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The Boston Bombings and White Privilege

On Wednesday, a report came out that the FBI had a potential suspect in mind, a man who had dropped a backpack at the site of the second bombings shortly before they went off. Several reports said that the man was “dark-skinned,” though those same reports also said the man had already been arrested, which turned out to be false. Rush Limbaugh, of course, immediately seized on this to argue that white men are just so terribly persecuted when dark-skinned people are not:

“If they had news that the perpetrator here was white, we would have had height, weight, clothes, facial hair,” Limbaugh said. “We would know everything. We would know what radio show the guy listens to, what TV network he watches, what publications he reads. We would know everything there is if the guy was white.”

Really, Rush? How would we know those things, given that we have no idea who this man is yet? Does the news media have magical powers to find out things about unidentified white people that don’t work on black people? This is pure idiocy, but used in the service of making his privileged listeners believe that they’re being treated unfairly.

David Sirota, on the other hand, wrote a controversial piece entitled “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.” He argues that society reacts quite differently in such cases than we do to Islamic terrorism:

As we now move into the official Political Aftermath period of the Boston bombing — the period that will determine the long-term legislative fallout of the atrocity — the dynamics of privilege will undoubtedly influence the nation’s collective reaction to the attacks. That’s because privilege tends to determine: 1) which groups are — and are not — collectively denigrated or targeted for the unlawful actions of individuals; and 2) how big and politically game-changing the overall reaction ends up being.

This has been most obvious in the context of recent mass shootings. In those awful episodes, a religious or ethnic minority group lacking such privilege would likely be collectively slandered and/or targeted with surveillance or profiling (or worse) if some of its individuals comprised most of the mass shooters. However, white male privilege means white men are not collectively denigrated/targeted for those shootings — even though most come at the hands of white dudes.

Likewise, in the context of terrorist attacks, such privilege means white non-Islamic terrorists are typically portrayed not as representative of whole groups or ideologies, but as “lone wolf” threats to be dealt with as isolated law enforcement matters. Meanwhile, non-white or developing-world terrorism suspects are often reflexively portrayed as representative of larger conspiracies, ideologies and religions that must be dealt with as systemic threats — the kind potentially requiring everything from law enforcement action to military operations to civil liberties legislation to foreign policy shifts.

“White privilege is knowing that even if the bomber turns out to be white, no one will call for your group to be profiled as terrorists as a result, subjected to special screening or threatened with deportation,” writes author Tim Wise. “White privilege is knowing that if this bomber turns out to be white, the United States government will not bomb whatever corn field or mountain town or stale suburb from which said bomber came, just to ensure that others like him or her don’t get any ideas. And if he turns out to be a member of the Irish Republican Army we won’t bomb Dublin. And if he’s an Italian-American Catholic we won’t bomb the Vatican.”

I quibble a bit with the details. Law enforcement won’t make such distinctions. The FBI does routinely infiltrate and keep an eye on domestic groups that have the potential to commit violence, as they did with the Hutaree militia here in Michigan a few years ago (jumping the gun and building a case on little evidence, causing most of the charges to be dropped). But I think the societal response will be much like he implies. People are far more eager and willing to stereotype and condemn whole ethnic groups that are not their own.

My worry in all of this is that it will be used to justify going even further with unconstitutional surveillance and erode the 4th Amendment and other safeguards to our privacy and liberty more than they have already been diminished.

Comments

  1. says

    “The FBI does routinely infiltrate and keep an eye on domestic groups that have the potential to commit violence, as they did with the Hutaree militia here in Michigan a few years ago…”

    Yeah. Obama‘s FBI, going after American Patriots. Big surprise.
     

    “…(jumping the gun and building a case on little evidence, causing most of the charges to be dropped).”

    Typical Obama! He can’t even oppress rightly!

  2. freemage says

    Yeah, there were multiple news stories the last couple of days that were talking about the search for/arrest of “a dark-skinned man”. So who do we end up with when we actually do get images of the suspects? A couple of Caucasian Muslims. It’s almost like there was a difference between race and religion, or something.

  3. says

    How in the world can you justify increased surveillance because of this case?

    What? No more selling of pressure cookers without a valid ID? Put them behind the counter, like pseudoephedrine?

    Don’t get it.

  4. says

    @3: One of the brothers was a naturalized US citizen. Took his oath on 9-11-12.

    So. No more citizenship, I guess.

  5. says

    @Kevin (#4):

    How in the world can you justify increased surveillance because of this case?

