At our recent Society of Friends Gathering (with a capital G), there
was talk, and interest and concern with white privilege. I was
interested in what sort of things showed the existence of special
treatment and such for the great majority of those attending. They
looked "white" to me, although nobody is actually white. I looked up
the books that seemed to be related to the subject of special breaks
for white people and I chose the book by Lena Williams called "It's
the Little Things". Since I have been listening to an audio copy of
"Fear Itself" by Ira Katznelson, a historian with good credentials, I
heard about efforts by many members of the US Congress during the
1930's and 40's to try to keep conditions, laws and rules arranged to
favor whites and give blacks more obstacles and limitations. The book
"Fear Itself" about the Roosevelt and Truman years, from the end of
the Great Depression, through World War II and into the Atomic Era.
Katznelson documents the voting in the House and Senate along with
amendments to bills. I don't know much about the motivation for the
steady efforts to create conditions more favorable to whites than to
blacks. One example that stuck in my mind was passing appropriations
for agricultural research to be done by colleges and universities but
not those that were black. World War II called for many soldiers and
how to get them and motivate them to risk death and injury while
maintaining what had been the customary segregation was a steady
problem. WW II had the whole country employed and humming economically
and the federal government had agencies and powers aimed at keeping
high employment after the war. A common strategy was to try to
complain about federal power and to support states' rights. Most of
the time, when a program or a law was administered by the individual
states, some sort of difference between rights and possibilities for
whites and blacks was instituted by some states.
One example is a continuation of the previous practice of advertising
"white" job openings in a separate newspaper list from "black" jobs.
Some administrators would purposely offer a lower level job to a
black, knowing that person had much higher skills. Once the black
rejected that job, a way would be found to deny that person
Lena Williams has been a reporter for the New York Times for more than
40 years. She is black and knows both black and white life in the
north and in the south of the US. She opens her book with the
business of long, flowing hair on women. She explains that many black
women have hair that doesn't lend itself to the typical white young
woman's hairstyle of long hair. She says that black women accept
their weight more often than white women but obsess about their
hairstyle more than whites. Many young black women have been
conditioned to believe their hair is never right or beautiful by ads.
Williams gives many examples of different sorts of law enforcement for
the two groups. Police and others, such as gas station operators, may
be quicker and more severe with rule and law enforcement with black
people. For instance, many gas stations require that some form of
payment be completed before refueling begins. If a white begins
refueling without having paid, they may be allowed to continue while
in some cases a bigger, louder, more humiliating deal is made when a
black does the same thing.
The black woman law professor who spoke at our Gathering mentioned
that when she shops with her sons, she cautions them to behave
themselves and to stay close to her. She does not want them accused
of theft or of preparing to steal. She certainly doesn't want them
stopped or stalked by a store detective or arrested.
I recommend "It's the Little Things" but it is not pleasant reading.
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