Monday, October 23, 2006

Race: Fact or Myth? by christopher bowers

In Critical White Studies they talk about race as being much more a social reality than a biological reality. "Race" as a concept is not seen, even scientifically, as a biological reality. There are biological differences, obviously, but those are less than 5% of our genetic make-up. However, we attatch certain meanings to those minut differences and that meaning becomes more powerful than the reality of biology (that 5%). This means that two white people could have less in common genetically than a European-American and an African-American.

Race, as a concept, comes out of a political/social context, particularly in this country. People could be defined not by their biology but by a political definition of race. The whiter you were, the more likely you were to be offered citizenship, the more property you could have, acceptance... and often your race was determined by the amount of property you had (Mexicans were considered white on the west coast because they owned property). Still today, race manifests much more as a social reality.

This is not to invalidate body memory and racial pride. However, that scientifically this would be attributed more to an environmental experience manifesting through the body, not specifically to race. For example, Jewish people (of many races) may also have pride and genetic memory as a result of oppression. Identity politics is still necessary.

What is quite left out this discussion is culture. Cultural differences are huge, but still not strictly biological. This makes them none the less valid. The whole idea of race as a biological myth is intended to confront the long history this country has of oppressing people through a huge process of "othering" which often took the form of scientific inquiry (ie, Eugenics) or making the case that people are less due to INHERENT differences, that actually are not inherent, but percieved.

Vonnegut on Privilege

"This is a conservative nation. It continues to treat nonwhite people badly. It has always done that. It will continue to let its writers run free, no matter what they say. It's always done that. It's lazy about change. I'm lucky to be the color I am and to do what I do. This is the place for me"
-Kurt Vonnegut's address at Wheaton College Library, 1973

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Flipping the Script by Christopher Bowers

We often don't want to ask what social dysfunction might say about the perpatrators . Yet, if we do not, we may not understand how oppressive and hierarchial belief systems begin. For example, last year we heard many ask"What does hurricane Katrina mean for black people?", an important question to be sure. However, as anti-racist activist Tim Wise points out, another important question is what does hurricane Katrina mean for for white people? For black people it may have meant the devistation of their communities and for most white people in the area it meant their continued insulation and entitlement to safety and wealth, despite mother nature. Granted some white people were also devistated by the hurricane, most of them found it easier to relocate, get trailers, and to get their lives back on track. Why don't we ask more about why that is?

In the process of understanding social identity we must understand that aspects of race and gender are formed not in a vacuum but in contrast to it's so-called opposite. Therfore, white is defined, and has been historically, as everything that black isn't. Men also are defined against women. However, it is often the privileged group who is doing the defining. In fact, it is a part of privilege to define the world around you and to have that definition be considered reality. So with the privilege of definition, dominant groups can create a reality in which they are not culpable, a reality in which the problems of society, are the problems of certain sectors of society. For example, let's look at sexual violence and rape. It is most often defined as a problem for women. But, what if we flip the script and ask not how many women are raped, but how many men have raped? If the stats are correct, at least 1 in 3 women have been raped and about 95% of the rapes are committed by men. Therefore, taking into consideration that some men violate multiple women, approximately 1 in every 5-10 men are rapists. How many men do you know? How many men do you work with, go to school with, party with? Likewise, homophobia is seen as a problem for gay people. This, despite the facts that the most deadliest hate crimes against the queer community were committed by self-identified straight men. So whose problem is this? Furthermore, by this scape-goating logic, racism is a problem for black people and white people then, as always, are off the hook. This despite the fact that it is white people who harbor most of the wealth and power, and white people who are most often discriminitory and abusive to people of color.

This understanding of power and privilege is not intended to shame or demonize men, heterosexual people, or white people. Instead, this understanding gives us an opportunity to take responsibility if we find ourselves in a dominant social group. It is an opportunity to realize that reality may be different than we had been braught up to think, that we have a part in the ills of society and that in fact, we truly have the power to stop oppression in it's tracks. To be an ally isn't just to say "how can I help you with your problems". To be an ally, to be a human, is to say "This is my problem too".

Thursday, October 05, 2006

How White Privilege Shapes the U.S. by Eric Stoller

“White privilege shapes the U.S.”

I just finished reading Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope by bell hooks. bell hooks is amazing. Her writing is pleasantly painful. I wish I could write as eloquently as hooks. Her words are completely accessible yet they have meaning that can take days to process.
One problem that plagues our society that has been stirring my mental pot is white privilege. Thanks to bell hooks,
Beverly Tatum(Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?) and Janet Helms (White racial identity and A Race Is a Nice Thing to Have: A Guide to Being a White Person or Understanding the White Persons in Your Life ), I now have an awareness that is light years from where I started. Self awareness can be challenging and very frightening. I wrestled with Janet Helms until I could finally understand what she meant when she says that all white people start there lives as racists.
On that note, I would like to start a discussion with my readers. I want to ask a question and attempt to elicit responses via comments. I will moderate comments so that hate does not appear. Dialogue is good, but hate has no place on my blog.
Feel free to add comments to the following question(s):
Does white privilege exist? and if you answered “yes”, how have you become aware of it?