    What? No more selling of pressure cookers without a valid ID? Put them behind the counter, like pseudoephedrine?

    Don’t get it.

    Don’t be ridiculous! No one is suggesting that.
    Obviously, we need a 3-day waiting period for the purchase of backpacks!

  6. brucegee1962 says

    Kevin,

    Well, they got him so quickly because it was a camera-saturated area, and a store camera picked the guys up (I’m guessing they recognized the backpacks from the fragments).

    And yes, if you have cameras on every street corner, it does help in crime fighting. I wish we had a law enforcement system that we could trust enough to have this kind of surveillance running. But we don’t.

  7. jamessweet says

    My reaction was very similar to Sirota’s — and now I’m very confused about what to expect. White Muslims! Will that serve as a lesson to people about book-cover-judging? Or will the subtleties be lost, and “Muslim-looking” people can expect all the abuse and derision and violence they would have received had the perpetrators looked more ike the 9/11 hijackers?

  8. says

    From what I’ve seen on Twitter, the fact that these dudes are, literally Caucasian, as in, from the Caucasus mountains, makes no difference. They are Muslims therefore they are “ragheads” and they should ALL die.

  9. matty1 says

    If nothing else it is a clear warning against racial profiling as a way of spotting potential terrorists or even potential Muslim terrorists.

  10. Fred Salvador, Onion Jumbler says

    Really, Rush? How would we know those things, given that we have no idea who this man is yet? Does the news media have magical powers to find out things about unidentified white people that don’t work on black people? This is pure idiocy, but used in the service of making his privileged listeners believe that they’re being treated unfairly.

    I have no problem with the denunciation – this IS pure idiocy which supports the desire of his privileged listeners to claim they are being victimised – however, if the phenomenon of “raceless suspects” is as prevalent in the US as it is in the UK I think you may be a little off with respect to the motivation for Rush’s little whinge.

    See, over here, whenever an unidentified suspect is white, the fact they are white is usually the first detail mentioned in any article relating to the misdeed. Whenever an unidentified suspect isn’t white, race will usually be left out of any media reports.

    The reasons for this are fairly obvious to anyone who cares to ponder them for a while. Telling people that a black person or a Pakistani has done something wrong will invariably lead to every racist, crypto- or otherwise, phoning Crimestoppers to report their black/ Pakistani neighbour acting suspiciously – and aside from being utterly abhorrent in and of itself, it also causes logistical problems for the police, who must then go and investigate these reports, thus wasting time that might be better spent chasing the actual suspect.

    It’s purely a logistical consideration that has nothing to do with political correctness (if it were about social justice they;d withold the ethnicity of ALL suspects, because unless you do that then it’s quite easy to infer that a raceless suspect isn’t white).

    White right-wingers, of course, do not care to ponder this at all, because in their mind the problem isn’t that crypto-racists will report innocent people if they find out police are looking for a non-white suspect, but rather that white people (white men in particular) are becoming increasingly marginalised and mistreated by other white people in the name of multiculturalism. Or something.

  11. Fred Salvador, Onion Jumbler says

    If nothing else it is a clear warning against racial profiling as a way of spotting potential terrorists or even potential Muslim terrorists.

    …eh.

    Chechen Islamist militants have been a common feature on the world stage for at least two decades now, and jihadis from various other Islamic areas of central-Asian Russia are turning up in all kinds of places, from Afghanistan to Bosnia. That the average US citizen likely wouldn’t have seen this coming doesn’t suggest that it was completely unforseeable.

    The self-defeating nature of racial profiling doesn’t need to be underlined by the involvement of Caucasian Islamist militants in terrorist attacks against the US.

  12. dugglebogey says

    The “If this were x, people would be doing y” argument is the weakest, lamest, most bullshit argument ever.

    I see this far to often on all sides of all arguments, and it’s lame no matter who does it.

  13. anubisprime says

    It just means that profiling will be condensed to just one relevant tick box…

    Muslim…
    Other…..

  14. matty1 says

    The self-defeating nature of racial profiling doesn’t need to be underlined by the involvement of Caucasian Islamist militants in terrorist attacks against the US.

    To us no but to the people pulling old ladies out of the queue at airports because they ‘look Muslim’, I’m not so sure.

  15. jws1 says

    I’m sure slc1 will be along any minute now to tell us that we should be invading another Muslim country in response to this. And, of course, if we should kill any civilians in doing so it is, by definition, totally acceptable because it’s us and we are allowed to break a few eggs to make an omelette. Also, we can prop up killers in our name because – and this is a key to this subtle nuanced argument: us = good, officially approved enemies = bad.

