Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters—the black protesters—spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government. Would these protesters—these black protesters with guns—be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose.Imagine that white members of Congress, while walking to work, were surrounded by thousands of angry black people, one of whom proceeded to spit on one of those congressmen for not voting the way the black demonstrators desired. Would the protesters be seen as merely patriotic Americans voicing their opinions, or as an angry, potentially violent, and even insurrectionary mob? After all, this is what white Tea Party protesters did recently in Washington.
Imagine that a black rap artist were to say, in reference to a white president: “He’s a piece of shit and I told him to suck on my machine gun.” Because that’s what rocker Ted Nugent said recently about President Obama.
To ask any of these questions is to answer them. Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark “other” does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic. Which is why Rush Limbaugh could say, this past week, that the Tea Parties are the first time since the Civil War that ordinary, common Americans stood up for their rights: a statement that erases the normalcy and “American-ness” of blacks in the civil rights struggle, not to mention women in the fight for suffrage and equality, working people in the fight for better working conditions, and LGBT folks as they struggle to be treated as full and equal human beings.
And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.
Pretty upset about the recent repeal of gay marriage in Maine today, so I made this to illustrate a point. Original photo: The Lynching of Will Brown, other than the detailing, I did not modify the happy expressions on the lynchers faces as they posed for a photo.
Recent years have seen a depressing pattern in which notable “ethnic” political figures— from President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on down—end up having to extricate themselves from the tangles of racial politics, defending themselves from charges of “reverse racism,” “identity politics,” or the like. This may have much to do with the fact that, unlike their “nonethnic” counterparts, such “minority role models” are regularly asked to put on the public record—at lunches, award ceremonies, community events—lengthy statements of their views on America’s most explosive topic: race.
Monica Youn is of course talking about the charges of “reverse racism” lobbed at Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayer, and that often, people of color are asked to talk about race and represent “their” race especially when achieving high office or appointments.
The charges of racism, because Sotomayer suggested that because she is a woman and a Latina, that she might have a better perspective than a white male judge, only really works if talking about race and racism was equal in this country. The sad truth of it is: it is not.
Whites do not have to talk about race. Whites do not have to defend themselves daily and especially when achieving high positions. Youn makes this point at the end of her article:
Frank talk about racial identity is neither racism nor its reverse and should be invited from “ethnic” and “nonethnic” figures alike. It’s hardly fair for minority candidates to be attacked for accepting invitations to talk about race when members of the silent majority are allowed to remain silent.
And that’s just it. While various ethnic groups strive to find individuality, acceptance and recognition of unique circumstances, mainstream America really only sees two “races”: white and not-white. Yet, whites often assume that since liberal teachings tell us that we are all equal, then the balance of these two races is just as equal. It is this myopic view where conservative pendants lash out when a person of color talks about race. They do not see, or they refuse to acknowledge the very real history and present reality of race in America.
Or maybe, just maybe, they are all too aware that with a black president, a powerful symbol of racial change, whites really will be seen as just another ethnic group.