In response to recent, prominent online discussions of privilege on Thought Catalog and Gawker, Jamilah King at Colorlines spoke to experts in institutional racism and structural inequality to find out why having these discussions is important, still.
Terry Kehlerer, training director at the Applied Research Center, Colorlines.com’s publisher
“I think that it’s really important for white people to understand that they are racially privileged. Regardless of how anti-racist or racist or racially clueless they are, they still have privilege. No amount of guilt or shame about it, if that’s where they want to go, is going to change the fact that they have privilege. Rather than trying to hide your privilege or step outside of your privilege, it’s more important to figure out how to utilize your privilege in ways that are going to be constructive. And privilege can actually be an asset. When you have money or access to information or access to relationships, those can all be delivered in service to racial justice and social justice. You have to do it ways that are thoughtful and skillful and accountable and not recklessly or in ways that are patronizing.
I think what’s problematic is that they’re often treated as individualistic notions when really [privilege and oppression] are structural concepts. You can’t pit different identities against each other and treat them as if they are personal attributes when in fact the identities are fluid and they’re relational and they’re part of a larger social construct and a larger social context and they have to be understood in that way. And I think by reducing it in the way that the Gawker piece does, to just personal attributes that can be pitted against each other, it’s just not useful.”
I am a trans woman. My sisters are trans women. We are not secrets. We are not shameful. We are worthy of respect, desire, and love. As there are many kinds of women, there are many kinds of men, and many men desire many kinds of women, trans women are amongst these women. And let’s be clear: Trans women are women.
The shame that society attaches to these men, specifically attacking their sexuality and shaming their attraction, directly affects trans women. It affects the way we look at ourselves. It amplifies our body-image issues, our self-esteem, our sense of possibility, of daring for greatness, of aiming for something or somewhere greater. If a young trans woman believes that the only way she can share intimate space with a man is through secret hookups, bootycalls or transaction, she will be led to engage in risky sexual behaviors that make her more vulnerable to criminalization, disease and violence; she will be led to coddle a man who takes out his frustrations about his sexuality on her with his fists; she will be led to question whether she’s worthy enough to protect herself with a condom when a man tells her he loves her; she will be led to believe that she is not worthy of being seen, that being seen heightens her risk of violence therefore she must hide who she is at all costs in order to survive.
In 1957, Norman Mailer spoke to the existence of the “white Negro,” an urban hipster whose fascination and fetishizing of blackness resulted in a set of practices that reflected a white imagination: part cultural appropriation, a subtle reinforcement of segregation, and a desire to try on perceived accents of blackness. “So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts,” he wrote. “The hipster had absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro.”
As the Princeton University professor Imani Perry has noted, “there is a sonic preference for blackness, the sounds of blackness, but there is a visual preference for whiteness in our culture.” It should come as no surprise, then, that white rappers are slowly beginning to dominate the college music scene with the ascendance of a genre that can loosely be called “frat rap.”
While similarly embracing hedonistic pleasures, the idea of frat rap positions these artists apart from those other artists, those of color, who may offer a similar style and performance. Akin to going uptown during the jazz era without having to leave the confines of white spaces, frat rap is nothing new. Whereas the other rap purportedly celebrates violence, sexism, and materialism, and pollutes hearts, frat rap is fun. What happens in college stays in college.
Historically white colleges remain immensely segregated. The growing popularity of frat rap, which has seized upon the power of online technologies and the stigmas associated with (black) hip-hop, continues not just a history of appropriation and the idea that blackness is merely a culture or an aesthetic that can be borrowed or purchased at the local dollar store; it also continues the American tradition of segregation that is a cornerstone of American colleges and Universities.
Is Robin Thicke the next great soul singer or a pretender to the throne? Michael A. Gonzales holds forth:
WPB-Radio disc jockey and soul music aficionado Jammer Daniels explains, “Historically, when you look at early pop history and see how much Elvis Presley stole from Little Richard or Pat Boone from Chuck Berry, of course people are suspect whenever White artists start tinkering with ‘our’ music. Whether it’s Eminem in with rap or David Sanborn in jazz, it is easy see why Black people sometimes don’t want to share our culture. Because we’re afraid people might steal it.”
While the less said about corny Pat Boone the better, the myth that Elvis Presl
ey stole the soul from Black musicians has been publicized by critics and other recording artists (Public Enemy, Living Colour) for decades. But did he really? Does it maybe make more sense that Elvis, himself a Memphis boy attuned to ways of country culture, was simply inspired by the same gutbucket blues and screeching gospel as his Black contemporaries?
According to New York Times writer Mel Watkins, who penned the late Black cultural critic Albert Murray’s obituary this week in the New York Times, Murray was adamant that “the currents of the Black experience—expressed in language and music and rooted in slavery—run through American culture, blending with European and American Indian traditions and helping to give the nation’s culture its very shape and sound.” Read more…
The weekend after the George Zimmerman verdict came down, Erica Woodland of Oakland stayed close to home. She could identify with the righteous anger expressed at the protests. But rather than join in, she canceled plans with family, postponed a trip to the laundromat and limited outings to work and the grocery store.