Affirmative Action by Eric Stoller

Affirmative Action
Posted on Saturday 4 March 2006
Six years ago while I was nearing graduation for my undergraduate degree I was asked the following question, “Aren’t you afraid that you won’t be able to get a job?” I was not immediately certain as to the context of the question, but upon further inquiry, I soon found that the questioner was worried I would not be hired for jobs because I was white (and a man). This was the first time I had really thought about what affirmative action was, and what it might mean to me. My thoughts regarding affirmative action had mainly been influenced by my family and the media. For the most part, I thought that affirmative action was a good thing, but I did not know why I thought that way. Doubts about affirmative action being a positive policy seeped into my head while I was conducting my first job search. I believed that reverse-racism and/or reverse-discrimination existed and that I would have to “watch my back.”
Today, I have read, thought, and conversed about affirmative action. I feel that I use to believe in the myth of meritocracy. “Everyone can succeed as long as they work hard,” floated around inside my head and veiled my mind from the truth. I believe that the United States is not a meritocracy and that affirmative action is extremely necessary. Why is it necessary? Because the United States is a system built upon the backbreaking labor, systematic abuse, and marginalization of people of color, women, and other subordinate groups. Affirmative action is a program that seeks to provide equity for these marginalized groups. It helps to create a balance against the white supremacist patriarchy in which we live.
Several arguments exist which seek to discredit or devalue affirmative action. Two arguments that I hear frequently include: 1) Affirmative action gives jobs to people of color who are not qualified and they only receive said job due to this program. 2) White men are discriminated against because of the inherent reverse-racism within affirmative action programs.
The first argument seems to stem from the belief that the definitions of what makes for a “qualified” employee are usually in the hands of white folks. Most of the institutions in the United States are chaired, governed, and otherwise presided over by white people. When a person of color is hired for a job, how often is their competency called into question? Let’s consider the following scenario: A white person interviews and is consequently hired for a job. I would posit that no one says to themselves, “wow, they must have been hired because they are white.” It does not happen. However, if a person of color goes through the same process there will be doubters. I think that a lot of people will say quite negatively, “Yep, here’s another example of affirmative action hiring a person of color. I hope they can do the job.” The white person is given an air of competency simply because of their whiteness. Affirmative action opens up spaces for marginalized individuals to combat the inequalities of white supremacy within the realm of employment.
The second argument against affirmative action is constructed within a context that is void of a historical context and knowledge of the existence of institutionalized racism. Historically speaking, white men have been in positions of power over everyone. This “power over” has saturated the United States for over one hundred years. White privilege exists because of racist tactics, strategies, and actions of the dominant paradigm. The dominant paradigm is hierarchical and white men sit atop this ladder. To say that white men are discriminated against during hiring processes due to affirmative action is like saying white men are not in power. It is a falsity that is used to erode affirmative action and to maintain the ladder of white supremacist power. I believe that racism is something that white people perpetuate. Racism is institutionalized and spread into white consciousness like a virus. White men can be discriminated against, because discrimination is different from racism. It is true that I might be discriminated against in my lifetime, but not by affirmative action programs. Affirmative action programs will take a look at my qualifications and the qualifications of a person of color, a woman, etc. and if our qualifications are the same then I will not get the job. For racism to end, white people have to be willing to give up their unearned privileges and power. The same principle applies to sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and lookism. I feel that it is part of my anti-racist philosophy to rejoice in the fact that I did not get a job because of the mere fact that I am white. There are plenty of jobs that I can get.
So, rejoice in the knowledge that affirmative action exists. Affirmative action helps to restore the dignity of people in oppressed groups as well as people in oppressor groups. Affirmative action places all those who seek to work for the government at the starting gate of employment processes, instead of allowing the dominant paradigm to start ahead of those who have been, and currently are, marginalized.

