September 16, 2014

P.O.U. Book Club Thread- White Like Me: Chapter 2 Privilege

 

George Carlin on White People

 

I am not interested in anybody’s guilt. Guilt is a luxury that we can no longer afford. I know you didn’t do it, and I didn’t do it either, but I am responsible for it because I am a man  and a citizen of this country and you are responsible for it, too, for the very same… Anyone who is trying to be conscious must begin… to dismiss the vocabulary which we’ve used so long to cover it up, to lie about the way things are” – “Words of a Native Son,” Playboy 1964

 

Tim Wise uses Chapter 2 to give examples of white privilege and how it has benefited whites in our society.

Admiral Komack brought this first example last week. Tim Wise makes a case about reaping the benefits of being the right skin color. He uses the example of the new CEO of a multibillion dollar who sits down with the CFO to get the financial reports about the health of the company. The CFO comes in and gives a presentation. After the presentation is complete, the CEO informs the CFO that the next time she gives a presentation to leave out the debts because that happened before he started and he only wants to deal with growth and assets.  This is how whites typically deal with our racial past. They don’t want to talk about the past because, “I didn’t live then and I didn’t own slaves” bit. Basically you can’t only reap the rewards of being white without dealing with the bad luggage either.

When Wise was in school, he played a toss and catch game of football with two African-American kids. He noticed that his friends were treated differently from him. They were punished more and placed in remedial classes more often as well. The curriculum is very Eurocentric and that school has its “white spaces.” While playing football with his friends, he noticed that every time he caught the ball, one of his friends would say, “My nigger, Tim”. This exchange went on until recess was over, making Tim feel slightly uncomfortable. He understood it that years later, while watching a black comedian make a joke about making this white person his “nigger” that was what his friends were doing. At the age of nine, his friends had understood what power that word had. Tim basking in his white privilege never had conversations about how to act around the police or how to carry oneself in public in order not to bring about attention.

“White Spaces” in school are debate, which plenty of prominent politicians and successful public figures today had participated in and drama. In debate, whites discuss and debate subjects  like poverty and affirmative action in an  abstract way. Non-white perspective aren’t really considered. Plus being a member of a debate team can be expensive, you have to travel two weekends out of the month with your parents paying for it. He tells stories of  white debate teams getting high in dorms, dropping whippet cans out of their suitcases onstage, and ripping up books in a university library to handicap their opposition. They were not punished for the offenses, and if they were black no doubt they would have been. Drama was also a way for white privilege to shine. Tim was able to get different leading roles and parts in plays because his father was a comedian and thespian. Most of the plays performed didn’t have black characters and if they did they were based on white people’s perceptions of who black people were. Drama was an escape for Tim, because his family life was dysfunctional(alcoholic, emotional abusive dad) and he was lucky that being white he had that escape.

He discusses his time at Tulane, and how he was able to get despite having average grades and SAT scores. Some of the dumbest people he met were children of Alumni. He gave the example of the girl who was puzzled that she got an overdraft charge, because she had not used all of her checks out of her checkbook. The white kids took tremendous risks, with heavy drug use and underage drinking. Privilege people take lots of risks. He talked about parties that police officers would show up to, where there was nothing but white faces being belligerent, drinking and doing drugs and the cops did nothing. He made fake photo IDs as a side job, while in high school and when caught didn’t get in trouble. He could think of many times when he should have gotten in trouble but didn’t. If he was black, he knew his outcome would have been completely different.

He tells of a story of being stop by the cops for driving a beaten up car with tinted windows and a anti David Duke sticker(about 45%-50% of the white population was for David Duke). The cops assumed he was black. When he rolled down his window, the cop looked at him and said “Oh.” Tim proceeded to ask why he had been stopped and the stumbled over his words and they had to come up with something to charge him with, and afterwards told him how he could get it dismissed.

He talks about a speech he gave at a Catholic School concerning the color of Christ. He wondered why is Christ white with blondish-brown hair when all signs and evidence point to him and Mary being dark-skinned. He ask the students about their feeling concerning that. The main answer he got was, it doesn’t matter what color Jesus was, it was about who he was as a person. To which Tim answered that if it didn’t matter why not make him black for a year? One of the students ended up admitting that most people are comfortable with him being white and that it would anger them if Jesus was a different color. He also talks about a guy who reacted strangely to the OJ verdict by saying that system he has learned about and had faith in since third grade has failed.

 

This was just some of the examples of white privilege that Tim spotlights in this chapter. Next week, we will discuss Chapter 3-Denial.

 

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  • Miranda

    Last year I listened to Michel Martin on NPR interview the guy that was starting a foundation to raise money for scholarships specifically for white males. His motivation for doing so was driven by what he perceived as a slight against white males that there were no scholarships specifically for those like him…..a slightly above average student with no unique talent – but was a white male. I listened to that interview and it really startled me to listen to him lay out what he probably thought was a sound argument for why he needed to start this foundation.

    Basically, this dude believed that just by virtue of being a white male, that was enough. He believed scholarships were just being thrown about to black and brown students just for being black and brown. As if they didn’t have to meet any other criteria. As if there were no scholarships ever awarded to white males. It boiled down to this guy honestly believing that the 4.0 GPA, top 15% SAT scoring, National Honor Society, Class Treasurer, Debate Club member, black teen that received a small $500 a semester scholarship from Alpha Phi Alpha Inc was somehow unfairly advantaged because he, the B student with no distinction, couldn’t get a scholarship – but he was a white male and shouldn’t that make him more worthy than the black teen?

    • PBomb

      I read about that.

      There was this section in the book where Tim Wise talked his aunt and she asked him if he felt that there would be a race war. He told her no. She was the only white person left in her neighborhood and she kept complaining about how the blacks were looking at her funny.

      He simply informed her that the reason that her black neighbors were looking at her simply because they were puzzled that she was still living there. They were not interested in hurting her. It was interesting to see how he psychologically broke down his aunt and her whiteness.