Monday, March 24, 2008

The song remains the same

At the request of a friend, I popped over and took a look at the doings on  This was a mistake, particularly after having read Bill Kristol's column today in the NY Times.  (More on that in a bit)  My friend requested that I look at the White Privilege thread and, of course, it was the same old thing only this time regarding Barack Obama's masterful speech on race.  There was the usual denying of white privilege and the usual copy-and-pastes of the same lists of what white privilege is by the usual people.  Someone, in an obviously mistaken attempt at levity, posted a link to this article at the Onion .  This was met, quite predictably, by attention being drawn to how the satire wasn't funny (it is, in fact, quite funny) and how the words used in the piece were precisely what POC go through everyday, etc. etc. ad nauseum infinitum.  Didn't people actually listen to the speech or did they just hear that the speech occurred?   Here was an opportunity for the POC on to be heard and, as far as I could read, many of the whites just weren't interested in listening.  What's more many of the POC didn't appear to hear something Obama said about white privilege, to wit:

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

Now, to my mind these are some of the most insightful and bravest words spoken about race in America anytime in my lifetime.  Not only because it is definitely true that, in fact, this is exactly how many working- and middle-class whites feel when they hear the words 'white privilege' but the very idea that blacks have any kind of obligation to do so much as acknowledge that it might hold a grain of truth is entirely foreign.  I will admit that on more than one occasion I have heard whites talk about that and closed my hears to their words, however, as I have grown and lived a bit more and realized what kind of amazing privilege I grew up with because of class and realized that there have been and are white folks who grew up with far less privilege than I did.  This doesn't mean that they don't have white-skin privilege but they do not see themselves as privileged and, to take one example, it is hard to imagine how my best friend from high school could have felt privileged compared to me because he was poor and I lived in a huge house compared to the small apartment then duplex.  It is painful to watch and I didn't post anything on (and won't after the trashing I got) but it seems that both sides of this debate have entrenched and are now just doing a kabuki dance with one another, both playing their assigned parts to the hilt.  It's almost as if one were watching computers caught in a looping dialog. 

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