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April 05, 2006

Comments

Xrlq
The most effective thing white folks can do, I think, is admit that privilege actually exists. I have no idea how many doors opened for me because of what I look like, and because of my family background. When I was first hired at PCC, several people actually said to me "You're lucky to have gotten that job, Hugo! I'm surprised they didn't hire someone of color using affirmative action. At least you know you got this on your own merits!" On my own merits? Puhleeze! I looked like two-thirds of my hiring committee!

As did the overwhelming majority of applicants who DIDN'T get the job. Your point?

elizabeth

Good post. When I went to PCC it was a collection of white (albiet eccentric) profs, some of whom were openly racist, indeed there was a scandal involving denying a black prof tenue by another prof who lectured on "blacks moving into neighborhoods and subsequent housing price drops", In one of my classes some students were so racist toward black the prof had to remove them. I would have not wanted to have been a black student at PCC. (I hope this has changed).

At university I did not believe I was privilage becuase I was wrapped up in my whole finding my identity-having my own issues junk - now I look back and realize that I lived within a sheltered cushion. In Texas I was on Greyhound when a sherriff stopped the bus to demand from every hispanic that they "prove they were american" (I was not an american, but then again, I was not asked, was I). I lived above San Marino, a well known district near Pasadena which would routinely pull over blacks for....being in a rich white district. I could walk where I pleased, get a job because I looked "Trustworthy" or "eager" (read "White &" before that) - I was not followed by store security when I went shopping, I had people greet me with a smile instead of a glare of suspecion, I had police make sure I was "safe" instead of making sure I "wasn't up to no good".

One of my lessons I learned from a PCC prof was how not to laugh at racial jokes in order to fit in - he talked openly about ways to respond that make it clear that there is behavoir that is unacceptable. It wasn't part of the cirriculum but I'm glad someone was there to teach us how to make a start.

Hugo

X, the point is not that white skin alone got me the job. Then again, black skin doesn't automatically get anyone a job, fulminations by anti-affirmative action zealots to the contrary. Background and privilege function the way affirmative action does -- to add "extra points" to a candidate's application.

kate.d.

Any unearned advantage conferred by affirmative action pales in comparison to those unmerited privileges bestowed upon me by my appearance and my background!

this is a great and succinct way of putting it. thanks, because i'm sure i'll use this in future debates...

NancyP

My favorite "DWB" (driving while black) type incident had to be when some lame-ass Ladue (fawncy White St. Louis suburb) policeman chased a middle aged black man and his wife out of an oriental rug store because he wasn't going to buy anything. The man was Gerald Early, American studies professor at Washington Univ (styles itself the Haavaaad of teh Midwest), multiple books, opeds every few months in the NYTimes, etc. - perhaps the best known humanities professor in the city. I assume he was in collegiate tweedy dress. Well, naturally, he wrote about this incident in the national press - and just as naturally, St. Louis whites started whining, but we aren't racist...

Uzzah

Sounds like your experiences in college were much like mine. Here's a contrasting experience which brought home for me the advantages I had in academic settings.

http://blackademic.blogspot.com/2006/02/my-black-pain.html

LukeB

Posts like this are why I added you to my RSS aggregator. Excellent read about something I've never really thought about because I never had to.

LukeB

Hugo, this is off-topic, but is there a way to subscribe via RSS to the comments posted to your blog? I've never used or read a typepad blog, and the "support" section in typepad.com only addresses RSS feeds for a blog.

Hugo

Luke, I don't even know what RSS is.

Hugo

Oh, Uzzah, thanks for the link -- I hadn't read Nubian's post, and it is indeed a powerful contrast.

evil_fizz

Luke: what RSS aggregator are you using?

Hugo: RSS = really simple syndicate. bloglines.com is a good basic example.

David Thompson

"And we need to stop insisting that all of our achievements were based solely on the content of our character, and not also in part on the color of our skin."

And how would you propose discerning which achievements were based in part on the color of our skin? If I'm going to be damned for deriving benefits from some ephemeral social construct, I'd like to be damned for actual benefits and not the perceptions of ignorant third parties.

Hugo

No one is damning anyone, David. What my skin color, class, and background have given me is a sense of certainty, a sense of belonging, and near-universal respect when I walk into a classroom, a department store, or get pulled over by a cop. Those are not ephemeral benefits.

Xrlq
X, the point is not that white skin alone got me the job.

Who said "alone?" My point is that white skin didn't help you get the job at all. In fact, it worsened your odds.

Then again, black skin doesn't automatically get anyone a job, fulminations by anti-affirmative action zealots to the contrary.

No one said black skin alone gets anyone a job (or did, prior to Prop 209). A completely unqualified black applicant probably wouldn't have gotten your job, but a marginally qualified one would have had a decent shot, and a black applicant with the same qualifications of you would have been a shoo-in.

Background and privilege function the way affirmative action does -- to add "extra points" to a candidate's application.

