Monday, January 22, 2007

What white guilt?

This article is explicit proof as to why every President of a University in the United States needs to shut down* the "Identity Politics" wing in the Humanities Departments (best described by Stanley Crouch via the quote "Alienation has become a commodity that you sell on an academic market.").

(*And, actually, they should keep just one "Identity Politics" prof. on and allow her (it's never a "he" - males are forbidden as they are part of the supposed problem) to continue to teach the classes, just so if anyone wants to experience the looniness up close, they can. But limit each student to just one of the classes, and it's pass/fail.)

And while the college pres. is at it, s/he should send a memo to the Literature dept. telling them to get over it and get back to teaching actual literature. (Lit. depts. are the second refuge of Identity Politics goons, much to my continued embarrassment. When I was in college, I watched our best Shakespeare prof. go from happy and fun teacher, to bitter and resentful scold where each class ended up being a hen party for gender feminists who wanted all "males" (can't use the word "men") rounded up into camps. What a loss that was.)

Anyway, pertinent excerpts below. My emphasis added.

Which brings me to the main reason I delayed writing about Obama. For me, it was a trick question in a game I refused to play. Since the issue was always framed as a battle between gender and race (read: non-whiteness -- the question is moot when all the players are white), I didn't have the heart (or the stomach) to point out the obvious: Obama isn't black.

"Black," in our political and social reality, means those descended from West African slaves. Voluntary immigrants of African descent (even those descended from West Indian slaves) are just that, voluntary immigrants of African descent with markedly different outlooks on the role of race in their lives and in politics. At a minimum, it can't be assumed that a Nigerian cabdriver and a third-generation Harlemite have more in common than the fact a cop won't bother to make the distinction. They're both "black" as a matter of skin color and DNA, but only the Harlemite, for better or worse, is politically and culturally black, as we use the term.

To say that Obama isn't black is merely to say that, by virtue of his white American mom and his Kenyan dad who abandoned both him and America, he is an American of African immigrant extraction. It is also to point out the continuing significance of the slave experience to the white American psyche; it's not we who can't get over it. It's you. Lumping us all together (which blacks also do from sloppiness and ignorance, and as a way to dominate the race issue and to force immigrants of African descent to subordinate their preferences to ours) erases the significance of slavery and continuing racism while giving the appearance of progress. Though actually, it is a kind of progress. And that's why I break my silence: Obama, with his non-black ass, is doing us all a favor.

Since he had no part in our racial history, he is free of it. And once he's opened the door to even an awkward embrace of candidates of color for the highest offices, the door will stay open. A side door, but an open door. Yet until Obama survives the scourging he's about to receive from Hillary Clinton (God help him if he really did lie about his Muslim background) and the electoral process, no candidate of color will ever be taken seriously. Clinton isn't about to leave the stage in the name of racial progress, and the pundit class has only just begun to take apart the senator's record, associates and bank accounts. Still, this is progress. A non-black on the down low about his non-blackness is about to get what blacks have always asked for: to be judged on his merits. So let's all just pretend that we've really overcome.

-- Debra J. Dickerson

Jaw-dropping, isn't it?

Plowing through the letters responding to the article, though, it was heartening to see the vast majority were of the "WTF?" variety.

I thought "Gary" had a particularly salient observation (I've edited it down, but haven't changed the meaning by taking things out of context):

First off, let's address this "white guilt" and "safe black people" nonsense once and for all. Obviously I can't speak for the entire country, but I suspect most white Americans are like me: we don't hold any white guilt, and we aren't frightened of black people. I'm not sure where these rumors started, or why they play such a smug refrain in black politics.

Like every other white person I know, my family arrived in this country after the Civil War. I'm second generation born-in-America, with my grandparents having arrived on Ellis Island, at various times, from Italy and Ireland in the 20s and 30s. This is the culture I grew up in, and lord knows, there are millions upon millions of us similarly situated. I'm sorry, but as a general rule, we don't feel the slightest personal guilt over slavery, or any responsibility for the atmosphere in the South prior to the Civil Rights movement. It had nothing to do with us, and our cultural history gives us enough of our own problems to worry about. It amazes me that Dickerson is so readily able to distinguish between held-in-bondage-blacks and African-immigrant-not-blacks, but is also so willing to lump 80% of the country together as "white".

Obama looks like his white mother, and therefore is "safe" for us to vote for? Don't make me laugh. "Swooning over nice safe Obama means you aren't racist?" What the hell? Despite Dickerson's belief, most of white people don't spend any time worrying about whether we're racist or not. We just aren't, but don't feel any need to prove our lack of racism to Ms. Dickerson, any more than I feel the need to prove to Europeans that "hey, I may be descended from Italians, but I don't like Mussolini, I swear." All this crap is too far removed from my generation and my experience.