“I decided for my own safety, I need to stay in the house,” Woodland recalls”I knew I could be putting myself at risk for anything.”
The possibility of being targeted by police or by a fearful, overzealous civilian on account of her race was one consideration for Woodland, who is black. But so was gender. She describes herself as masculine of center, which means that her way of expressing herself – clothes, mannerisms – falls toward that side of the spectrum. It also means that like many of the black men and boys at the center of the recent conversation advanced by everyone from President Obama to Questlove, she’s been profiled as criminal or suspicious.
“We walk through the world and some of us pass as male,” Woodland, 33, says. “We get left out of this conversation.” Read more…
From the Poli-Sci Perspective Blog at The Washington Post: John Sides interviews the authors of Justice in America: The Separate Realities of Blacks and Whites.When asked how different perspectives on the justice system affect black and white views of issues like the recent Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case, they responded:
These separate realities are consequential in several important ways. First, when blacks are cynical and whites are sanguine about the justice system, they tend to interpret the behaviors of agents of the system (such as police officers and judges) through these lenses, leading to what might be a perpetual spiraling effect. In one study, we gave individuals a chance to explain the behaviors of police officers in different scenarios—for example, whether the police department could conduct a fair and thorough investigation into charges of police brutality. In one scenario, the brutality victim was described as white, and in the other scenario he was described as black.
Blacks believed that the police could conduct a fair investigation into brutality charges—but only if the victim of the brutality was white. If he was black, black respondents doubted that the police could be even remotely fair. To whites, however, the race of the victim was irrelevant. They tended to believe the police department could do its job fairly regardless of whether the victim of brutality was white or black.
In another scenario, we described a police search and arrest of two men, identified as either white or black, who were walking by a house “where the police know that drugs are being sold.” Again, when the two men were identified as black, African Americans were extremely skeptical about the circumstances surrounding the police search and were much more likely to think the police planted the drugs on the men. By contrast, whites trusted the police because they think the system is fair and color blind. Thus, in both the police brutality and the racial profiling scenarios, when either the victim or the suspects were identified as black, African American respondents reacted with great skepticism, whereas whites appeared to form their impressions in a racial vacuum, as if unaware of the many sources of injustice that blacks face on a regular basis.
President Obama talked about this discrepancy as well: “And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these ‘stand your ground’ laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?” In these words, the president summarized the views of many African Americans that the justice system is not a level playing field. Read more…
It’s a predictable pattern: Tragedy strikes, and the volume of racism gets loud on the Internet. After Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash-landed in San Francisco last weekend, leaving two dead and many others injured, some folks thought it was appropriate to resurrect the dated trope that Asians are bad drivers. The pilot flying the plane when it crashed was identified as Lee Gang-guk, according to Korean authorities.
The stereotype that Asians aren’t great behind the wheel isn’t new, of course. I mean, it’s been featured in Family Guy. It has its own special place in the revered Urban Dictionary. It’s entrenched enough that it’s been the focus of multiple studies, which compared crash rates of immigrant drivers with those of native drivers. (One Canadian study from 2011 found that immigrant drivers — the biggest groups of whom were from China and India — actually had fewer accidents than “long-term” drivers.)
What’s confounding, though, is that the whole “Asians are bad drivers” stereotype clashes with another beloved Internet meme: that Asians are good at all the “hard” things, especially things that include math, technology or coordination.
Some folks might ask, Wait! Isn’t a positive stereotype, like the tech-wizard ninja one, actually kind of good? Some folks might also never have been asked to calculate the tip at a restaurant because of their assumed Asian math prowess. (Ahem. I’m just sayin’.)
How can a group be stereotyped in such diametrically opposite ways? If folks are going to say racist things after a fatal tragedy, is it too much to ask that at least the stereotypes be consistent? Because, you know, we can’t possibly be bad drivers and good at All The Things.
Growing up as a black gay boy in Youngstown, Ohio, my mother always said “Son, you must operate in this world intentionally, you must treat others with respect, and you must keep your hands to yourself.”
My fellow gay men, I want the best for all of us. We are not automatically granted access to a woman’s body. This letter is even for me as a reminder of my male privilege regardless of my sexual orientation. This is why I humbly ask for you to examine how we operate in this world and how we utilize the space of others.
We cannot touch a woman without her permission. We are not the exception and her permission to us is not implied. We, too, can promote rape culture. We do not get a “pass” to touch her hair or her body or her clothes. We do not have an automatic right to critique her weight or texture of hair. We are still men, and women will always deserve our respect. Despite the cultural context, women still speak for themselves. We must learn this, and we must understand this. Women have autonomy over their own body. For those of us who consider ourselves feminists, we cannot constantly promote feminism and women’s ownership, then be bent out of shape when she decides that she does not want to be subjected to touching, feeling, or unwanted contact.
Fellow gay men, we cannot invade a woman’s personal space because there isn’t any sexual attraction. Regardless of us not wanting to be sexually intimate with women, we, too, must seek permission and be given explicit consent to anything on their body. We must realize that no still means no. It always will.