Since my exposure to bell hooks in the early 90s I have tried to shift the focus from racism and people of color to white supremacy and white people. To that end I shared with the cast a recent writing by noted anti-racist Tim Wise. He explained white privilege comparing the treatment of Sarah Palin and family, especially in mainstream media, with that of Barack Obama and family.
A few of his many bitter examples:
“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 believing that reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because, ya know, the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), is a dangerous and silly idea only supported by mushy liberals.
“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 was “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 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, in short, the problem.”
Tim Wise was criticized by many for exaggerating his claims of White Privilege, so he wrote a follow up piece presenting statistics from a broad range of research.
Here again are a few excerpts:
That's the point: privilege is the flipside of discrimination. If people of color face discrimination, in housing, employment and elsewhere, then the rest of us are receiving a de facto subsidy, a privilege, an advantage in those realms of daily life. There can be no down without an up, in other words.
Despite white fears to the contrary, even with affirmative action in place (which, contrary to popular belief does not allow quotas or formal set-asides except in those rare cases where blatant discrimination has been proven) whites hold about ninety percent of all the management level jobs in this country, receive about ninety-four percent of government contract dollars, and hold ninety percent of tenured faculty positions on college campuses.
The writing continues with some illuminating stats about affirmative action and how little they actually influence college admissions, especially when compared to preferential admissions for unqualified white students…
As a prompt for engaging the Delinquent cast with Wise’s presentation of White Privilege, I wrote a few notes:
Of course he's right on, but white privilege is not the only factor in much of what's going on...
The Repubs can spin anything because they truly think they're right. They don't even know what they're right about. They just know that their way of life, their god, their family, their home, their nation, their flag is under attack and must be protected at all costs. But they don't know what they're protecting and they don't know who the enemy is. They just know that they feel terrible and if they're told it's because of gays or liberals or immigrants then god damn let's get rid of them.
Zizek says, we don't know that we're not free because we have no language to articulate our unfreedom. This is a deep historical-philosophical-community organizing problem.
I'm deep in the criminal justice system due to working on Delinquent. A black man in Georgia is on death row even though all the witnesses who testified against him have now recanted saying that cops coerced them. The New Jersey 4 (black dykes accused of a hate crime when they defended themselves from sexist assault) have been in prison already for 2 years and may stay much longer. There have been at least six deaths by shooting in the Mission, most quite close to my place, in the past 3 weeks. The media makes it seem like violent people getting a little extra violent, rather than as a systematic failure of society that we should all be upset about. It's all about gangs, immigrants, and people of color rather than about poverty, racism, unemployment and no place for youth to go.
How can a performance piece do anything?