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Contemplating Privilege

That was then, this is now.  Pre-election, I just wasn’t sure I wanted to publish this.  After all, pundits abound, and I am surely not one of them.  Nor am I a political scholar by any stretch of anyone’s imagination.  But this moved me deeply, opened my eyes a bit wider — I felt it was important.  To share or not to share?  What to do, what to do? 

It really was a conundrum for me because I cared so deeply about this election.  Even so, this is just my little Phone Sex blog — no illusions of grandeur or pretentious pontificating.  And I did try so hard I tried to keep my political inclinations (some might call them "passions") to myself back in the there.  There were certainly smarter and more experienced people than me studying, analyzing and blogging every little election nuance.

But …

… we’re on the other side of all that now.  And I want to put this this here now, really just to keep it handy.   I hope that — in retrospect, on this side of then — you might find this (sent to me from there — via email from Mr. Anonymous Caller and Gleeful Partner in Crime) at the very least interesting and maybe even something to contemplate: 

  • What if John McCain were a  former president of the Harvard Law Review?  And Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?
  • What if  McCain were still married to the first woman he said "I do" to?  And Obama were the candidate who left his first wife after she no  longer measured up to his standards?
  • What if Michelle Obama  were a wife who not only became addicted to pain killers, but  acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?
  • What  if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard?
  • What if Obama were a  member of the "Keating 5"?
  • What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker?

    If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they  are?  This is what racism does. It covers up, rationalizes and  minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when there is a color  difference.

    For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are constantly looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this  list will help.

    •  White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because "every family has challenges," even as black and Latino families with similar "challenges" are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.
    • White privilege is when you can call yourself a "fuckin’ redneck," like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you’ll "kick their fuckin’ ass," and talk about how you like to "shoot shit" for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.
    • White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college),and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.
    • White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you’re "untested."
    • White privilege is being able to say that you support the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance because "if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me," and not be immediately disqualified from holding office–since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the "under God" part wasn’t added until the 1950s–while believing that reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because, ya know, the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), is a dangerous and silly idea only supported by mushy liberals.
    • White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you.
    • White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto was "Alaska first," and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you’re black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she’s being disrespectful.
    • White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do–like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor–and people think you’re being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college–you’re somehow being mean, or even sexist.
    •  White privilege is being able to convince white women who don’t even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a "second look."
    • White privilege is being able to fire people who didn’t support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.
    •  White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God’s punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you’re just a good church-going Christian, but if you’re black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you’re an extremist who probably hates America.
    •  White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a "trick question," while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O’Reilly means you’re dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.
    •  White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has  anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism is, as Sarah Palin has referred to it a "light" burden.
    •  And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren’t sure about that whole "change" thing. Ya know, it’s just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain.

      White privilege is, in short, the problem.

      Tim Wise is the author of White Like Me (Soft Skull, 2005, revised 2008)

What I remember most about Election Night 2008, was seeing Jessie Jackson, standing amidst that sea of people, crying as he watched Barack Obama give his acceptance speech.  Mr. Jackson is not my cup of tea.  I know people who’ve had … well, we’ll just say "experiences" with him.  But all of what I know about the dark side of Mr. Jackson didn’t matter.  Here was this man, this black man, seeing the first African American elected to the presidency.  What was he feeling?  What did this mean to him?  Even now — thinking about that — I am totally blown away.

I am not black.  I’m just a generic little white girl.  I will never know what Jessie Jackson and millions of black Americans were feeling at that moment. But  can appreciate it.  And I can be proud of America and her big leap forward.  A Will.i.am said, "I’ve been fighting for tomorrow all of my life." 

America’s got a lot of stuff broken right now.  But we’ll get through it.  We always do.  When we’re in the crunch we always join hands and hearts and figure things out.  But for the first time in history, we will be one, big cohesive group … all for one and one for all.  Really.  Not for pretend, but really.  And doesn’t that just fucking rock?

Well, Will.i.am, this truly is a new day.  And it is my privilege to step into it with you.

xo, Angela 

Do you hear what Elmo and Rosie hear?

7 Responses to “Contemplating Privilege”

  1. hdb Says:

    Dear Angela,

    There is abolutely NOTHING about you that is generic, not even by rough approximation. This is a time for everyone to try and put on each other’s shoes, go for a walk in them, and learn.

    thanks for sharing as always. you’re heart grows bigger than the planets and seems to do so with each post from somewhere special deep within.

  2. litmajor Says:

    Merry Christmas, Angela. As usual, you have a lot to teach me.

  3. Kylie Says:

    Well Angela, it’s finally happened. (Not that I’m surprised….I knew it would happen one day.) The first one of your blog posts to actually give me chills. Well, goosebumps really, but let’s err on the side of dramaticism, shall we? 🙂 Jsyk~I’m referring to *your* words after the quoted text, not the article itself~although the article was pretty wonderful as well. 🙂

    I may be a bit of a broken record at this point, but I have to say it again. I absolutely *adore* your mind, chica. *Sighs*

    xoxo, Kylie

  4. science nerd Says:

    You are so eloquently heartfelt, my sweet Angela and I really appreciated your dilemma in deciding to share this, but you should always feel free to share that magnificent heart of yours. I always vote Libertarian, because the big 2, just like the auto makers, have really kind of mucked up things for their own benefit for so long, but this time I voted for the man who should have won and actually did. What a weight he must feel.

  5. PQS Says:

    You’re right, Obama will have his hands full. It’s been a miserable 8 years — an unnecessary war in Iraq, Enron, New Orleans devastated, and now all of our retirement savings in the tank. But, you’re right, we’ll land on our feet if we pull together. I hope it happens. We could all use a little Camelot in our lives.

    Happy Holidays to you and to all who frequent your blog.

  6. booklover Says:

    A great post to propel us into a holiday of hope. Thank you, Miss St. L; it isn’t a coincidence that most of “Angela” is “angel.”

  7. Vanilla Savant Says:

    Even this life-long Republican realized that the country needed a fresh start and voted for Obama. My greatest hope is that he will have real success in bringing us together. The usual political forces won’t make it easy for him. So it may be up to the people again, to challenge those who try to play the old games. Was it Benjamin Franklin who said that we would have as good a government as we deserved? My point: We can’t lay it all off to Obama; the change has to continue to be driven by us. At least, with Angela calling the shots, it will be!

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