Tuesday, May 3, 2011

10 Ways That the Birthers Are an Object Lesson in White Privilege


Events interfered with this drop. At present, Alternet has this piece running at almost 400 comments. It seems that some folks can't handle the truth. There is a related piece forthcoming from one of our people Carey Carey as well. Let's get back to business folks.

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May you live in interesting times. What a timeless and wonderful curse that so wonderfully describes politics in the Age of Obama.

With the election of America's first black president we collectively witnessed the ascendancy of a person whose life story embodies the American dream. Obama was not alone in the grand play that is American life. There were other players who competed for the spotlight.

During this same moment America witnessed the rise of Sarah Palin to fame and glory, a woman who rides White populism and racial resentment in much the same that a witch rides a broom. As a second addition to the Tea Party GOP's Rogues Gallery there is a carnival barker named Donald Trump, a man who once lurked stage left but is now the GOP front runner as he perfectly embodies PT Barnum's famous observation that "there is a sucker born every minute," while shilling for the worst and most ugly nativist and xenophobic impulses of the White Conservative Soul.

Ultimately, the election of Barack Obama has provided a series of object lessons in the durability of the colorline in American life. Most pointedly, Obama's tenure has provided an opportunity for the worst aspects of White privilege to rear their ugly head. In doing so, the continuing significance of Whiteness is made ever more clear in a moment when the old bugaboo of White racism was thought to have been slain on November 4, 2008.

To point: Imagine if Sarah Palin, a person who wallows in mediocrity and wears failure as a virtue, were any race other than White. Would a black (or Latino or Asian or Hispanic) woman with Palin's credentials have gotten a tenth as far? Let's entertain another counter-factual: If the Tea Party and their supporters were a group of black or brown folk, who showed up with guns at events attended by the President, threatening nullification and secession, and engaging in treasonous talk, how many seconds would pass before they were locked up and taken out by the F.B.I. as threats to the security of the State? If the Tea Party were black they would have been disappeared to Gitmo or some other secret site faster than you can say Fox News.

Earlier this week President Obama tried to be the adult in the room by surrendering his birth certificate in an effort to satisfy the frothing at the mouth birthers and their cabal leaders Donald Trump and Pat Buchanan. Of course, his generous act does nothing to satisfy the Birther beast for it is insatiable in its madness. Nevertheless, a lesson can still be salvaged by exploring the rank bigotry which drives the Birther movement. In an era of racism without racists, the Tea Party GOP Birther brigands provide one more lesson in the permanence of the social evil known as White privilege.

Scholars and activists have described Whiteness as a type of property, unearned privilege, invisibility, normality, and invisibility. Donald Trump and The Birthers exhibit a surplus of all of these traits...and more.

Ten Ways that the Birthers Are an Object Lesson in White Privilege

1. Just as Pat Buchanan did with Justice Sotomayor, the Birthers have sullied President Obama as being an unqualified, "affirmative action" candidate. His academic and professional accomplishments are irrelevant. The fact that he won an open and honest election are unimportant. We should know at this point that the life successes of people of color (and to a lesser degree some women) are always questionable and suspect when viewed through the gaze of Whiteness (and sexism). White men are never burdened with the question or doubt of being qualified for any job, at any time, or any place. Their greatness and ability is a fact not a question, never is it to be interrogated. This self-delusion exists despite the fact that white men have historically been the greatest beneficiaries of unearned privilege in the history of the United States. Their mediocrity has been rewarded at every turn.

2. Naturally, the President should be White. Of course, leaders of trade and industry should be White. The natural order of things equates being White and male with having natural authority and ability--a set of traits which exist without question or doubt regardless of competence or ability. Whiteness deems the inverse for people of color. As President Obama has learned, by mere fact of his birth, and coincidence of the color of his skin, his legitimacy will always in doubt.

3. Whiteness equals authority. Thus, any White person, at any time, can question the accomplishments of a person of color. The most mediocre of White people, the sum total of whose life has amounted to 1/100th of President Obama's successes (or that of other people of color) can feel legitimate in questioning how the latter came to find their "unnatural" position in the social hierarchy. Whiteness is an advantage in the marathon of life. Through this unearned head-start a psychic wage is paid, one that allows any White person, anywhere, to question how a black or brown person came to be ahead in life for such a thing can never happen in a "just" world. Whiteness allows white folks to not feel embarrassed or ashamed in asking such impolitic and rude questions.

