Some humbling reading…

“White privilege.”

I first heard the term in college in the same course that I heard about “White Flight” for the first time: Sociology 101.  CHAPMAN_MARY_MITCHELL_3.JPG

I remember being angry the first time I heard about it, and I suppose that’s probably how a lot of white men feel when they hear the terms for the first time. But, over time, I began to see the merits of the arguments… I don’t agree with everything I’m about to copy and paste here, but that’s a part of the point. This is a voice that’s fundamentally different than mine, and perhaps yours, and it’s worth hearing, digesting, and responding to.

Some words from Mary Mitchell:

The following essay recently landed in my e-mail. The author is Tim Wise, and the article first appeared at, but I’ve heard the same sentiments expressed by friends and associates:

For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are constantly 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 the first place because of affirmative action.

White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you’re "untested."

White privilege is being able to say that you support the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance because "if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me," and not be immediately disqualified from holding office–since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the "under God" part wasn’t added until the 1950s–while believing that reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because, ya know, the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), is a dangerous and silly idea only supported by mushy liberals.

White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you.

White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto was "Alaska first," and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you’re black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she’s being disrespectful.

White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do–like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor–and people think you’re being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college–you’re somehow being mean, or even sexist.

White privilege is being able to convince white women who don’t even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a "second look."

White privilege is being able to fire people who didn’t support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.

White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God’s punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you’re just a good churchgoing Christian, but if you’re black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you’re an extremist who probably hates America.

White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a "trick question," while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O’Reilly means you’re dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.

White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism is, as Sarah Palin has referred to it a "light" burden.

And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren’t sure about that whole "change" thing. Ya know, it’s just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain.

White privilege is, in short, the problem.

6 thoughts on “Some humbling reading…

  1. Many African Americans have converted from Christianity, which they consider the ‘white man’s religion’, to Islam, which they consider more ‘authentically’ African. (Which is rather ridiculous — Islam started out as an Arab religion, so it is no more ‘authentically African’ than Christianity.)
    Isn’t it worse than that? Didn’t Islam spread through Africa because of the slave trade, Arabs taking African slaves and paying African chieftains for them? Isn’t the Swahili language (which contains a great deal of Arabic influence) the lingua franca of East Africa purely because it was spread, from its origins on the coast, by Arab slavers?

    This is from Dawkin’s website. I wasn’t able to log in there, for some reason. I’m not very adept with this posting process. What I wanted to say to Dawkins is that it is rather easy for him to see the seeming ridiculousness of seeing Islam as more authentically black than Christianity. He has a historical perspective that few underprivileged people have. I would refer him to the Autobiography of Malcolm X. It is no insignificant thing that Malcolm was converted to Islam in prison. And though Islam may be no more authentically black than Christianity, its appeal to black militants and other none conformists is that it is a religion of none-white people. It’s appeal was that it was an alternative to the religion that many blacks had come to associate with their oppressor. Blacks who subscribe to Islam are no more ridiculous than whites who subscribe to Mormonism; or Catholicism; or any other religious fantast.

    1. Interesting stuff.

      I think your argument that the underprivileged don’t have access to that historical perspective is a very good one. It’s ironic that Islam and Christianity spread to Africans in very similar ways; yet, many African Americans have embraced Islam as more authentically “black.”

      That said, however, I do think one can make a very strong sociological case that the “black church” in the states has become an authentic social and religious movement, in spite of how Christianity was first introduced.

      1. No doubt about it. Without the black church there would have been no Martin Luther King, and the Civil Rights movement, if it took place at all, would likely have been an even bloodier affair (images of the French Revolution come to mind). Without the conscientious wing of the church there may have been no abolition of slavery movement. (It goes without saying that without the xenophobic wing of the church there would not have been a chattel slave trade to begin with.)

        White privilege is something most whites are not even aware of. Simple things like not being pulled over unnecessarily by a police officer. White people simply take those kinds of things for granted. It’s normal. But not for black men.

        White privilege is Dawkins not realizing that the underprivileged tend to be relatively uneducated and unlikely to know the history of religions.

        1. I do think it’s interesting to consider how the civil rights movement might have happened without the black church.

          Certainly, there have been plenty of revolutions throughout history that only tangentially involve religion or religious motivations. We could look at the founding fathers of America as one example. They simply fought for freedom and equality under the law, and religious motivation was accidental, I think.

          But, your point about it being “bloody” is a good one, I think. What is so amazing to me about the life of Dr. King is his refusal to take up arms. I don’t think he gets there without his religious understanding of justice, which included extending mercy to the oppressor.

        2. This is perhaps the one singularly good thing that religion has contributed to human development. The non-violent approach, an extension, I assume, of the so-called Axial Age religious outlook where compassion towards others is valued. It’s interesting that King’s role model was a Hindu.

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