Sunday, May 31, 2009

Chauncey DeVega says: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of Black Privilege in the Age of Barack Obama



"I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group"

For the world to be made more just, we must be willing to be vulnerable to one another. This vulnerability often comes through a moment of profound clarity when a person (across lines of race, gender, class, and sexuality) can reach out to another and without fear of condemnation say, "I was wrong." I have finally arrived at this moment of shared empathy and confession. At these moments we need one of our own to make our privilege and prejudice clear to us--an assumed ally whose eyes are now open to injustice, who in turn will shame us into action.

In watching Thomas Sowell, who without hesitation or fear named nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Sotomayor, as a racist, I am moved to action and ownership of my deeds and thoughts: this is the transgressive moment when I will confess to the realities of my own privilege as a black man in the age of Obama. Are others ready to walk this path with me? Honestly, I do not know. Nevertheless, I will be the first to take on this burden in the hope that my deeds will motivate others.

I can only hope that we as black Americans, acting in the pursuit of fairness, justice, and equality, can one day make amends for the many unearned privileges that we have garnered since the election of Barack Obama.

Justice is shared work. Community is at the heart of social transformation. Thus, please feel free to make additions to this list.

Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of Black Privilege in the Age of Obama


1. I know that the success of Barack Obama has been unsettling for many White Americans--especially those whom would normally be the default choice for appointment to the highest levels of the United States government. I understand that this change can be quite upsetting. I promise to be more empathetic to your pain and to be more patient in my efforts to understand the roots of your discontent.

2. I have the luxury of knowing that I only have to be twice as good as my White colleagues and peers to be considered for the same position. My broad range of skills are an unfair advantage in the workplace because they have afforded me opportunities to take on tasks and responsibilities that my White colleagues have often been denied.

3. Positive character traits such as humility and hard work are cultivated in me because I know that I am held to a higher standard lest I be considered "lazy" or "arrogant" by my supervisors and peers.

4. People of color have long dominated the evening news. We are disproportionately represented in the coverage of many types of news stories, especially those that feature reports of violent, criminal behavior. Moreover, with Barack Obama's domination of the evening news, the hyper-visibility of people of color is further encouraged in the mainstream media. To remedy this, I will do my best to support an increase in the amount of attention given to White people in the evening news and by popular culture at large.

5. I can go shopping most of the time knowing that I will be given extra attention. Furthermore, this extra attention to my safety through requests for identification when I would like to use a credit card or debit card are for my own protection. My fellow White shoppers are not afforded this level of concern or assistance.

6. In my professional life, I am blessed to be around people of a different race most of the time. This is very empowering and stimulating. Ultimately, this is an unearned advantage in a world that is increasingly diverse.

7. I am often asked to speak for people of my own race. With Barack Obama's election, I have to do this even more frequently. This privilege is unfair because it contributes to my intellectual, emotional, and social growth in ways that White people are not generally afforded.

8. Linked fate. Barack Obama's success or failure reflects on me personally. Likewise, my success or failure reflects on Barack Obama. This sense of connectedness and lack of relative anonymity is wonderfully empowering for all people of color.

9. I can find the literature, music, and movies that represent my culture neatly cordoned off and near the front of the store for my convenience.

10. I know that my race is always an asset and never a liability. At will, I can play the "race card" and win any debate or dispute.

15 comments:

A.Smith said...

Gosh... I never knew white people had it so hard. Thanks for this ever-enlightening post. I will make sure to note all the ways my blackness affords me even one ounce of extra anything.

However have white people been making it??

I couldn't watch that video, btw. At this point it makes me sick to watch black folk shuck and jive, on foxnews no less...

macon d said...

Wow, he got Glenn Beck to say "I love you!"

Thank you for articulating so well your racial advantages. All I have to do now is flip them over and use them to articulate my own white underprivilege! This service to beleaguered pink humanity is far too generous of you.

•D-Love• said...

As white dude, I wish they would ask for my ID more when using my credit card. I even write on the back of my cards "Check I.D." and that doesn't get a check. If a white dude takes my card..... I'm screwed.....

Never-the-less, as long as we have a healthy dose of insecurity in society, there will be an equal amount of racism. It's not the doctor with a top notch education complaining about Mexican immigrants. It's the numb-skull neglected to get an education who is insecure about his employability that is crying.... he's insecure so his enemy is the person that makes him insecure. It's easy to blame they guy who doesn't look like you, you, then all the people who look like you will side with you. This is a very secure feeling.

