I was poking around the net when I came across Skeptic Ink’s Rebecca Bradley and her take on “privilege” when it comes down to race and indeed sexism.
And I don’t think she gets it.
Privilege, we’re told, comes in many flavours, all of them bad. White privilege. Male privilege. Heterosexual privilege. Cisgendered privilege. Ablebodied privilege. First World Privilege. Etc. We’re supposed to check our privilege frequently, or—even better—unpack it from the invisible knapsack we carry it around in. Those who have it are advised to shut up and listen to those who haven’t. Those who don’t have it are entitled to be royally pissed off at those who do. What none of us is supposed to do is question whether the invisible knapsack actually exists.
We don’t get royally pissed off.
Most of us live our lives quietly and make changes to make up for the privilege the majority has. Some of us point it out. We only tend to get angry when someone does something stupid like claim there is no privilege.
Me, I’m skeptical.
The privilege meme is not new, but its current incarnation comes out of Critical Race Theory, a politically hypercorrect socio-legal analysis that emerged in the 1970s, in part as a radical critique of the civil rights movement. At the heart of CRT is the claim that Western society lies under a great miasmic pall of minority oppression, where simply to be born a member of certain in-groups confers valuable privileges that are denied to others, including the privilege of being normal. And, since the system was designed to protect and perpetuate the interests of the white-skinned patriarchy, it cannot be changed from the inside. It is unsalvageable, rotten to the core.
Yes. Yes it does.
See the reason I “got mad” is this notion that many people have that there is no racism left.
They system’s issue is that it has to recognise a problem with privilege before it can act on it. If people such as Rebecca refuse to see the privilege they have then the only way to solve the problem is to keep making a noise about it.
If you think you have no privilege as a white person then that’s fine. Let’s not call it privilege let’s call it a lack of understanding of benefits you have within society and things you take for granted that end up causing discrimination not by an active process but often by cultural, social and ingrained ones.
In Critical Race Theory, the unforgivable sin is being born in possession of a white skin. According to its tenets, all whites are automatically racists of one subspecies or another—and, as with beetles, many subspecies of racism have been identified: individual, institutional, structural, old-fashioned, polite, aversive, everyday, environmental, democratic, new, liberal. But CRT’s overarching definition of racism goes something like this:
No. It means that white people in society have an advantage in society at the level that they are in that society that doesn’t extend to a person of colour who is part of the same economic demography.
Racism is a set of ideas that are socially constructed to establish and maintain the superiority of one social group – usually white Europeans – over another because of perceived physical, intellectual, emotional and cultural differences, together with the historical and institutional power to put these beliefs into practice in exclusionary ways.
Or, more concisely: RACISM = PREJUDICE + POWER.
It can also be more subtle as I will demonstrate later.
Racism also includes the unconscious biases of the majority that they don’t even recognise their action as “racist”. It’s not the KKK Wizard or the father who disowns his daughter for loving you. But the person’s unconscious actions that create a society that it is difficult to be “not white”.
Let’s ignore race for a second. The majority of us can see. There are a few partially sighted people and there are even fewer blind people. Let’s take american currency as an example.
See American currency is all the same size and same colour. Partially sighted people would struggle to use it. WIthout my glasses I cannot tell them apart.
Now let’s take British currency. They increase in size from £5 to £50. In addition? They each have a different colour so you can tell what note you have even without seeing the denomination on it. Greens are 5s, Orange/browns are tens, Violets are 20s and Red/pinks are 50s.
The American currency makes it harder for partially sighted people to use while the British currency (while not perfect) was designed with this in mind. Now I don’t think America doesn’t teach Three Blind Mice as a rhyme normalising violence to the blind. It is not a society that “hates” the blind.
It just didn’t think about the design of the currency when it came down to them. The privilege of sight ironically blinded people to the needs of the blind. Honestly? Simply changing the currency from “green” to “different colours” would help a lot of people including the normal sighted who would be able to count currency faster. Little changes can go a long way.
