I have only recently discovered the concept of “privilege” and freely admit that I am a privileged white [heterosexual] woman. I’ve probably got a lot of other privilege, too. I grew up in the United States to parents who cared about my education—they even paid for my college education—and now I am in law school. I’m legally married and I wave at police officers when I see them. All of this is because of my privilege.
I was taking a class on race and the law recently and we all shared examples of how privilege works. As one of the few white people in the class, I was astonished! I’d never even experienced race privilege! It was invisible. This was a tremendous revelation to me (as a result of that privilege) and I try to see, every day, how invisible privilege works in my life.
I’ve experienced gender privilege because, as a woman, I’m the wrong gender. Going to Pep Boys or Fry’s is a harrowing experience; since I clearly don’t have a penis I also clearly mustn’t know what I’m doing when it comes to cars or computers. I’ve benefitted from religious privilege (and I noticed when I lost it). I’ve even had occasion to experience gender orientation privilege because, as my mother-in-law once said to me (and which I carry with me as a great compliment), I “scan as queer”. But I had never actually experienced race privilege before this class.
When I was a kid, my parents taught us that police officers are our friends. They’re there to help us. To protect us. I always thought the unspoken “us” was “all law-abiding citizens” but apparently, it means “white folk”. While on a bike, I’ve flagged down cop cars to ask for a bike pump, or directions. I boldly wave at officers in their cars when they pass me on the freeway (or vice versa). I make eye contact with officers walking their beat—sometimes, I even smile. I said this to my class and the professor, a privileged black woman, actually gasped. These are things she cannot do because of the color of her skin.
I’ve always been the kind of person who acts without asking for permission (forgiveness is easier to get). Now I wonder how much of that is my personality and how much of that is my privilege.
Privilege is that strange line that isn’t quite definable that separates “people we want to interact with” from “people not worthy of our time”. The worst thing about it is its invisibility to those who benefit from it. There are all kinds of privilege and it is our duty as privileged to learn to see it and to work toward its elimination.
No, wait, I didn’t.
Also? I didn’t forget that, because of his male privilege, he’s also probably sexist. Anyone who thinks we’re “post-racial” is (a) not living in the real world and (b) white.
I’m not sure why, but this song (and its two video versions) sends massive warm fuzzies into my Asian-American heart:
Another execution of an unarmed black man by white cops. This one might have been covered up if not for citizen journalists, cell phone video recording technology, and YouTube. Read the news story, watch the (graphic) video, and if you’re appalled by this, pass the word on so that national media attention is focused on BART Officials.
an awesome vid & song:
Politicians that can give me hope.
Music that can give me hope.
Maybe this country is going somewhere good.
I’m so glad that McCain deigned to show up to his debate, although claiming to be too good for it? Classy. I TiVo’d the debate last night, so I’m only an hour and a half through it (only so much I can take…and after a beer it’s harder to focus on political punditry).
My major issue with McCain during last night’s debate was that he seemed perpetually disgusted by the mere presence of his opponent. I don’t know if that’s latent racism or (anti?)liberalism, but whatever it was Obama came out being the gentleman of the evening. In the first few moments, when they shock hands, McCain briefly looked up, but quickly looked away.
One of the wonderful things about television is that we can see how people act—a lot of what I got out of the debate could not be gotten from a radio version of it. (Aside: what was up with the lights? People were blinking crazily!) Obama looked straight into the camera, making me feel like he was looking at (and therefore cared about) me. I know it’s a trick, something your speech preparers can prepare you for, but it still made him seem that much more honest than McCain, who looked vaguely off to his right (which took me some geometry to figure out, since it seemed like Lehrer was off to his left).
When McCain was talking, Obama looked at him, attentively, as if he were paying attention and absorbing his words. When Obama was talking, McCain looked at Lehrer, or at his hands, as if looking at Obama might sear his soul. I’m not sure that I want as president someone who cannot even give the appearance of giving his opponent’s side credence. In a meeting with foreign heads of state, I would like someone representing my interests and safety who look his opponent in the eye.
I’m now looking forward to the VP debates, although checking out how they handle themselves in interviews is instructive: Read more >>
I just ran across this, from Not the Nine O’Clock News. Rowan Atkinson explains the conservative political position, which has not changed much since the late 70s/early 80s. (Complete with a Bible misquote!) NSFW.
A breakdown of the language used to discuss the candidates (you know, the female candidate, the black candidate, and the republican candidate).
Spark is a category for sharing links. No intense commentary, just a link & a brief reason you might want to click on it. Something to Spark your Mind to Flame, if you will.
The (now) classic comedy shot of a black woman being interviewed: “Are you going to vote for Obama because you’re black or for Clinton because you’re a woman?” There are politics (which is to say, issues) at hand, and many many people will vote their conscience, many people will look at the issues and vote for the person who stands for what they believe in. But for others (hopefully fewer in number), it will come down to this: are you more racist or more misogynist. This was driven home rather forcefully when a gentleman was interviewed by NPR:
It’d be weird for a woman or a black to run the United States, I think a lot of things would change. Probably the male chauvinistic side of me is going to vote for the man just because…uh…I’m going to be honest, you know. Probably…probably won’t be McCain. [...] Love thy neighbor as thyself, that’s a big part of Martinsville, too: there’s a church on every corner. [starts at 6:11]
And that just pisses me off. I wish we lived in a place where it didn’t matter and that the best person would win. But what do you all think? Will the country be less racist or less patriarchal? My vote is with Obama (obviously this is not something that we’ll be able to know by the results, but I’d like to know what you think). And I can’t help but think that part of it is because religion still helps reinforce the “weirdness” of having women in power, much less than it reinforces the “weirdness” of having “a black” in power.
