Once again, the dramatic exposure of institutionalized black abuse by America's police forces and their subsequent immunity from consequence has struck a nerve in just about everyone, from the front line to the chat room. In the wake of the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and several other young black men and women beginning in August, racial tensions have risen quite high, as hundreds of thousands of people across the nation continue to take to the streets to protest systemic injustice. Equally pervasive as the well-deserved outrage over the abuse is the reflexive desire to justify it, blame the victims for their own alleged misconduct, and to defend the sanctity of the police state. The believers cling tenaciously to their talking points, completely failing to realize just how much they are contributing to the problem.
For example: I recently published a diary encapsulating some of my initial impressions of the whole sordid affair, to which I received only a single comment; a textbook example of white privilege made manifest, one that is worth mentioning only for its usefulness as a case study in how not to deal with situations like the one Black America is currently in.
The commenter in question goes by the moniker “techzilla,” a Libertarian in Leftist's clothing hailing from the great white state of Ohio. A glance at his commenting history shows him to be a fairly strict ideologue, one for whom focusing on technicalities is paramount to constructing his worldview. While he may technically be correct on a number of points, his framing of them is what is problematic; ignoring the brutal, daily reality of black and brown life in America in favor of lofty ideological arguments actually contributes to systemic racial divides, by erasing the humanity of blacks in the eyes of whites. This is a fairly common theme among white privilege apologists, one that allows them to remain secure in their rightness (whiteness?), while leaving them completely tone-deaf to what people of color and their allies are actually trying to tell them.
The fun begins with the very first sentence:
“The problem is not the mythical "white people" just like the victims are not only "black people"”One of the most common tactics employed by white privilege apologists is to ignore systemic problems for individual ones. For them, racism involves active, willful participation, not passive positioning in a fundamentally inequalities power structure. Hence where statements like this, or “Not all cops/white people are bad!” or “Black people can be racist too, y'know!” stem from; the English language is woefully inadequate towards making individual distinctions while simultaneously acknowledging broader issues, leaving plenty of room for nuance to be willfully ignored. So once again, for the cheap seats: NO ONE is making the claim that white people or police forces are in any way monolithic in belief or approach, or that all blacks are uniformly victimized by our justice system; it's just more convenient to take those claims at face value than it is to try and see beyond them.
He blithely continues:
“The root of all this conflict is without any doubt economic, and it will ONLY stop when the structural conditions are fixed. In response to economic reality, people create narratives to justify their world. In other words, racism did not create slavery, it was slavery that created racism. Racism continues, not because everyone in the system is racist, but because economics is dictating the ideology.”As I mentioned previously, falling back on technicalities is one of the principle ways in which white privilege apologists are able to remain secure in their rightness (whiteness?) while demonstrating their good intentions. For the record, I don't think our friend “techzilla” here is a bad guy. He is, however, completely tone-deaf to the delicacy of the matter, and to how misguided and offensive his framing is. Technically, he's right, more or less. But that doesn't make him sound like any less of an asshole, or a shill for the institution. The economics that guide racism, privilege, and white supremacy cannot be adjusted until those ideologies are first deconstructed; anything else is, to coin a phrase, putting the cart before the horse.
Speaking of getting it all backwards, “techzilla” then provides us with this little gem:
“What needs to be fixed? The hearts and minds? NO, fix the perverted reality in which they exist...and you will change their thoughts.”What's often lost in discussions over class divisions is that the “perverted reality” we all exist in is, in fact, the twin realities of white supremacy and patriarchy. America was founded on the principle that straight, white, land-owning, Protestant men are the only ones who should have a say over how our affairs are conducted, and everyone else can essentially go fuck themselves. While there have been a number of advances in culture and policy since then, it should be clear to anyone who is paying attention that this principle has not been fundamentally altered in any meaningful way, and that our entire system of governance is still structured around it. Only when we can can recognize this reality for what it is that we can begin to make real changes in areas like the distribution of wealth and entitlements.
Things get truly priceless from here, as our boy drops the ultimate truth bomb:
“I reject race as a social construct, period, not because I am unable to see race.... But because that's not how we fix the problem.”Whenever white people say things like “I reject race as a social construct,” or the more quotidian “I don't see color,” it takes a great deal of effort to resist the impulse to pat them on the head and, with the utmost levels of condescencion, smile and say, “Good for you!” It's easy to make statements like these when your race has never been a condition upon which you have been denied practically everything, as it has been for people of color since the very birth of our nation. Racial identity is a real and potent factor in the lives of every one us, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not; for people of color, this often manifests in very real and existential crises to their liberty, their security, and even to their very lives. To tell the very people whom we've systemically required to be constantly mindful of their skin color that we simply choose ignore it is to deny their entire lived experience. The differences exist, like it or no; turning provides little more than a cheap and tawdry sense of enlightenment.
Lastly, “techzilla” resorts to a tactic that I can't necessarily quote, but I shall do my best to explain: after demonstrating how incredibly evolved he is with his refusal to acknowledge racial differences, he turns to none other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to support his position, through the following quote:
“In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike.” - MLKQuoting great leaders and thinkers to support your position is quite laudable; I do so myself on a regular basis. What matters when doing so is the intent behind the usage. Quoting black leaders out of context, whether deliberately or otherwise, is a common tactic among white privilege apologists for supporting their positions while suppressing dissent. “Martin Luther King doesn't think I'm an asshole for ignoring skin color; you're not disagreeing Dr. King, are you?” to which the respondent is clearly intended to bow their head in shame and say, “Yes, massa.” This tactic presupposes that all people of color and their allies either are or should be in complete agreement with those among them that rise to prominence, further demonstrating the monolithic lens through which white privilege apologists actually do see skin color as a factor in judgement. So much for rejecting race as a social construct, eh?
The above quote is taken from the conclusion of Dr. King's book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, written and published after a number of landmark victories had been obtained in the Civil Rights Movement. It was only when a foothold of black equality was established that Dr. King then able to turn his thoughts toward addressing the underlying issues of economic injustice that fuel America's racial divides. Even then, he did so primarily through the lens of race, warning that “(t)he persistence of racism in depth and the dawning awareness that Negro demands will necessitate structural changes in society have generated a new phase of white resistance in North and South.’’ A “new phase of white resistance,” indeed; one that involves, among other things, using the Good Doctor's own words against the very people who have reaped the benefits of his sacrifice.