MilesEllison said...

How long is it going to be before some enterprising white director remakes Birth of a Nation? I put the over/under at 4 years. Take the under. Of course, in this post modern Bizarro World, Tyler Perry will probably wind up directing it.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

@D-Love
I think it's wrong to assume that only poor folk are responsible for racism, or that all those without an education somehow "chose" that path in life without mitigating circumstances. I've heard plenty of racism from people with "top notch educations," it just tends to be more politely expressed.

BTW- great post

Exodus Mentality said...

This list is truly inspired. Never have I felt so keenly the extent of the priviledge that I am afforded in this country. It's really got me to thinking and appreciating everything about America, just a little bit more.

I firmly agree that we as Black people must publicly acknowledge these privileges and work day and night to level the playing field. In the spirit of getting this off my chest and contributing to the healing process, here's one you might consider adding to the list.

Black communities are afforded far more than their fair share of police protection. White communities can go days without seeing a police officer, but there is never any shortage of protection and service in Black neighborhoods. Our streets are constantly swept for crime and would be criminals. Surely we don't deserve such heightened attention, but we are privileged to receive it nonetheless.

in a somewhat similar vein, people of color are given far more chances to go to prison and take the time to think about their crimes and rehabilitate themselves, than their white counterparts. Often white people are not held responsible for their criminal activity, thus denying the the moral value of learning from their mistakes.

Master Mahan said...

As a white person, I never realized just how much society was aligned against me. Certainly I'd recognized a few disadvantages, such as the economic burden of needing to purchase sunscreen, but not all this. I don't receive near as many opportunities to learn about the justice system up close. I learn less about surviving hardships because the federal government will quickly help me before, during, and after a natural disaster.

I need to fulfill higher expectations because it's automatically assumed the best person for the job looks like me. Because of this, I'll be burdened with more responsibility and a higher tax rate. I'll need to work harder for a job to prove I wasn't a non-affirmative action pick.

Even in the media I'm at a disadvantage. I'll receive less attention if I'm falsely accused of kidnapping a white woman. No reporter will specifically seek someone of my race out for anything a white person does in the news.

The biggest black privilege of all, though, comes if you enter politics as a member of the Republican party. You'll receive funding to run against other black people. You'll placed directly behind many famous Republicans when they give speeches. You're guaranteed to be shown on TV at the Republican National Convention, and there's an excellent chance you'll be asked a give a speech. Even if you can't win a single election, you'll have job security for life. As a white man, I just wouldn't receive that sort of treatment.

That's not even considering the privileges of being a woman, either. No glass ceiling means I get wet when it rains.

MonkeyBoy said...

You forgot the privilege of becoming an expert on matters of food and taste. Explaining things like why some people prefer to eat a hamburger with Dijon mustard as opposed to watermelon.

pudgybudgie said...

You forgot the extreme attention that is paid to the driving safety and comfort of Black Americans. I can't remember the last time a police officer pulled me over to make sure I was driving a safe speed, or had all my taillights in working order. Not to mention they never stop to check that it's actually ME driving my car and not some other scoundrel. It's almost as if the highway patrol doesn't even SEE white suburban housewives.

rikyrah said...

I have to admit, this was my favorite:

5. I can go shopping most of the time knowing that I will be given extra attention. Furthermore, this extra attention to my safety through requests for identification when I would like to use a credit card or debit card are for my own protection. My fellow White shoppers are not afforded this level of concern or assistance.


HILARIOUS.

Loved this post.
So biting. So on point. So showing the patent absurdity that is White Privilege.

Thank you.

Cj said...

Most of us really don't see it, especially those of us that don't and would not personally act in the ways you bitingly describe.

Most of the time, I see individuals and not color, but I admit, I have the privilege to do so. And you don't.

And I'm sorry. We're blind. Thanks for letting a ray of light in.

taino8632 said...

I enjoyed and felt your sly unpacking of the invisible knapsack. However, I would have titled it "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of POC Privilege in the Age of Obama". The backlash created by the "end" of racism has impacted all communities of color.

miniclip said...

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts.Any way Ill be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon

miniclips said...

Sadly this privilege seems to all but disappear with the public's dissatisfaction with Obama's performance.

Jonnysocko said...

Good post. The thing about racism is that it's a catch22. The more you talk about it, the more it thrives. The less you talk about it, the more it thrives. Plus some people just like being racist. I’m afraid it’s a losing battle with those idiots.