In place of the regularly scheduled Leaving the Garden series, I bring you Dr. King’s difficult journey that ultimately led to his acceptance of nonviolence and the rejection of American Christian political orthodoxy. His Pilgrimage to Nonviolence is a fascinating and intimate revelation of his initial convictions, his questioning process, his doubts, and the reformulation of his political and religious beliefs. Thoreau, Rauschenbusch, Marx, Gandhi and Niebuhr (Reinhold) were primary influences. (Kevin, there was even an encounter with Nietzsche.) I’ll include a few highlights here:
Often the question has arisen concerning my own intellectual pilgrimage to nonviolence. In order to get at this question it is necessary to go back to my early teens in Atlanta. I had grown up abhorring not only segregation but also the oppressive and barbarous acts that grew out of it. I had passed spots where Negroes had been savagely lynched, and had watched the Ku Klux Klan on its rides at night. I had seen police brutality with my own eyes, and watched Negroes receive the most tragic injustice in the courts. All of these things had done something to my growing personality. I had come perilously close to resenting all white people.
Not until I entered Crozer Theological Seminary in 1948, however, did I begin a serious intellectual quest for a method to eliminate social evil. Although my major interest was in the fields of theology and philosophy, I spent a great deal of time reading the works of the great social philosophers.
But in spite of the shortcomings of his analysis, Marx had raised some basic questions. I was deeply concerned from my early teen days about the gulf between superfluous wealth and abject poverty, and my reading of Marx made me ever more conscious of this gulf.
During this period I had about despaired of the power of love in solving social problems. Perhaps my faith in love was temporarily shaken by the philosophy of Nietzsche…Then one Sunday afternoon I traveled to Philadelphia to hear a sermon by Dr. Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University. He was there to preach for the Fellowship House of Philadelphia. Dr. Johnson had just returned from a trip to India, and, to my great interest, he spoke of the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. His message was so profound and electrifying that I left the meeting and bought a half-dozen books on Gandhi’s life and works.
Like most people, I had heard of Gandhi, but I had never studied him seriously. As I read I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance. I was particularly moved by the Salt March to the Sea and his numerous fasts. The whole concept of “Satyagraha” (Satya is truth which equals love, and agraha is force; “Satyagraha,” therefore, means truth-force or love force) was profoundly significant to me. As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform. Prior to reading Gandhi, I had about concluded that the ethics of Jesus were only effective in individual relationship. The “turn the other cheek” philosophy and the “love your enemies” philosophy were only valid, I felt, when individuals were in conflict with other individuals; when racial groups and nations were in conflict a more realistic approach seemed necessary. But after reading Gandhi, I saw how utterly mistaken I was.
Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. Love, for Gandhi, was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for so many months. The intellectual and moral satisfaction that I failed to gain from the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, the revolutionary methods of Marx and Lenin, the social-contracts theory of Hobbes, the “back to nature” optimism of Rousseau, the superman philosophy of Nietzsche, I found in the nonviolent resistance philosophy of Gandhi. I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.
In 1954 I ended my formal training with all of these relatively divergent intellectual forces converging into a positive social philosophy. One of the main tenets of this philosophy was the conviction that nonviolent resistance was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their quest for social justice. At this time, however, I had merely an intellectual understanding and appreciation of the position, with no firm determination to organize it in a socially effective situation.
When I went to Montgomery as a pastor, I had not the slightest idea that I would later become involved in a crisis in which nonviolent resistance would be applicable. I neither started the protest nor suggested it. I simply responded to the call of the people for a spokesman. When the protest began, my mind, consciously or unconsciously, was driven back to the Sermon on the Mount, with its sublime teachings on love, and the Gandhian method of nonviolent resistance. As the days unfolded, I came to see the power of nonviolence more and more. Living through the actual experience of the protest, nonviolence became more than a method to which I gave intellectual assent; it became a commitment to a way of life. Many of the things that I had not cleared up intellectually concerning nonviolence were now solved in the sphere of practical action.
I am the son of an Asian woman from Japan and a white man from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a Japanese grandfather who survived a depression and a militaristic government and who went on to serve in Hirohito’s Army during World War II and a white grandfather who flew for the Army Air Corps over Germany in the same war.Given this, perhaps it’s understandable why Senator Obama’s description of his heritage in his “A More Perfect Union” speech:
I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas.
One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers suggests that Obama’s Hawaiian roots better explain his approach to race than the black/white opposition that we’re so used to hearing:
Obama isn’t the first credible African-American candidate so much as he’s the first credible Hawaiian candidate. Everything that’s essential and appealing about him is Hawaiian in character, and reflects his years growing up there. People in Hawaii don’t fixate on race, because everyone is mixed race, individually or by marriage…
Which is perhaps why Hawaiians and other halfs are the only ones who can identify me on sight as someone of mixed-race. Not because the Hawaiians fixate on race, but because they have plenty of regular exposure to enough variety that they can effortlessly acknowledge my dual heritage. And maybe this explains at least some of why I am drawn to Obama’s message. In yet one more way, here is a candidate who represents me.
At any rate, there are a lot ways to slice his “race speech,” but I find the narrative of a flawed nation painfully perfecting itself a compelling one and a welcome alternative to the generally repeated story of its miraculous, immaculately white birth. If you haven’t exposed yourself to the whole thing, I highly recommend that you watch it, listen to it or read it.