The Problem of Privilege by Eric Stoller

The Problem of Privilege

1: White Privilege #1 - I can speak of my own experiences regarding diversity and be seen as unique or vulnerable when I am in a room full of white people.
White Privilege #2 — I am never asked if I am from the United States or if I just moved here. It is assumed that I am a citizen because of my skin color.
2: In privilege # 6, McIntosh writes about the lies that are spread via our educational system. One way that I believe that I can give up the privilege of ethnocentric education is to read history books that accurately portray the history of marginalized groups. I can also pass on these books to friends and family members as potential sources of re-education. Howard Zinn and Ronald Takaki are excellent sources of accurately written historical texts. I think I am working towards giving up privilege #6 and in some ways, beginning to share or extend new information to other white folks.
I am currently choosing to not align myself with the first privilege that McIntosh writes about. This privilege is the privilege of “arranging to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.” I am working on developing networks of friends who are of color, LGBT, and any other members of oppressed groups. I’m doing this to be a better person and to do what I can to lead by example. I think white folks need to see and hear white men talk about diversity.
I currently identify as an anti-racist, a feminist, and an ally. These identities are causing me to give up the 21st privilege. This privilege is one that I am struggling with giving up because I am unsure what it will mean to my psyche. The idea of coming home after “meetings of organizations I belong to, and feeling isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared,” is not a pleasant thing. This feeling of isolation has already started to happen on a limited scale. It is a new experience for me in my efforts to subvert the dominant paradigm. I feel like the system wants me back and that my punishment is going to be isolation. Fortunately, I have an excellent support system of folks whose views align with my own.
3: I believe that it is accurate to call something a privilege that is imposed upon a person by our social structure, that they do not want and can’t get rid of. McIntosh makes it very clear in her article that it is important to distinguish unearned privileges which are part of unearned advantages. It is important to discuss privileges that are unearned; because within that discussion comes the reality that institutionalized oppression creates unearned advantages for some, while simultaneously disadvantaging someone else. Unearned privilege comes from institutional power.
4: The second we truly realize that we are privileged means that we also realize that our privileges come at the expense of someone else and that these privileges do damage to those who are privileged. Systems of oppression like racism, sexism, and heterosexism could not exist if heterosexual white men gave up their privileges and to do that, they would have to give up their power. If temporarily able-bodied folks realize that they benefit from the institutionalized oppression of persons who are disabled then all TABs would be forced to create new institutions that create systems where buildings would be accessible and technology would be usable for all people regardless of visual or motor impairments

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Why Bother?

White people cannot be fully human while they participate and benefit from a system that denies others their own humanity. The struggle against racism and oppression is faught knowing that our own liberation and integrity is also at stake.

Critical White Studies

(Courtesy of Bill)Whiteness Studies: The New History of Race in America Peter Kolchin The Journal of American History Vol. 89, Issue 1 (posted by History Cooperative and Gregory S. Jay)

Suddenly whiteness studies are everywhere. The rapid proliferation of a genre that appears to have come out of nowhere is little short of astonishing: a recent keyword search on my university library's electronic catalog yielded fifty-one books containing the word "whiteness" in their titles, almost all published in the past decade and most published in the past five years.1 All around us, American historians and scholars in related disciplines from sociology and law to cultural studies and education are writing books with titles such as The White Scourge, How the Irish Became White, Making Whiteness, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness, and Critical White Studies.2

Although the term "whiteness studies" might at first glance suggest works that promote white identity or constitute part of a racist backlash against multiculturalism and "political correctness," virtually all the whiteness studies authors seek to confront white privilege—that is, racism—and virtually all identify at some level with the political Left. Most of them see a close link between their scholarly efforts and the goal of creating a more humane social order. 1 Whiteness studies authors manifest a wide variety of approaches. In many of the disciplines outside history, prescriptive policy goals assume a central position; writing on whiteness in education, for example, Nelson M. Rodriguez calls for the creation of "'pedagogies of whiteness' as a counterhegemonic act" predicated on the need to "refigure whiteness in antiracist, antihomophobic, and antisexist ways."3

Although such didacticism is far from absent in the work of whiteness studies historians, their focus has been on the construction of whiteness—how diverse groups in the United States came to identify, and be identified by others, as white—and what that has meant for the social order. Starting from the now widely shared premise that race is an ideological or social construct rather than a biological fact, they have at least partially shifted attention from how Americans have looked at blacks to how they have looked at whites, and to whiteness as a central component of Americans' racial ideology. In doing so, they have already had a substantial impact on historians whose work does not fall fully within the rubric of whiteness studies but who have borrowed some of the field's insights, concerns, and language.4 2

This essay represents an effort by a sympathetic but critical outsider to come to grips with this burgeoning field. I will deal primarily with historical literature, although I will refer to works in other disciplines, and I will pay particular attention to two books that are among the best and most influential of the whiteness studies works: David R. Roediger's The Wages of Whiteness and Matthew Frye Jacobson's Whiteness of a Different Color.5 Because the two books differ from each other in important respects, they reveal both the diversity within and the common assumptions behind whiteness studies, and they suggest some of the insights and potential pitfalls of the genre. My aim is to produce not so much a final evaluation of a finished project as a tentative progress report on a literature still very much in evolution
To Read the Rest of the Essay or Also check out:Whiteness Studies: Deconstructing (the) Race