FWD: This is Your Nation on White Privilege
Jude Paul Dizon | September 30, 2008 – 3:13 am
Tags: racism, whiteness
Ch-ch-check this out y’all.
Author: Tim Wise
For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are 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…
And so on and so forth. The post is on the ‘Young People For’ (YPF) website. YPF is a project of the US-based group ‘People For the American Way’, and was “established in 2004 as a strategic, long-term leadership initiative… to invest in the next generation of leaders and build a long-term national network for young progressives”.
The opinions of two young progressives regarding the recent protests at the RNC have been published in ‘From Slingshots to Solutions: Goals for Organizers’ (The Nation, October 1, 2008). The authors are Calvin Williams (‘Fellowship Coordinator at Young People For’) and Matt Birkhold (editor of ‘Elements: The Monthly Publication of the National Hip Hop Political Convention‘). Their analysis identifies the RNC Welcoming Committee as being responsible for the repression of the protests: “…the actions of a small group of anarchist activists provided justification for excessive law enforcement tactics, including the use of concussion grenades, tear gas and mass arrests. A few stray activists damaging property and using violent direct action ultimately resulted in repression for other groups caught between the battle lines.” The spoiling tactics of the violent anarchists, they argue, can be usefully contrasted with the protest activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition, and those of the Civil Rights Movement.
Williams and Berkhold’s critique obviously has quite general applications but is of particular relevance in the context of an exploration of the concept of ‘whiteness’ given that the antics of the Welcoming Committee, they argue, has particular ramifications for activists and communities ‘of colour’: “Down the line, such tactics may be used to justify investigations of local organizers and their communities. In particular, non-white communities and activists of color will likely bear the brunt of police and state repression at levels greater than before the convention.” Or to put it another way: “White privilege is when you can damage property and use violent direct action without regard for the consequences for non-white communities and activists of colour”.
In fact, eight members of the Welcoming Committee — white privilege notwithstanding — have been arrested and charged with terrorism, and if found guilty, face up to 7 1/2 years in prison (Protesters or terrorists? Charge raises question, Amy Forliti/Associated Press, October 5, 2008). As an aside, Williams and Berkhold explicitly base their tactical considerations, in part, on a generalised strategy of reliance upon the state. Thus, in terms of ‘Tactical improvement’ they argue: “Tactical escalation will more effectively challenge decision makers and institutions while creating new opportunities for moving power and support in our favor. As referenced earlier, the SCLC employed tactic escalation strategies to create the conditions necessary for state intervention. SCLC members were successful in escalation because of their ongoing collective reflection on their campaign’s failings and assessment of which tactics would achieve political intervention.” For anarchists and other radicals, this approach is obviously problematic.
Oz Conservative — a blog by an “Australian traditionalist conservative” — wrote in September 2007:
Ten years ago there were no such courses. Now “whiteness studies” is being taught at over 30 American campuses [Source (presumably): ‘Whiteness Studies’, Chris Weinkopf, FrontPageMagazine.com, June 25, 2003]. In Australia too there are academics teaching this subject; in 2003 they formed their own whiteness studies association. So what is it? In short, it’s a field of studies based on the theory that whites invented the idea of biological race in order to oppress indigenous peoples and to benefit from unearned privileges.
Oz Conservative argues (see also Unpacking whose privilege?, September 22, 2008) that the effect of Whiteness Studies upon (white) students is pernicious. He cites the case of one student who, upon undertaking her studies, then “took a frightening journey into Australia’s violent history… The path was at times very distressing. My study journal was often wrinkled with tears.” Another academic relates how her students experience a range of negative emotions in response to her teachings. (Unfortunately, Oz provides no citations.) Beyond this, Whiteness Studies is dangerous because it is ideologically incoherent, and a product of the failings of liberal modernism — chief among them, in this context, the failure to acknowledge that race is a ‘biological fact’ and not a ‘social construct’ — which in turn produces unacceptable political consequences: a genocidal imperative to destroy the white race. And of course, some advocate just that. For example: Abolish the White Race – By Any Means Necessary (Race Traitor, No.1, Winter 1993):
The white race is a historically constructed social formation – historically constructed because (like royalty) it is a product of some people’s responses to historical circumstances; a social formation because it is a fact of society corresponding to no classification recognized by natural science.
The white race cuts across ethnic and class lines. It is not coextensive with that portion of the population of European descent, since many of those classified as “colored” can trace some of their ancestry to Europe, while African, Asian, or American Indian blood flows through the veins of many considered white. Nor does membership in the white race imply wealth, since there are plenty of poor whites, as well as some people of wealth and comfort who are not white.
The white race consists of those who partake of the privileges of the white skin in this society. Its most wretched members share a status higher, in certain respects, than that of the most exalted persons excluded from it, in return for which they give their support to the system that degrades them.
The key to solving the social problems of our age is to abolish the white race. Until that task is accomplished, even partial reform will prove elusive, because white influence permeates every issue in U.S. society, whether domestic or foreign.
Advocating the abolition of the white race is distinct from what is called “anti-racism.” The term “racism” has come to be applied to a variety of attitudes, some of which are mutually incompatible, and has been devalued to mean little more than a tendency to dislike some people for the color of their skin. Moreover, anti-racism admits the natural existence of “races” even while opposing social distinctions among them. The abolitionists maintain, on the contrary, that people were not favored socially because they were white; rather they were defined as “white” because they were favored. Race itself is a product of social discrimination; so long as the white race exists, all movements against racism are doomed to fail.