  16. says

    Even if Rush were correct, i don’t see how that amounts to white peopel being victimized. Actually, it woudl be quite the opposite. Specific description tend to avoid every memeber of a group being treated as a suspect. The are tens of millions of dark-skinned males, while only a handful of white guys guys of a specific height, weight and facial hair style.

  17. slc1 says

    Re jws1 @ 318

    Actually, I really had nothing to say on this matter but since jws1 brought the subject up, Chechnya is part of Russia and is not, as we sit here today, a separate country, Muslim or otherwise. I would say that it’s Vladimir Putin’s problem.

  18. slc1 says

    Re jws1 @ #21

    Kill whom? One of the alleged bombers has already committed suicide by cop. Actually, I would greatly prefer to capture his brother alive as dead men tell no tales. We need to know if there are others behind this terrorist event.

  19. jws1 says

    Kill whom? All those from which they come, obviously, just like we should the Palestinians, who are, naturally, just a bunch of bloodthirsty killers. All of ‘em. So why not invade whatever place these bombers came from, or where their family came from, or where their idols came from? It’s just the same logic as being totally cool with exterminating any population that houses violent members. Just the same logic you employ whenever it’s even casually pointed out that Israel might be wrong about something.

    I’m sure you’ll be along any moment now to say that you aren’t, in fact, an apologist for state terror. Just like Dershowitz (or however you spell that evil trash’s name).

  20. Trebuchet says

    It appears to be over; the younger brother is in custody. That’s assuming it was just the two of them to start with. The wingnuts will be having fun with this one for years.

  21. dingojack says

    SLC – I’m sure a few 15Mt devices will fix jws1′s little red wagon.
    :D Dingo
    ————
    (Before any of you explode – yes I am joking).

  22. left0ver1under says

    jamessweet (#9)

    My reaction was very similar to Sirota’s — and now I’m very confused about what to expect. White Muslims!

    That’s not really a surprise. The genocide in the former Yugoslavia (from which all ethnic groups are white) wasn’t so much Serbs killing Bosnians as christians killing muslims.

  23. caseloweraz says

    Trebuchet: “It appears to be over; the younger brother is in custody. That’s assuming it was just the two of them to start with.”

    I have a suspicion that they were pawns for some larger group. But I admit I don’t have much to base that on.

  24. Fred Salvador, Onion Jumbler says

    @27:
    The Bosniaks aren’t the only example either; all of Russia’s indigenous Muslim populations are Turkic and Caucasian, and a lot of them are indistinguishable from slavic Russians or Europeans. Turkey also has a lot of “white” Muslims, which is a result of immigration from the Black Sea region over thousands of years.

    If white Muslims blow your mind, there are indigenous Chinese and Japanese Muslims too.

  25. anubisprime says

    Could be just as ridiculous and pathetic as a younger brother in total thrall of the older brother who was the mover and shaker on what the older bruv considered morality.

    Seems that the older one was the religiously motivated one, according to inta’nets scuttlebutt…
    It was the older one that persuaded, presumably, his girlfriend to convert to Islam, and it was he that got busted a while back for domestic violence…

    It might just be a very sad case of younger bruv worshipping the ground his older sibling walked on!

    But whatever there was a poisonous relationship brewing there, and people died that had no right in dying when they did.

    How much religion played a part is likely to be ascertained in the next few months…but it is just as likely that there was an outside interference that radicalised on the premise of ethnic pride and political ambition, but it was ultimately amateurish in presentation, just as deadly of course, but half assed and poorly considered just the same.

  26. slc1 says

    It would appear the the younger brother has been captured alive. Time to break out the water boards.

  27. thebookofdave says

    If they had news that the perpetrator here was white, we would have had height, weight, clothes, facial hair,” Limbaugh said. “We would know everything. We would know what radio show the guy listens to, what TV network he watches, what publications he reads. We would know everything there is if the guy was white.

    I don’t know any other way to interpret Limbaugh’s statement other than brown people all look alike. Probably just a failure of my imagination.

  28. Dave Eboch says

    Wow Tim Wise a Zionist talking about white privalege. There is no white privalege! The Zionist have destroyed our culture with their lies. They have black and white pitted against each other with their media lies. There is no white privalege.The Zion media even go on and on that white people stole land from indians while they did far worse to the palestinians. Keep lying Zion media keep lying.

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