Thursday, March 2, 2017

White privilege

I attended a presentation by Debby Irving, author of the book "Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race".  She really did an excellent job.  In a two hour presentation, she showed what white privilege is and that it is quiet, unnoticed and real.  She more or less encapsulated her talk with the statement "He was born on third base but he thinks he hit a triple."  The idea is that there are many subtle and unnoticed advantages given to white people in the US and many obstacles put in the way of people who are not white.

I recently read "Fear Itself" by Ira Katznelson, a historian.  It is a history of the years of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations and it is appalling to read how often politicians, especially those from the South, went out of their way to deliberately hold back, put down and deprive Black Americans of the benefits and programs available to whites.  The most damning thing in my mind is the way the G.I. Bill after World War II was a big help for white veterans to get mortgages and thereby homes and to attend higher education but was explicitly made unavailable to Black veterans who had also faced battle and death.  That really seems unfair and dastardly.

Debby Irving started her talk with the statement "I'm a nice person.  Isn't that enough?"  You can see that when the cards, often the governmental and legal cards, are stacked against a whole group of people, people who have paid taxes and lived good lives in the "Land of the free and the home of the brave", being a nice person isn't enough.  The issue of states' rights has often been raised to allow individual states to "administer" programs in such a way as to put more advantages in the hands of whites and fewer in the hands of Blacks and other minorities.

The subject of Indian schools, starting with the Carlisle Pennsylvania School, is another example of approaches by whites that assumed superiority for white ways.  Native American children were required to leave their homes and customs and live fulltime at the Indian schools where they were to be taught white ways.  The film "Rabbit-Proof Fence" shows that same approach was used in Australia with aborigine children.  At least the Australians have "Sorry Day" (May 26) to remember their misdeeds and apologize for them.

The Trail of Tears, a forced march by the US government to open lands traditionally held by the Cherokee to white settlers under the Jackson administration, is just one of many examples of the US and its citizens violating treaties and mistreating people.  By the way, the Cherokees appealed to the US Supreme Court, which ruled in their favor, but President Jackson famously said, "The Court has made its decision.  Now let it enforce it." Even though Chinese laborers were desired to complete the railroads across the country, the whites passed many laws restricting the "yellow peril" people, who still managed to out-work and out-save them.

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