Yes, apart from the minor detail that affirmative action exists in the real world, while bonus points for background and "white privilege" exist only in your imagination. The only candidate who would have had an easier time getting your job than a black Hugo Schwyzer would have been a black Hugo Schwyzer who could point to a disadvantaged background.

Note that I'm not knocking the latter form of affirmaive action; I think people should get bonus points for overcoming demonstrated adversity rather than merely playing the race card. I'm merely pointing out that to the extent background plays a role in hiring (especially in a post-209 era), bad backgrounds count for more than good ones.

sophonisba

Yes, apart from the minor detail that affirmative action exists in the real world, while bonus points for background and "white privilege" exist only in your imagination.

http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2003/resume.html

Hugo

Just FYI, I was hired well before Prop 209...

David Thompson

"What my skin color, class, and background have given me is a sense of certainty, a sense of belonging, and near-universal respect when I walk into a classroom, a department store, or get pulled over by a cop."

So, how much of that is attributable to your honkey quotient, versus your wallet or upbringing? Would you care to hang a percentage on it?

Lydia

Excellent post. You've really opened my eyes, sadly they were all but closed before. I've never thought of affirmative action as a good thing for anyone, but I you make a great point.

My only question is, when will it end? Do you think there will be a time when we no longer need affirmative action? Or do you think we will only achieve that in hundreds of years, when race no longer exists as such (when we all look like the new Betty Crocker)?

stanton

"Affirmative action" (as we call it in the US) is always instituted as a temporary measure to correct unfair disparities. I believe that it was envisioned as a ten-year effort when LBJ instituted it 45 years ago. In most other countries that use racial and class preferences in hiring, housing, and education, the beneficiaries are the majorities, who resent very successful minorities. These majorities always manage to find good reason to retain the preferences. In a few nations, such as America and India, a principled majority instituted preferences to assist minorities. India made the mistake of placing a twenty-five year time limit on the program. When the time came for the program to end, violent demonstrations by the privileged "tribes and classes" killed a lot of people and destroyed a great deal of property. The riots continued until Parliament renewed the preferences - I believe without a specified termination date this time.

So there is one thing that you can count on: A group receiving preferences quickly becomes addicted to them, and there will never be a time when they conclude that the preferences are no longer needed. I would be glad to hear of counter-examples, but I don't think it has never happened, and is thus not going to happen here. (When the Supreme Court decides to enforce the fourteenth amendment, and there are NO protests about it, then we will have seen AA achieve its purpose and go away. It will not happen.) It's a quicksand policy, and escape is difficult or impossible.

Xrlq

Sophonisba, your point is taken. My reference to "the real world" was a bit too broad, the basic point being that in Hugo's world - applying for a teaching job at PCC - it is highly unlikely that any imaginary "white privilege" helped him get the job, and more likely that it hurt his chances.

Anthony

Xlrq and Sophonisba, there are stereotypically "white" names that would have the same sort of effect as a stereotypically "black" name in hiring. Imagine Hugo competing for his job against someone whose legal name was "Billy Bob Johnson", even if Billy Bob had slightly better qualifications. (Or imagine "Chauncey Smythe" against "Andre Jackson" or "Juan Rodriguez" for a blue-collar job.)

Admittedly, the white examples are less common, but the signal sent by a name like "Tamika" or "LaShawn" isn't entirely a racial one, it's also a class signal, which may matter more for employers.

Mr. Bad

"Unearned white privilege" is a myth.

In my experience any privilege that contemporary whites (at least white males) enjoy they've most certainly earned. However, I would argue that on-balance, people of color and women have a lot more of the type of "unearned privilege" Hugo and others discuss, both good and bad. "DWB" is one kind of "unearned privilege," as is affirmative action. Similarly, the stereotypes that result in whites being blamed for slavery and racism is "unearned privilege."

As I said, "unearned white privilege" for the most part is a myth, IMO designed to facilitate perpetuating the white liberal guilt trip.

Lauren

FWIW, the original questions came from me. I'll see if I can somehow drudge up the list or responders (of which there were plenty, and lots of good reading) from P6.

Hugo

Lauren, I'm sorry I wasn't able to credit you. I'll update that in the original post.

Liz Opp

I got here via Public Quaker, and I'm glad I took the time to read your post and the many comments that follow.

I finally remembered this comment that someone shared with me. I learned it with a certain president's name in the sentence, but feel free to insert any name of someone who is white, straight, and wealthy who thinks she or he doesn't have any extra privilege:

George W. Bush was born on third base, and he thinks he hit a triple!

My first encounter with any sort of privilege that I have, as a white woman, was when I was working as a sign language interpreter for Deaf and hard-of-hearing people. WoW, I had not realized how much "power" there is in simply having access to information, either because you overhear a conversation with information that is relevant to your situation; or because English because is your first language and so you can easily read the papers that give instructions; or just because you don't have an extra step to go through, like finding an interpreter, and having information "relayed" back and forth, not always reliably so...

Those professional experiences ten years ago were eye-openers for me, and I haven't been the same since... in a good way!

Blessings,
Liz, The Good Raised Up

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