A bit of a ramble today, but considering how I’ve been neglecting this blog lately (at least in comparison to previous levels of posting), a ramble is better than nothing at all.
Before I start, I’m going to apologize in advance to Tit for Tat, one of my regular commenters here and often a foil against which to fence on various spiritual thoughts. Not because I’m about to talk crap about him but because he commented over at Raving Black Lunatic on a post titled Nah, You Can Keep It and he’s the jumping off point for some points I want to make about white privilege. I encourage you to read the post and comments for context.
For those who didn’t click on the link above, Big Man basically posted on the U.S. government’s fairly lame apology for slavery. About a day after a few short comments, mostly in line with Big Man’s thoughts, Tit for Tat came in and posed the question of why whites should bear any burden for the sins of previous white generations. I got up on my soapbox and then Big Man added his own responses once he realized the comments had revived, and I’m not sure it’s over yet.
But my point isn’t to repeat any of the points I made to Tit for Tat over there, nor to call him to task for his views. Instead, I want to talk about what his comments sparked in me in relation to white privilege and the way that whites band together for sometimes inexplicable reasons.
The thing is, that post by Big Man related specifically to U.S. whites and U.S. blacks. Tit for Tat is from Canada. At first, I had forgotten where he hailed from, because he seemed to be insulted at the notion that white folks should continue to feel bad about past injustices with regard to slavery. So I responded to him as if he were U.S. white, as I am.
I’m still not sure why Tit for Tat felt moved to make the responses he did, but it made me wonder about internal loyalty among whites and how it seems to me that we, as a group, often band together in odd ways to defend the actions of our fellow whites, even when they really shouldn’t be defended.
And what it made me realize is that across the globe, whites tend to be very connected to each other. Much more so than, say, Latino and Hispanic cultures in North and South America, or Africans. I’m leaving aside Asia and the Middle East in this discussion because they haven’t endured nearly as much white colonialism or expansionism (yes, yes, I know about India and Hong Kong, for example, but overall, the depradations have been less than they were in Africa and in the Americas, I believe).
To a large extent, whites have the privilege and luxury to stick together because they can trace their roots, and because overall, they have been the aggressors and the victors worldwide for a long time now. Certainly the overwhelming force for much of the industrial and Internet ages.
Most whites can trace their geneology and thus can feel a strong connectedness across the oceans to other white nations. Blacks in the United States, cannot do that. Their ancestors were brought here as slaves, and they have no clue and no records that give them any link to an actual identifiable past.
In Africa and the Americas, native people were harshy subjugated, slain and/or exploited by white nations. Whites had no problem putting down borders in those places based on their desires and their goals, ignoring traditional boundaries (something that also happened in that European/Asian transition point of Eastern Europe, where all sorts of tribals folks and other disparate groups were forced together because powerful white European nations wanted to build nations to their own specs).
In other words, whites have held the reins of power a long time, longer, I think, than perhaps any other race in history (at least over such a wide area and controlling so much wealth).
This isn’t to say that all whites have money. But the fact is that in a place like the United States, where I live, a poor white person typically has more chances to get ahead than a black poor person. A struggling white person is often be more comforable if an asshole white person moves in next door than if an upstanding black one does. Resumes with “black sounding” names get tossed in the garbage without another glance in many companies. A black person with the same or better credentials for a job will more often lose out to that job to a white person who isn’t as qualified or is equally qualified.
Yet whites, by and large, refuse to acknowledge this no matter how many studies show the inequities. They want to claim that the past injustices have nothing to do with them, and yet they won’t even admit to the current ones, much less examine how they link to the past.
Tit for Tat continued the discussion with me a bit via e-mail after we finished at Big Man’s blog. In fact, it’s likely still ongoing; no idea how long we’ll continue to banter about it. But he asked an interesting question, that I forgot to answer via e-mail, so I’ll answer it here, in front of all of you. He asked, more or less, that since I have two biracial kids, would I expect them to bear responsibility for past white sins, particularly if one or both of them ended up looking white.
It’s a fair question. First off, Son of Blue is almost a man now, and clearly too dark to pass for white. The older he has gotten, and the less cute and cuddly (by white American standards), the more harrassment he gets, for no good reason. So he is getting the crap from the white people who think they are better than him simply by being white, even though many of them aren’t as well off, aren’t as intelligent and aren’t as together. Those are the kinds of people who may hold him back from opportunities in the future. So, he can’t cash in on the white half of his heritage. He is seen as black.
It is clear to me already that Little Girl Blue will most likely be dark enough to be identifiably part black. So, she too will be treated by society as being black.
But what if one or both of them could “pass” as white? What would I expect? I would expect the same of them that I do of myself and any other white person. I would expect them to recognize the unfair benefits they get and to do the following:
- Not take it for granted
- Do their best to not misuse it
- Do their best to treat all people equally and/or according to their individual merits
- To recognize the manner in which the past plays into the present
This isn’t about blame or hating or revenge. This is about fairness and justice. In France, because they aren’t happy that African Muslim immigrants won’t fully assimilate and become just like every other French person, they are talking about banning the wearing of burqas by women. Whatever your feelings about burqas, it’s part of the religious tradition, and not all women feel forced to wear them. In any case, how can a supposedly democratic society ban a piece of clothing word by a single group? Easy, because it’s white privilege. White is right. White societies know better. That is the attitude that too many whites carry. It matters less to me whether whites take responsibility for their ancestors’ sins of slavery than it does that they stop acting like they’ve moved beyond racial unfairness.