Thursday, April 30, 2015

On Racism and White Privilege

[Johnathan Clayborn]

I will preface this by saying that this one is going to be rather long, because I'm pretty worked up about this issue, but it should be worth the read.

Just yesterday I was discussing the recent bouts of protests in Baltimore, Maryland that were sparked by the tragic death of young Freddie Gray while he was in police custody. Some ignorant, narrow minded racist actually had the nerve to sit there and call me racist, which was met with applause by his group-think companions. Even though this person did not know me, and was clearly incapable of grasping any of my comments with any ounce of understanding or comprehension, this still bothered me, so much so that I swore off even commenting about politics or religion or equality on Facebook.

To any of my friends who know me personally, they recognize that there's not a racist bone in my body. I may be a great many things; I may be naive at times, I may be idealistic, I may be a hopeful dreamer of a Utopian future that will likely never come, and I am definitely overly analytical and highly logical in my thoughts, but I'm not racist.

So why was I called a racist? Because I actually proposed that people be treated equally and fairly and that the color of your skin should not, under any circumstances, play a factor in deciding who is awarded benefits or opportunities. I stated that the fact the job applications and college admission applications even have a race field seems like a sad, sad commentary on how far we still have yet to progress. You are either qualified for the job, or you are not. You are either capable of academic success, or you are not. The color of your skin plays absolutely no bearing on how you perform either of these functions. But to suggest that people be judged as individuals based on their own personal merits and abilities rather than skin tone is, apparently, racist.

A lot of people are upset, rightfully so, about the excessive use of force by police and the shootings of unarmed civilians. The media and society is generally far more upset when the suspect who was shot is black. Curious about this, I actually went a looked this up. According to the CDC WISQARS database on injury mortality reports there are some interesting values to be considered. When pulling the data from the database I examined "legal intervention" as the cause of death. This is their way of saying "police caused". I also looked at data for both genders for ages between 15 and 50. The breakdown of the results of that search are below:
It might not be noticeable right away, but the table tells an interesting story. If you look at it strictly in terms of number of total deaths, numerically, then it shows that police kill  white people more than twice as often as blacks. Some people would argue, where's the bias there? However, if you evaluate the number of deaths as compared to their percentage of the total population (the total number of available victims possible), then the data tells the opposite story; blacks are killed at twice the rates of whites. All of this will inevitably, invariably turn into an argument between two sides; blacks are killed more because they commit more crime, which will be counter-argued with blacks commit more crime because the police target them and profile them and racially discriminate. Which group is right? I don't know, I honestly have no idea Realistically, it's probably somewhere in the middle. But, it's completely irrelevant. How can I say that? I'm a racist asshole, remember? No, really I'm not. The point of the protesting is that police brutality and unnecessary use of police force is an epidemic problem. As the data on this chart shows, it's a problem that affects everyone. I had suggested that they stop using the hashtag #Blacklivesmatter and instead use the hashtag #Allivesmatter. That's also, apparently, racist thinking. 

When one considers the main crux of the argument, and the points of the riots, it's that police treat people unfairly. Ancient wisdom tells us that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. By using hashtags that turn the issue of police brutality into a racial issue, then it tears apart and divides any real traction that the movement might have before it even begins. Ancient Chinese wisdoms taught by Sun Tsu in the Art of War explain strength and unity. If you pick up sticks one by one you can break them easily. If you pick up a bunch of sticks and bundle them together, they cannot easily be broken in half. This same logic applies to social change and social reform. One unified voice all demanding the same change will get results. Divided voices are easily swatted down, broken, and quickly lose focus on exactly what it is that they want in the first place. Do they want Justice for Freddie Gray? Do they want an end to police brutality? Or do they want to change the paradigm of thought process? The answer is probably "all of the above", but prioritization must take place. 

All of these conversations brought up another point, one that I've argued against for some time; the idea of White Privilege. As a white male, I have not, at any point in my life received any sort of privilege simply for being white. My family doesn't have "connections". We don't have "family money". We don't own land. For generations we were poor farmers. I am moderately successful by most interpretations of that word, but I only got there through hard work and determination. I got there through working a full-time job and going to school at more than a full time rate. One person argued with me saying that where she was from in the south, all of her white friends were just handed jobs and that's how they succeeded, and that her family directly benefited from her being white. That's fine, for you, but it never benefited me in any way.

Here's the real root of the bigger issue though; Saying that White Privilege even exists is a racist ideology. I know, I know, I keep making outlandish "racist" claims, but here me out. The problem with thinking that there is even such a thing as White Privilege assumes that all white people are the same. Would it be fair to say that Native Americans are the same, or do they have unique and distinct cultural differences between their tribes? Would it be fair to assume that all Latinos are the same and that people from Puerto Rico had no differences when compared to people from Brazil and Chile? Would it be fair to assume that all Black people are the same and that people from Nigeria and Kenya are the same as people from Somalia? If the answer to these questions is no, which it is, why then is it okay to assume that all White people are the same?

The whole concept of White Privilege is that white people have a better socioeconomic disposition than Black people because they aren't discriminated against when looking for work or applying for school because they're white and society caters to whites. Within the broad spectrum of White cultures that make up the total overall White demographic, my particular culture that I identify with is Irish. Irish are probably, aside from the English, the epitome of "white". Then you have French, and Germans, and Italians, Russians, Polish, etc. I want you to consider these images here for a moment: 

Consider for a moment that Irish and Italian immigrants to the US were discriminated against. They were denied work. They were denied education. They were denied other benefits and opportunities in exactly the same way that people of color were denied to them. So what then, pray tell, would these people claim was the reason that they weren't successful? Are they going to claim White Privilege held them back also? That's crazy and it doesn't work because, oh wait, they are white. 