But two things: first, you really shouldn't be throwing white people into this mix, acting insulted and condescending if we don't bother to constantly distinguish between the groups – no one is entitled to that as a matter of right. I don't demand that you understand the historical rise of Italians and Irish in America, or to recognize me as Irish/Italian, or to distinguish between the clear differences between an Italian looking person and, say, a Polish person; don't demand that I vote for Ronald Washington from Detroit, just because he's black enough for you.

(Before I read this letter, my original title for the post was "So, because my heritage is essentially Swedish and Irish, I should feel like half a victim because one of my distant ancestors kicked the butt of another one?", but I felt this letter said it better.)

Like this guy, I have never felt "white guilt."

Even though I grew up in the Midwest amongst the Lakota Sioux, and at any given opportunity they would use "white man stole my ..." complaint (fill in the blank with whatever the moment's grievance was), I just couldn't manage to give a damn.

All of that happened several generations back, and I had as much to do with it as I did the formation of the sun, and there's not a hell of a lot I can do about it now. If free education through the graduate level and monthly checks for simply belonging to a particular race aren't enough, I don't know what would be.

"Give the land back." Sure. Let's start with your house. And, for the record, all the land that was "given back" was pretty promptly sold to someone who had the funds to buy it.

"Well, you are on the 'winning' side, so that's why you don't care" is usually the next refrain, but again, I'm not on any side. I inherited things the way they are just as everyone else my age did. I didn't win anything. In my home state, someone of Lakota descent can literally attend college as long as they want to for free. Hell, I'd have stayed until my liver gave out, had I had that opportunity. Who's the winner again?

(Further, imagine had it been the Chinese, or the Arabs, who'd ventured out and not Europeans. What would your world be like, then? Bush baby is a freakin' cake walk compared to Mao or Mohammad.)

And it's not as if I don't have the opportunity to have multi-generation grievances over injustices in the past. My family once pretty much owned a small town, because we owned the only restaurant, the only bar, and the grocery store. One night my grandma sold a shot of whiskey to a guy who later got into an auto accident where he killed people. I don't know who exactly sued - the victims or the drunk - but someone sued my family out of the ownership of all their property on the grounds that my grandma was responsible for giving him the drink that allowed him to kill people. My family left the town in poverty and had to start anew elsewhere. Had that not happened, my brother and I would probably be pretty wealthy at this moment in time.

Even before I knew of this particular chapter of family history, it has always struck me as odd that the law can actually go after a bartender or bar owner if someone who drank there later gets into trouble. That flies in the face of personal responsibility. The reasoning: if you sold me the crack, it's your fault I'm a crackhead. That just doesn't wash with me. How is a bar owner any more responsible for the actions of a drunk any more so than the owner of a liquor store?

Given that, should I hunt down the family of that drunkard, or the family of those who were killed, those who essentially took all of my family's wealth and possessions and hound them for reparations for generations? Hell, no. What happened, happened, and it's over now.

So I've got no white guilt whatsoever, thank you very much.

Any guilt I carry around is for stuff I've done myself (or, y'know, have allowed to occur when I could have changed things).

For the record, I don't think Obama is experienced enough to be the pres, yet. (Not that Georgie Porgy was/is, but he's a puppet for a shadow council anyway.) We don't have enough info about him given the resume he does have. Let him be a Senator for a while before he tries for the office that turns everyone's hair white. (And why is that, you suppose? Do they take every pres. down to the x-files office, show them the truth about aliens, or the memos from the Vatican regarding the third secret of Our Lady of Fatima, or pictures of Margaret Thatcher nude? What could it be?)

Update: In a sort of "response" article to the one above, Salon's Gary Kamiya says this:

"Of course, the fact that white people are the majority in America makes it easy for them not to feel 'white.' A majority group's racial identity, since it encounters no external obstacles, singling out or bigotry, is always invisible to itself."

Here is another fallacy that folks who don't think of themselves as "white" subscribe to in America. I've been singled out or have been the subject (I hate to use the word "victim") of bigotry plenty of times.

Here are just two examples:

When I lived in Florida, I frequented a local KFC. If I walked in when the white manager was not working, leaving the all-black staff, and was first in line at the counter and a dozen black people walked in, they would all be waited on ahead of me. If the white manager were working, the reverse would occur, where I would be pulled to the front of the line around any black people. This happened so frequently that I would look who was at the counter and get in line accordingly. I had tried to not be put ahead of black people who were ahead of me once, but the manager would not have it any other way. Of course, complaining about the reverse might have been dangerous.

Again in Florida, I had to drive through a portion of the town to get home euphemistically called "French Town" which was the local black ghetto. When it was daytime, no problem. However, when I had to cross it at night, there was the potential I'd get trapped at one of the two lights. Invariably when I did, people would come up to the car, usually the hood, and pound on it or rock the car, yelling some racist thing at me. Only once did someone come up to the window.

During my afternoon peruse of the latest on Digg, I found this lovely article.

So let's not fool ourselves that white people walk around oblivious and free from racial harassment.

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