So this formula, virtually a holy mantra of Critical Race Theory, differs from the dictionary definition of racism by including “power” as a necessary element. And, since CRT maintains that only whites have power in Western society, it is only whites who can be racist. People of colour (POC) may be prejudiced, but by definition they cannot be racist. (By the same reasoning, women cannot be sexist.) Therefore, there can be nothing racist about the Europhobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Asian, pseudoscientific, pseudohistorical and all-around vile sentiments and actions of groups like, say, the Nation of Islam.
No. That’s stupid. There are plenty of racists who aren’t white.
However the problem is in western culture they themselves lack any serious power so don’t affect white people as much as white people affect them. Nation of Islam may preach a spiel of hate but frankly they lack the power to do anything through society. By contraast? Look at the Tea Party and the “Birther” movement. The relatively milder racism of the Tea Party towards black people had more far reaching effects than the Nation of Islam’s. If black people were the majority and Islam were the dominant culture and religion then you would take them a lot more seriously.
But how realistic is this Manichean view of power? Very few of us are personally in any position to oppress anybody, even if we wanted to, since we’re all too busy being oppressed by the economic elites. Honestly, is it valid to equate the power of the CEO in the penthouse, the office boy fifty floors down, and the panhandler on the street outside, just because all three are white? That is clearly absurd.
Yes, but the panhandler, the office-boy both have a higher chance to become the CEO if they were white and male than if they were Indian or indeed Black or GLBT.
And so, it seems to me, the idea of privilege was reincarnated from its earlier formulations in order to rationalize the hostility that is requisite to Critical Race Theory: white privilege, a mystical quality that magically infuses each and every white skin with power, whatever the owner’s actual circumstances; and incidentally turns the owner of that white skin into a by-definition racist, regardless of his or her personal beliefs or behaviour. (For the critical feminist version, substitute “sexist” for “racist”, and “penis” for “white skin”.)
And I repeat it doesn’t turn you into a racist, it just nets you benefits that you take for granted.
An example? Well look at Barack Obama. Born on American Soil proper people still claim he is some sort of Kenyan super spy set to bring America down to it’s knees from the inside.
John McCain ran against him. John was born outside the USA. Not a single word about John McCain being a secret Panamanian set to seek revenge for the Invasion of Panama.
You know as well as I do that if Barack Obama was called Barry O’Brian and was a white anglo-saxon protestant we wouldn’t be discussing his birth certificate.
See the wild accusations aren’t the problem. It’s the CREDENCE given to them. The Nation of Islam said crazy stuff but no one gave any credence to them. The Tea Party said crazy stuff and we had to do stuff to prove it wrong as their argument while crazy was given more credence and value.
It gets worse.
No privilege-holder (PH) can ever understand or empathize with the experience of a non-privilege holder; even the effort to do so constitutes a form of oppression. A PH’s positive impulses, even his or her activism in support of equality, are considered to be, not just condescending, but as racist and injurious as any Klanner’s negative impulses and activism in support of bigotry. This is because even a PH’s positive feelings are inextricably mired in a system structured on white male privilege.
You can understand or empathise with our plight. However the problem is quite often people dismiss it.
As you just have. And no we can distinguish between the casual racism of “You are a credit to your people” and the racism of “Fuck You, You Smelly Paki”. There is a difference, we aren’t stupid and we know the difference. And we can distinguish between people who support us and people who don’t or are trying to tick boxes.
And it gets worse. Any members of visible minorities—or women, for that matter—who are successful by normal criteria are liable to be ideologically suspect; this is because they can only have succeeded with the blessing of their privileged overlords, and are therefore helping to shore up the white patriarchal power structure. This makes them collaborators, Uncle Toms, chill girls, traitors, bad role models. They are not helping. Unless, of course, they are Critical Theorists with book contracts and tenured academic positions, in which case they are above reproof.
I am Indian. We don’t denigrate our “Uncle Toms”, but we understand that people have made sacrifices to make it.