The whole point of this particular illustration is that just trying to say that people of color are underprivileged and it's due to White Privilege not only grossly oversimplifies the situation, but it actually completely detracts the conversation and shifts the focus away from the actual mechanisms that cause social injustice and inequality in the first place. Clearly not every black person is destitute, underprivileged nor a criminal. Clearly not every white person has doors and opportunities available to them simply because of the color of their skin. If you honestly believe that, then either you are totally ignorant of actual history within the United States, or you're harboring racist thoughts yourself. 

So what is racism anyway? Really, racism is the discrimination, mistreatment or abuse of another person or group of people due to the color of their skin or their ethnic origin. To combat racism there's another word that's thrown around a lot lately; equality. We talk about gender equality, we talk about racial equality, we talk about religious equality and social equality. But there's a problem with this: 

Everyone keeps talking about equality, but no one actually wants to be equal. I am very egalitarian in my worldviews and beliefs. I think that all things; rewards, opportunities, benefits, punishments, everything, should be decided equally, unilaterally, and fairly to every person without regard to race, religion, or socioeconomic status. Is that a realistic thought? Maybe not, but it's still how I think that the world should be run. 

As I had said to some of my friends discussing this issue; "you cannot create a racial construct as a response to a socially or institutionally racial issue and expect the underlying racism to be resolved". Case in point, consider this for a moment: If there was a scholarship for one group of people, but another group of people could not apply because of the color of their skin, would that be racist? Of course it would, right? So if there is a scholarship that was available only to white people and no people of color could apply, that would be racist, right? Of course. Well, what if it was a basketball scholarship because there aren't enough white basketball players? Still racist, right? So, why then is it okay to have scholarships for black people and other people of color where white people are not permitted to apply, but that's not racist? I'll tell you why, because it actually is racist. But, wait, Affirmative Action! That's nothing more than a bullshit excuse to exercise more racism because of racism. To those people of color who were discriminated against it might feel like vindication, but it's still racism at it's very core. 

The whole argument for Affirmative Action scholarships and programs in the first place is that people of color have been historically underprivileged socioeconomically and therefore had less access to money for healthcare and education. (We'll pretend that the Irish and Italians that were also discriminated against just got money from magic leprechauns for a moment). Going back to the logical, egalitarian way of thinking, financial aid should be awarded on the basis of need as the sole criteria. Race should never play a role in these kinds of decisions. So, if that is the case, and assuming that people of color are underprivileged, then by default they would also have the most need (because they make the least amount of money). And, because they had the most need, they would also, therefore, be pushed to the front of the line as an intrinsic result of their low socioeconomic status. The people who have the most need for the money are the ones who get it, period. Race need not be an issue. Creating special categories whereby certain races are excluded or prohibited from applying at all because of the color of their skin is the very definition of racism. If you can't see that, then you are a part of the problem. 

The issue of why certain populations are underprivileged is a complex issue that does not have a simple answer. Trying to summarize it as a race issue is not only ignorant of historical context or understanding of race, but it also does the entire conversation a disservice. How can you truly understand a problem and get to the real root of the situation if you enter into the conversation with an outlook that you already understand the problem and are closed off to hearing the viewpoints of others? I recently removed some people from my Facebook feed because I was tired of their racist dribble while they spouted that those people who didn't agree with them are racists. 

By continuing racist lines of thinking, such as white privilege, it further undermines their efforts to bring about meaningful social change. For example, by making this a racial issue, instead of simply a social issue, then it serves to alienate all of the other white people, like myself, who might be otherwise sympathetic to the plight of the underprivileged because they are or were underprivileged themselves. It's not a white vs black issue, it's much more complex than that. 

Some of the arguments that were thrown around were that the "power structure" of the country was skewed and that white privilege exists because white people have the power. Again, this is racist thinking and oversimplifies the issue. We've already established that it's racist to think of all Natives the same way, and that it's racist to think of all black people the same way. So which white people is it that have the power, exactly? It certainly isn't me. It's certainly not anyone that I personally know, either. This kind of thinking, that all white people are the same, creates additional problems that weren't there before in addition to everything else. 

I ask you all, if you truly want to understand the people around you, start looking past the end of your noses. Stop this racial nonsense and actually listen instead of pretending to know all of the answers. You've been discriminated against by those in power. That sucks. I would know because I have been too. But, rather than seeing myself and people like me as an ally, as a brother in the same boat of suffering, most people will instead downplay my personal successes and undermine me and lump me in with the same group of people that discriminated against me in the first place, all while calling me racist for thinking logically and rationally. 

The whole point of this rant is this; if you want to protest, that's your right, protest. If you want to speak out against the abuse of power and the social injustice that exists, that's great, I'm right there with you screaming for exactly those same things. I don't want to be abused by those in power. I don't want to be unfairly punished or rewarded for things I don't deserve or didn't do. But as soon as you start making it about the color of my skin or the color of your skin, then our common ground and our common goals dissolve away and become divided. So I ask you, if you are upset about Baltimore, if you are upset about unjust police brutality and unnecessary use of force, then what is it that you want? Do you want actual, meaningful social change, or do you just want to be right? 

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These blogs represent my thoughts, ideas and opinions. They may be different from yours. You may not agree with them. While I do enjoy a good, polite debate on a topic (where points are countered with other points based on logic, reason and fact), I do not enjoy an argument (where you tell me that I am wrong simply because you disagree and cannot offer any reasons to support your position). I am very respectful of others, and I expect everyone on here to be respectful in return, not only to me, but to each other as well. Disrespectful posts will be deleted automatically. Feel free to share your ideas, but keep it civil, please.