Tuesday, April 27, 2010

White Protest, White Privilege

My good friend and fellow blogger Ed Palm has commented, both in his blog and in emails we've exchanged, that he considers much of the virulent right-wing reaction against Barack Obama's policies (and person) to be racially motivated. I've sensed the same--although, having been guilty of a fair degree of Bush-bashing myself, I'm not sure his political opponents were any kinder than Obama's.

But a recent counterfactual column by commentator Tim Wise has convinced me that--whatever the racial dynamics of anti-Obama sentiment--it is solely because of their race that the various groups fomenting such sentiment have been able not only to get away with their extremist agenda and terroristic threats against the president but to be lauded by many as latter-day champions of American freedom. Wise's essay hinges on the simple thought experiment: what if all these "patriotic" groups were non-white? How would we think of them then? Here's a snippet from the essay:

"Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters--the black protesters--spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protesters--these black protesters with guns--be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose."

The column is brilliant, exposing piece by piece how much of what we whites like to consider our God-given rights are in fact race-given rights--rights we have "earned" because of the color of our skin, and rights that are denied others because of the color of theirs. Having recently written an essay on race myself (forthcoming in the journal Smash Cake), I stand in awe of Wise's incisive critique not only of the white protestors but of the entire edifice of white privilege. I'll say no more here, because Wise says it all much better than I could. I'll simply end by saying that his is an essay that all thinking people should read. Its truths, to borrow a phrase, I hold to be self-evident.

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