The existence of the white race depends on the willingness of those assigned to it to place their racial interests above class, gender or any other interests they hold. The defection of enough of its members to make it unreliable as a determinant of behavior will set off tremors that will lead to its collapse…
Whiteness Studies Down Under
In Australia, the peak body for the promotion of the study of whiteness would appear to be the Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Association (ACRAWSA):
ACRAWSA is an exciting and growing social and cultural network of researchers who recognise that whiteness operates through institutions, ideology and identity formation to secure political, legal and economic privileges for white people as a collective leaving many Indigenous and other people racialised as ‘non white’ collectively disadvantaged and dispossessed of material, cultural and intellectual resources.
Thus far, the Association has organised two conferences — The Borderpolitics of Whiteness (2006) and Whiteness, Race and Reproduction: Bodies, Nations, Knowledges (2007) — and a third (Re-Orienting Whiteness) is to take place in December, 2008. As is normally the case with academic conferences, attendance is restricted, both by way of subject matter, but also, and moreover, cost: those registering their attendance late — “after 5 October 2008, subject to change” — must pay $250 (full rate) or $180 (postgraduate/unwaged/community). Of course, it’s possible to sneak in to one or two seminars (and to thereby possibly present the organisers with the opportunity for a fulsome debate on ‘The Borderpolitics of Academic Discourse’ while ‘Re-Orienting’ the poors in the direction of the nearest Exit. On the other hand — and in all fairness to ACRAWSA — their journal is available online.) Note that a handful of racist malcontents on Stormfront have declared their intention to provide some free entertainment for conference attendees.
See also : ‘Tripping Over the White Fantastic’, Joshua T. Wiley, The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 2, 2008 (“A job candidate in sociology whose research focuses on race finds that he’s not what search committees were expecting”) | ‘Judgment Day’, Mark Oppenheimer, The New York Times (Magazine), September 19, 2008 | Lynching to Belong: Claiming Whiteness through Racial Violence, Cynthia Skove Nevels, A&M University Press, 2007, Review by John Barnhill (Southwest Journal of Culture) | Anarchy 102 : Race (April 10, 2007) | Racism, rednecks, and if only these were brains (January 9, 2007)
- A QUESTION OF PRIVILEGE
One hears a lot of talk about privilege in anarchist circles these days. “Male privilege”, “white-skin privilege”, “first-world privilege” and similar phrases come up regularly in discussion, but with no real analysis to back them up, as if everyone should understand exactly what is meant. And, indeed, it is not so difficult to figure out what is meant by these phrases. Their clear implication is that if the oppression and exploitation one suffers in this society is not as intense as that which another suffers, then one is privileged relative to that other person. But such a conception of privilege is useless from an anarchist and revolutionary perspective. It only has meaning in relation to the reformist concept of equality before the law, which is always equality of exploitation and oppression. For those of us who have no interest in rights, but rather want the freedom to determine our own lives and so find the only equality worth pursuing to be equality of access to all that is necessary for determining the conditions of our existence—that is, for those of us for whom the destruction of the social order and the revolutionary transformation of reality are the essential first steps toward making our lives our own—a very different concept of privilege must be developed.
We live in a class society. This has been true since the accumulation of wealth and power into a few hands gave rise to the state and capital. The few who rule determine the conditions under which everyone exists, institutionalizing social relations that maintain and expand their control over wealth and power. The ruling class structures these relations in such a way that the survival of the exploited classes depends upon their continued participation in the reproduction of these relationships, thus guaranteeing the continuation of class society. Thus, it can be said that the ruling class structures social relationships in such a way that the continued reproduction of society will always privilege the ruling class and its needs. In any class society—thus, in any society in which the state and the economy exist—only the ruling class can be truly said to have privilege.
But the ruling class does not impose itself upon a passive populace. The history of class society is always the history of class struggle, the history of the exploited trying to take their lives and the social conditions under which they exist back in order to determine them for themselves. Thus, it is in the interest of the ruling class to structure social relations in such a way as to create divisions within the exploited classes that cloud their understanding of the nature of their struggle and of their enemy. The ruling class accomplishes this through various institutions, identities and ideologies such as nation, race, gender, occupation, sexual preference and so on. It is not hard to see how the ruling class uses these structures for its ends. It grants people in specific social categories particular “privileges” defined in terms of that category. But being granted a privilege by those who define your life on their terms is not the same thing as having privilege. This becomes especially clear when anyone who is not of the ruling class steps out of line. Their so-called privileges can quickly disappear.
Furthermore, these “privileges” granted by the ruling order to people in certain social categories among the exploited actually do amount to nothing more than a lessening of the intensity of exploitation and oppression experienced by these people relative to others. Thus, men are less likely to be sexually harassed and assaulted than women and tend to receive greater compensation for the same level of exploitation at the job. White people are less likely to be harassed by cops or to be charged with felonies for victimless crimes and sentenced to years in prison than non-white people and find it easier to get a job. Heterosexuals generally do not have to worry about being beaten or ostracized because of their sexual preference. The list could go on, but I think the point is clear. All of these so-called privileges are nothing more than a minimal easing of the conditions of exploitation experienced by people in these specific social categories. They are intended to convince these people that they have more in common with their exploiters than with those not granted the same “privileges” and to convince the others that their real enemy is not the ruling class, but rather those granted a less intense level of exploitation.
In this light, moralistic calls to recognize one’s own privilege and give it up are meaningless. They serve no purpose in the creation of a revolutionary project aimed at the destruction of all rule. As we have seen, the so-called privileges enumerated in the mea culpas of guilt ridden radicals are really nothing more than means for constructing social identities that serve the ruling class by producing artificial divisions among those they exploit. So if we want to move the revolutionary project of destroying all rule and privilege forward, then our task is not to give up some phantom privilege that has never really been our own, but to expose and move beyond the artificial identities that smother our individuality and cripple us in our battle against the ruling order. Since only the ruling class truly has privilege, the destruction of privilege will only occur when we destroy all rule.
~ Anonymous, Willful Disobedience, Vol. 2, No. 8