Monday, August 16, 2010

Tim Wise on White Privilege

This is a repost from a Kos diary I did more than once.  Markos Moulitsas gets enough free work from me without me leaving trace of it in my own blog.

In the last week this community has been re-introduced to the brilliance that is Tim Wise. I don’t know if the term white privilege actually belongs to Tim, but he was certainly the person who introduced the concept to me. I first published this diary in September last year and as Tim has graced us with his presence again I thought it appropriate to kick off the conversation again.

Maybe a few of you have noticed that Tim Wise my brother from another mother

is now a member of our crew of Kossacks and has started posting here with both insightful comments and full fledged posts. If you aren’t familiar with his work he is in my opinion one of the most insightful commentators on race and race relations I think I have ever been acquainted with.

first saw Tim Wise on a CNN interview and at the time I couldn’t see his face. As a Black man I was more than pleasantly surprised that another Black commentator had joined the scene and joined the scene with such on point analysis at that. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I discovered Tim Wise was and is White.

Tim makes a rather explosive contention, but it is one that few non white people would disagree with that being that racism is a White persons issue. In the video above he contends that at America’s founding both white and black people were victims of the elite. These elites made the uniquely American decision to institute a regime of white superiority in order to co-opt the white side into supporting their leisure.

In short the elite of the time instituted a divide and conquer strategy. He contends that both white and black people were in essence in the same boat as indentured servants. Over time the white and black members of that class began to band together and in the face of that threat white superiority and the system it spawned were born. The elites went to the white members of that indentured class and in essence made them a deal. They could have a little land, and they could make some money hunting and returning to bondage those Black men who were slaves and may have escaped thereby making them willing defenders of a system that didn’t necessarily have their best interests at heart. This has elements of the same phenomenon we see today. Why else would people who barely have a pot to piss in are willing to take to the streets to battle against policies that would help them? It is my contention that they do so because they fear someone that is not like themselves will benefit, or else why would old Joe Wilson scream you lie with such vehemence at the idea of undocumented people here (I hate the term illegal aliens, people aren’t illegal just by being) would be eligible for care?

I’ve noticed around our big orange home that even our some of our progressive brothers and sisters are having a hard time understanding why the Black members of our society are truly up in arms (if you think we aren't listen to some Black radio) and are unable to see past the racial components of all this vitriol and focus on health care or whatever issue is standing before us. It’s because it isn’t the issues standing before us. There is no race card, and if there is it is the two of clubs. There is no real policy motivation behind these people refusing to allow their children to hear Obama speak to them. The reason all this is occurring is the same reason and issue America has not put to rest White superiority.

Why am I picking at a wound? I’ve heard this around, it’s because its an injury that is still being inflicted. It’s because our people and institutions are under active attack by a media organization that is actually owned and takes its orders from a person that is really non American who has no interest in seeing our national strife healed. The only way we are going to be able to do so is to discuss this as equals and as equals who understand and appreciate where both sides are coming from which is why I picked Tim Wise to illustrate my point.

Rather than knowing about and confronting the ugliness of our past, whites take steps to excise the less flattering aspects of our history so that we need not be bothered with them. So, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for example, site of an orgy of violence against the black community in 1921, city officials literally went into the town library and removed all reference to the mass killings in the Greenwood district from the papers with a razor blade--an excising of truth and an assault on memory that would remain unchanged for over seventy years.

Most white people desire, or perhaps even require the propagation of lies when it comes to our history. Surely we prefer the lies to anything resembling, even remotely, the truth. Our version of history, of our national past, simply cannot allow for the intrusion of fact into a worldview so thoroughly identified with fiction. But that white version of America is not only extraordinarily incomplete, in that it so favors the white experience to the exclusion of others; it is more than that; it is actually a slap in the face to people of color, a re-injury, a reminder that they are essentially irrelevant, their concerns trivial, their lives unworthy of being taken seriously. In that sense, and what few if any white Americans appear capable of grasping at present, is that "Leave it to Beaver" and "Father Knows Best," portray an America so divorced from the reality of the times in which they were produced, as to raise serious questions about the sanity of those who found them so moving, so accurate, so real. These iconographic representations of life in the U.S. are worse than selective, worse than false, they are assaults to the humanity and memory of black people, who were being savagely oppressed even as June Cleaver did housework in heels and laughed about the hilarious hijinks of Beaver and Larry Mondello.

These portraits of America are certifiable evidence of how disconnected white folks were--and to the extent we still love them and view them as representations of the "good old days" to which we wish we could return, still are--from those men and women of color with whom we have long shared a nation. Just two months before "Leave it to Beaver" debuted, proposed civil rights legislation was killed thanks to Strom Thurmond's 24-hour filibuster speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate. One month prior, Arkansas Governor Orville Faubus called out the National Guard to block black students from entering Little Rock Central High; and nine days before America was introduced to the Cleavers, and the comforting image of national life they represented, those black students were finally allowed to enter, amid the screams of enraged, unhinged, viciously bigoted white people, who saw nothing wrong with calling children niggers in front of cameras. That was America of the 1950s: not the sanitized version into which so many escape thanks to the miracle of syndication, which merely allows white people to relive a lie, year after year after year.

No, it is not the pastor who distorts history; Nick at Nite and your teenager's textbooks do that. It is not he who casts aspersions upon "this great country" as Barack Obama put it in his public denunciations of him; it is the historic leadership of the nation that has cast aspersions upon it; it is they who have cheapened it, who have made gaudy and vile the promise of American democracy by defiling it with lies. They engage in a patriotism that is pathological in its implications, that asks of those who adhere to it not merely a love of country but the turning of one's nation into an idol to be worshipped, if not literally, then at least in terms of consequence.

It is not my intention to attack the White race I truly hope that is not the impression Im leaving. I'm hoping to begin a conversation that I hope will profit our community and I look forward to engaging in it.


  1. Do you really think this constitutes a rebuttal to the ignorance flaunted at the link below?

    As far as Yahoo Answers is concerned, white people simply are not to blame for African-American slavery because 1) they ended it, and 2) it was "started" in Africa by black potentates selling their own subjects/rivals into slavery. I don't know how broad the readership here is, but I fear this will be preaching to the choir. Now, if we could just get these two videos into the pipeline at Yahoo Answers or anything more generally mainstream pipeline...

  2. This is Kid from Daily Kos. Sorry to see you go. We both know that ratfu**ers have infilitrated Kos. The mods are not doing their jobs. The whole point of Daily Kos is to get Democrats elected. The place looks almost looks like Fox. On Aug 2nd I was banned for two weeks. They have not lifted the ban. I wish you could stay on Kos. Take it easy now Adept.

  3. @kid you know what life is way too short, and it just hit me like a ton of bricks basically F these people. You try to hang in there and fight because you feel you are a minority you need to represtent, but after I got warned for uprating someone and I didn't even notice I thought hey wait a minute. I need this crap? The stuff I put out put's asses in seats and for free and for that I get grief? So yeah I'm peace out of that place for a bit.

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  5. @George no george I have no idea why you think this post is at all linked to the yahoo thing. I would tend to ignore an historically ignorantly framed question like that. I am not interested in relitigating the past and as far as I'm concerned they can believe Martians are respsonsible for racism.