Thursday, October 2, 2014

Understanding Racism, Sexism, Agism, etc.: It's All About Privilege

Black lesbians: Talk about three strikes.

This recommended Daily Kos diary about white privilege was an eye opener for me, not because of what it had in it, but from following one link to another.

First, I clicked on a link and read "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack," not realizing the Daily Kos post was not really about that. Yet, I not only found it clarifying about how those of us who enjoy the privilege of being white -- and, about half the time, male -- don't seem to realize it's not good enough to not be racist or sexist, but it also contained a link to the "Combahee River Collective Statement," which originated the phrase, "identity politics," while discussing both the plight and the solutions to the problems of black feminist lesbians.

Why I'm so into this discussion -- and why I was so taken by the statements in the above three links -- is because I've been surprised by the position of some of my white friends that "I'm not a racist, period." I love these friends and respect them no end, but on this point I can only answer, "That's bunk."

The question that truly begins to get answered in the links above is that white privilege -- and in my case, white male privilege -- is something we get gifted. We don't earn it, we luck into it. Then many of us stand back and enjoy the lives we lead with tut-tuts of "Those racists are shitheads" and think we've washed our hands of it. Sorry, bullshit.

I've always known this about myself, that I got a head start. Add that I was born into an intellectual family that valued education -- both my parents were teachers with excellent educations themselves -- with all the privileges that attend that accident of birth. I grew up to be smart, inquisitive, and ambitious and thinking that is was my natural state of affairs, which it actually was. The point is that it was no accident.

I was really taken by the Combahee River Collective Statement, and without going into the whole thing -- do read it! -- I want to point out what I noticed in an early part of the preamble, if you will:
Before looking at the recent development of Black feminism we would like to affirm that we find our origins in the historical reality of Afro-American women's continuous life-and-death struggle for survival and liberation. Black women's extremely negative relationship to the American political system (a system of white male rule) has always been determined by our membership in two oppressed racial and sexual castes. As Angela Davis points out in "Reflections on the Black Woman's Role in the Community of Slaves," Black women have always embodied, if only in their physical manifestation, an adversary stance to white male rule and have actively resisted its inroads upon them and their communities in both dramatic and subtle ways. There have always been Black women activists—some known, like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frances E. W. Harper, Ida B. Wells Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell, and thousands upon thousands unknown—who have had a shared awareness of how their sexual identity combined with their racial identity to make their whole life situation and the focus of their political struggles unique. Contemporary Black feminism is the outgrowth of countless generations of personal sacrifice, militancy, and work by our mothers and sisters.
It was that last line that got me, that spoke of the "personal sacrifice, militancy, and work by our mothers and sisters." What, no mention of the white heterosexual males who are, at heart, feminists, who, like me, never let his wives or girlfriends ever do his wash and always did at least half of the cooking? Hey, where's the "Oh yeah, Calvin, he's cool," where's that?

It's not there for one stark reason: No matter what, we white heterosexual males are part of the problem and can't be part of the solution if only because of the work required to even begin to bridge our innate, culturally attenuated ignorance of what's really going on even in our own heads, our own hearts.

Maybe in the next century, maybe. Meanwhile, the best we possessors of privilege can do is not act stupid and not support the abuses of that privilege we see all around us. Fight it everywhere we can, and don't expect our black lesbian sisters to think we're cool. We aren't cool, and they aren't our sisters, even if we can all trace our roots back to Lucy in the Great Rift Valley. After what's transpired in the last, I don't know, thousands and thousands of years, we don't make much progress overnight.

But a decent start is to say, yes, I get how I'm privileged, and I won't pretend otherwise.

So far to go, so, so far.

I almost forgot. The point of the Daily Kos post was actually the Dear White Racists letter. It's unmellow, to say the least, and maybe, in tone, off-putting -- score one for the internets -- but there's a lot in there. So to the guy in the picture above, this is for you:
And here's the subtle point that you folks either can't or won't grasp. White privilege is especially the responsibility of white people to fix, not because we're all racist schlubs like you are, but because white privilege itself means that we're the ones who have the power to change it. Black people don't have that power, again because of white privilege, and not because they aren't sufficiently careful in the way they phrase their complaints about being mistreated. It's our problem and our responsibility as white people to fix not because whites are collectively guilty, but because it is the responsibility of ALL PEOPLE to fight for decent treatment for ALL PEOPLE. It just happens that, because of our shithead ancestors and a helping handful of historical accident, we white people are the ones who can do something about it. When the finger on the trigger is white, it's pointless to ask a black guy to lower the gun.
And quite frankly, given all the shit that our black fellow citizens have put up with, and all the shit they have to deal with every. fucking. day., if some of them lose their tempers and say things that aren't carefully calibrated to kiss your privileged, hypersensitive asses, well, is that actually surprising? You lose your minds when black people just complain verbally about being kicked. Imagine how tough it would be for you to keep your cool if someone was actually doing something to you instead of just talking.
Finally, yes, I know this is pointless. You want to be offended to fluff your fragile egos, and you want black people to please shut the fuck up and stop harshing your mellow. I hate to break it to you, but as long as people are being murdered by the state, given draconian sentences for crimes that in many cases they haven't even committed, and being held in poverty and privation and a constant state of fear, those of us who actually give a shit about our fellow citizens are going, at the very least, to make some noise about it.
In the meantime, if you can't be bothered to do your duty as an American to protect your fellow Americans with the considerable power at your disposal, at least shut the fuck up and stop making an ass of yourself.
That's about right.

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