Farrokh Bulsara, Kalpen Suresh Modi, Krishna Pandit Bhanji… don’t google these names. Just keep them in mind. Can you guess their “more famous names”?
Overall, it seems to me there is no room in this analysis for actual goodwill and an sincere desire for social equality. People of perceived privilege can do nothing right, except perhaps shut up and wallow in collective and historical guilt. People without perceived privilege are obliged to be angry, to wallow in victimhood, to view every person born with a white skin and/or a penis as an oppressor. In my book, the latter is not “reverse racism” – it is just racism. It is not “reverse sexism” – it is just sexism.
Just remember the names up there.
I think there are two opposing metaphors for Western society in operation here. The first involves a monolithic skyscraper: from the outside, it is a “shining city built on a hill;” on the inside, it is a battleground. The lower floors are a seething warren of the unprivileged, kept in their place by barred doors, armed guards, and whites-only signs on the elevators. The upper floors are the preserve of the privileged, who fight floor-by-floor to keep their sanctum inviolate, though a few tokens are allowed upstairs now and then to give the others false hope. In this model, conflict is de rigueur, and the skyscraper cannot be saved. It can only be torn down. But isn’t society less like a monolith, and more like a collection of buildings in various states of construction and repair? Some of them may resemble the skyscraper described above; others may have different signs on the elevators; some may have no signs on the elevators at all. Messy, diverse, both horribly and hopefully human, with areas where terrible things happen, and areas where the effort to build together is honestly undertaken. In this model, the city on the hill may gradually be rebuilt into something better.
It’s not that there are “No Coloureds/ Whites Only” signs on these elevators. It’s that we get security checked when we walk through the door. Our offices are consistently not as nice and the cleaning staff don’t vacuum our floors…
The issue we have is not that racism is overt but people don’t even realise they are being racist.
CRT, along with its feminist and other counterparts, constitute an ideology that erects obstacles between people who might otherwise work together. This ideology assigns collective guilt, with no hope of absolution. It slaps pejorative labels—racist and sexist—on great segments of the population on the grounds of the skin colour and genitals they happened to be born with, and aims to radicalize other segments into a state of perpetual victimhood. It holds cheap the observable progress of the last half-century. As an ideology, it is as racist and sexist as any other we have suffered from in the long, painful history of our species. It is not helping.
No. It is helping. The problem is YOU aren’t helping us. You have basically told me that the things me and my people face isn’t racism.
Farrokh Bulsara, Kalpen Suresh Modi, Krishna Pandit Bhanji…
They all changed their names because no one took them seriously with their “real” names. They aren’t “lightweights” in the realm of fame either.
Freddie Mercury was a Parsi. His studied in Mumbai as the Parsi’s last survivors are in India and they have lived in India for more than a thousand years. His real name was Farrokh Bulsara. He chose a stage name because no one came to see him perform. He pretended to be a white guy in order to be taken seriously.
Kal Penn is the stage name of Kalpen Suresh Modi. It was a “joke” that worked. He never got any work as an Indian actor (Remember. Traditionally Indian roles were played by Hispanics. Hence Khan…). People wouldn’t hire a man called Kalpen. So what would happen if he anglicised it to Kal Penn? His callback rate went up by 50%. So he kept it.
Ben Kingsley’s real name is Krishna Pandit. A man who has won Oscars has to pretend to be “white” to get jobs initially.
I do the same thing. Most people know me as Amy or indeed as Avicenna. And it’s seen in other ethnicities too.
It’s just thoughtlessness and innate discrimination rather than a distinct plan not to “hire” us. However this sort of racism is very real when you are on the receiving end. You may think it’s wallowing in our victimhood but frankly a 50% increase in call backs? How many jobs and interviews and opportunities have I lost due to my name alone? We won’t know…
By the way, that invisible knapsack? It’s not invisible, it’s imaginary. And forget about checking your privilege. Just chuck it.
Yes, why bother realising you have it easier than someone else and making steps to be more accepting of others.