Monday, November 13, 2006

"...But there's no 'white history month'"

I just flipped through the radio on my way home and heard some local talk show host lamenting the fact that "if you give a scholarship just to white young men or want to create a 'white entertainment television,' you'd be considered racist."

I hate, hate, hate this.

Every month in every history class is white (usually male) history month. Sure, sometimes you get the little sidebar in the textbook about this or that famous black person/white woman.

I seriously want to punch people in face when they say this. Do they not realize how much privilege they get by being white?

This makes me think of that Peggy McIntosh article about white privilege. I always try to get people to read it and they never will. I can't wait until I teach a class so that I can assign it. If I give quizzes, they have to read. This might be my primary reason for wanting to be a professor. I can make people read things.

So, I'm not going to post the entire article. Just the list. You should read it.

But first, a great quote: "I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group."

  • 1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  • 2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.
  • 3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
  • 4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
  • 5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  • 6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  • 7. When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
  • 8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  • 9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
  • 10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
  • 11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person's voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.
  • 12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
  • 13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
  • 14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
  • 15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
  • 16. I can be pretty sure that my children's teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others' attitudes toward their race.
  • 17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.
  • 18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.
  • 19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
  • 20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
  • 21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
  • 22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
  • 23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
  • 24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my race.
  • 25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.
  • 26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children's magazines featuring people of my race.
  • 27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.
  • 28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.
  • 29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.
  • 30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn't a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.
  • 31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.
  • 32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.
  • 33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.
  • 34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
  • 35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
  • 36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.
  • 37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.
  • 38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.
  • 39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
  • 40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
  • 41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
  • 42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.
  • 43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.
  • 44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.
  • 45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.
  • 46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin.
  • 47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.
  • 48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.
  • 49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.
  • 50. I will feel welcomed and "normal" in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.
Update: So, I thought I'd wikipedia "white privilege" and, sure enough, I found this entry. But, this is funny: a conservative talk show host (not unlike the one who sparked this post), said, of white privilege: "[i]t's not 'unearned.' It was earned for you by the hard work and self-discipline of your ancestors and relatives."

lol. Brilliant. Why don't we just go ahead and make a caste system? The people on top had very hard-working ancestors.


Anonymous said...

You talk about it as if it is not true. Black History Month, Black Entertainment Awards, Black Blah blah Blah. It is bullshit. Martin Luther King wanted black people and white people to join together in society, and be equals. But now black people feel it upon themselves that they should be seperate anyway, so what was the point? I know the point. The point is so you get your own way and get all these privlidges and if you don't get claim white people are racist. Fact is racism works two ways, and the majority of blac people i've met are racist towards white people. FACT!

Jennifer said...

I promise not to punch you in the face, despite my overzealous original comment :-).

I think it's important to remember that first quote from the McIntosh article: racism isn't about hating people of a different race. In fact, it often has little to do with individual people. Racism can be institutional. Like "flesh" colored bandaids.

That's a little example, right? Sure. But I think it's symbolic of something far more insidious than you making broad generalizations about black people that some might mark as racist.

No, it's creating a normative standard, and that standard is "white." Are you white? How often do you think about yourself as having "race"? Probably not all that often.

It's that idea that "white"="normal" and blacks (and, remember, there are other races and ethnicities too!) and others are defined against "white."

American history, as taught in our schools, is primarily a history of white America. Every day we celebrate white history day.

Thanks for replying... feel free to respond. I love this topic.

Anonymous said...


You know what Stephen Colbert would say to that...

plus, he doesn't see race

Jennifer said...

Hahaha. Brilliant.

Stephen Colbert is my hero.

I love you.

Anonymous said...

If you celebrate july 4th as independence day, you don't need white history month.
all blacks were still slaves when americans were free.
so yeah, why can't blacks have something to celebrate?