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Politics & Power

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This is Your Nation on White Privilege

For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are 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 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 if you're black and believe in reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school, requires it), you are a dangerous and mushy liberal who isn't fit to safeguard American institutions.

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 is “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 and the fact that she lives close to Russia--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 suddenly 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 when you can take nearly twenty-four hours to get to a hospital after beginning to leak amniotic fluid, and still be viewed as a great mom whose commitment to her children is unquestionable, and whose "next door neighbor" qualities make her ready to be VP, while if you're a black candidate for president and you let your children be interviewed for a few seconds on TV, you're irresponsibly exploiting them.

White privilege is being able to give a 36 minute speech in which you talk about lipstick and make fun of your opponent, while laying out no substantive policy positions on any issue at all, and still manage to be considered a legitimate candidate, while a black person who gives an hour speech the week before, in which he lays out specific policy proposals on several issues, is still criticized for being too vague about what he would do if elected.

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 church-going 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 go to a prestigious prep school, then to Yale and then Harvard Business school, and yet, still be seen as just an average guy (George W. Bush) while being black, going to a prestigious prep school, then Occidental College, then Columbia, and then to Harvard Law, makes you "uppity," and a snob who probably looks down on regular folks.

White privilege is being able to graduate near the bottom of your college class (McCain), or graduate with a C average from Yale (W.) and that's OK, and you're cut out to be president, but if you're black and you graduate near the top of your class from Harvard Law, you can't be trusted to make good decisions in office.

White privilege is being able to dump your first wife after she's disfigured in a car crash so you can take up with a multi-millionaire beauty queen (who you go on to call the c-word in public) and still be thought of as a man of strong family values, while if you're black and married for nearly twenty years to the same woman, your family is viewed as un-American and your gestures of affection for each other are called "terrorist fist bumps."

White privilege is when you can develop a pain-killer addiction, having obtained your drug of choice illegally like Cindy McCain, go on to beat that addiction, and everyone praises you for being so strong, while being a black guy who smoked pot a few times in college and never became an addict means people will wonder if perhaps you still get high, and even ask whether or not you ever sold drugs.

White privilege is being able to sing a song about bombing Iran and still be viewed as a sober and rational statesman, with the maturity to be president, while being black and suggesting that the U.S. should speak with other nations, even when we have disagreements with them, makes you "dangerously naive and immature."

White privilege is being able to say that you hate "gooks" and "will always hate them," and yet, you aren't a racist because, ya know, you were a POW so you're entitled to your hatred, while being black and insisting that black anger about racism is understandable, given the history of your country, makes you a dangerous bigot.

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 and an absent father is apparently among the "lesser adversities" faced by other politicians, as Sarah Palin explained in her convention speech.

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 a lot of 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.

Tim Wise - Anti-Racism Activist | Give your feedback on this article. | Click icon to Digg this article

Who’s the Elitist?

Lately, many people have tried to label Barack Obama an elitist. They say this with a sneer in their voice and an assumption that people will believe that just because someone has a decent vocabulary and a good education that they look down their nose at the rest of the world. This is about the biggest piece of hooey I’ve ever heard.

Let’s talk about the backgrounds of both Senators McCain and Obama. The differences between their childhoods alone is enough to punch about a million holes in the idea that Obama is the more privileged of the two. One grew up in comfort while the other knew the struggles of life first hand from an early age.

John McCain is the son of an admiral. His childhood was spent among the privileged few in military life who are deferred to by all others. He lived in officer’s housing which is leaps and bounds above the housing afforded to lowly enlisted men and their families. I know the differences between the living conditions for enlisted and officers because I lived on a military base in enlisted housing while many of my friends were the children of officers. The children of the officers lived like kings comparatively speaking. This has historically been the case going back to ancient Rome. Foot soldiers live meager existences with few perks while commanders are pampered and given all of the comforts available.

Barack Obama was raised with his sister essentially by a single mother. They moved around and struggled to make ends meet like many of us. He ended up being taken care of by grandparents who sacrificed greatly for a child who looked very different than they did but who they loved nonetheless. He played high school sports and worked hard in school so that he could earn his way into a good college. Nothing was ever handed to him and he took nothing for granted.

John McCain was essentially legacy enrolled in the Naval Academy because his father was a high ranking officer. He graduated near the bottom of his class and did to his credit go to serve in the Vietnam War. While there he was shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese who held him captive for five years. Nobody can dispute that he endured hardship and pain during his time in Vietnam. It was an experience that would undoubtedly shape his thinking for the rest of his life.

Barack Obama earned admission into Harvard University and worked his way to being one of the most respected students of his class. He would become the first African American to serve as the head of the Harvard Law Review. This was not just given to him. He earned it through hard work and dedication.

John McCain parlayed his experience in Vietnam into a political career. He ran on the war hero image and has spent many years in the halls of Congress shaping laws that have shaped this nation. He has had a mostly distinguished career. He left his first wife after attaining power and married a wealthy woman who is his wife to this day.

Barack Obama passed up a lucrative law career to work in the inner city of Chicago to try to make things better for disadvantaged people from that community. After several years doing that he ran for office so that he could work to make larger change happen for the average people he had been working with for so long. He used his gift for public speaking to inspire people to vote and work to bring change to their communities. As a state senator Barack Obama was one of the most prolific authors of bills in the Illinois Senate.

Through their respective histories the two candidates have taken very different paths to come to serve their nation. While one cannot deny the service of John McCain it is clear that his path with the exception of his time in Vietnam has been a much easier path than that of Barack Obama. McCain has had every advantage and used them to attain personal wealth and power. Obama had to struggle to attain that which he has achieved much like most of us average working Americans. While John McCain has used his station in life to acquire wealth and power, Barack Obama chose to work in his community instead of taking a high paying job with a law firm that he could have easily had coming out of Harvard Law School. While McCain was enjoying the life of a wealthy politician Obama was working in his community to try to make things better for people struggling to get by on the meager salaries that are nothing more than small budget line items to the CEO’s benefiting most from the tax breaks championed by the Republican Party.

McCain’s advocates have even gone so far as to mock Obama’s community organizing as being inconsequential compared to their political lives. That is the definition of elitist and insults all of the church and community groups trying to bring positive change to their communities. For those who have the unmitigated gall to call Obama an elitist while denigrating his history of efforts to help the people around him and calling for more tax cuts for the rich, I say you need to look no further than the mirror to find an elitist. Cindy McCain spent over $300,000 for a dress to wear to the Republican convention while Michelle Obama bought hers for the Democratic convention off the rack for under $200. Who’s the elitist?

Troy Wilson-Ripsom - Staff Writer | Give your feedback on this article. | Click icon to Digg this article

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