor the direction of whites. Blacks, Latinoes, women, whomever seeks equality can do so for days, weeks, months, years. In the end, the fate of equality rests with those who have deprived it. Whites must recognize not only the crimes of the past and present but own the mantle of responsibility for it as well as the future. And it is this type of revelation, dedication and involvement that have led to the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Empowerment and the social breakthroughs that are this country’s high points. This must happen again, and continue to happen. Because at the end of the day, we’re all cut from the same genetic and chemical cloth. The only difference we perceive is that which we have invented. Privilege vested to any one or group is equality taken away from others.

  1. Pluribus Unum: From the many, one.

If it is important enough to put on our money, it should be important enough to reflect our morals.

Diversity-in-American-Flag

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