4. Whiteness is a get out of jail free card. Whiteness is also the freedom to be utterly unreflective regarding the foolishness and madness of one's deeds and statements as long as the target of such madness is the Other. The Birthers, Buchanan, Trump, Palin, Bachmann, Limbaugh, Breitbart and Beck engage in routine crazy talk. But Whiteness allows them to be taken seriously (at least at first) for White privilege allows the luxury of being utterly unreflective in most things.

5. White privilege is freedom from accountability. Donald Trump, Pat Buchanan, and the rank and file knuckle-dragging Birther brigands will not will they face any consequences for their ill deeds in slandering the President of the United States, or how many openly foment sedition and rebellion against the government of the United States.

6. The Obama birth certificate debacle has exposed how to be truly American a person must be White. This is one of the central unspoken (and widely accepted) truths of race in America. For example, Sarah Palin channels The Blood Countess Erzebet Bathory and bathes in this bigotry with all of her "real America" talk. Although it is a lie in the face of history, because America is a mulatto culture where the majority of black folks (and of course our Native American brothers and sisters) were in the U.S. many decades (if not at least a century) before the great unwashed masses of white ethnics arrived here, Whiteness still imagines African Americans and other people of color as semi-permanent outsiders. In total, to be American is to be Black. The Birthers in their racial heliocentrism--where to be White is to be the center of the world--are repulsed by this fact.

7. White privilege is the ability to be "normal" and "invisible." Whiteness is never interrogated. Consequently, the White nationalism of the Tea Party GOP and its embrace of the Birthers has been long able to deflect the charge that they are racist or tinged by yearnings for a return to "the good old days" when "those people" knew their place. Because Whiteness is invisibility it works like chaff to obscure the obvious fact that much of the opposition to President Obama has always been about his race and not about policy. The signs at the Tea Parties are ignored or explained away, the racist emails laughed at and/or minimized as trite and silly, and bigoted White folks who display their bonafides whenever given the opportunity are labeled as outliers.

There is slippage in naming the White racism of the Birthers as such because so many are invested in denying the semi-permanency of White supremacy in America, a sentiment that still lingers decades after the end of Jim and Jane Crow.

8. The White racial frame. Whiteness is the default position for viewing the world. It is a cognitive map and means of processing reality. The election of Barack Obama upsets this world view. Many of those drunken on Whiteness and invested in the version of events that are offered by the White Racial Frame really do think they are operating as a "principled" opposition or that they are "colorblind," when in reality race, and fears of the racial Other, are driving their behavior. Here, Whiteness and white privilege work as pathologies that make a person immune to the real motivations driving their anti-Obama derangement syndrome.

9. Whiteness is the ability and power to reframe reality. Despite whatever documents or evidence that President Obama may offer to silence the growly, rabid hostility of the Birthers and the White Conservative Soul, the terrain for debate will be continually shifted. This is a function of ideology plus partisanship mixed together and combined in the Right-wing echo chamber. This reframing of reality is also born of the narcissism that is Whiteness, for the world is what they/he/she says it is.

10. White privilege is also surprising. Many black and brown folks (as well as others) have been saying from day one that the opposition to President Obama, and the silliness suggested by the conspiranoid Birthers in particular, have been motivated by racism. Those voices were often silenced and attacked as being too sensitive and wedded to some outmoded notion of political correctness. The pundit classes have finally seen the obvious: race is the driving force behind Trump and the Tea Party GOP's obsession with Obama's birth certificate. When those not White said as much they were dismissed. Lesson for us all: Despite our protests and the evidence that black and brown folks may bring to the table, racism does not exist until good White folks say that it does.

21 comments:

Daniel Goldberg said...

Typically outstanding (I know, oxymoronic, but there it is).

Vesuvian Woman said...

You're so witty; so clever. Consider this: the only reason all this seems like a color issue is b/c that's where the energy is being directed.

If your mentally challenged child asked more of you than you could bear, what would you do? Sometimes adversity is the slow learner that proves the humility of the loyal.

Gary Norris said...

this tea party racism without racists, as you put it, reminds me of the argument Lillian Smith makes in Killers of the Dream, esp. in "Two Men and a Bargain".

It's no wonder the corporatist/capitalist right wing sponsors the Tea Party. That the movement's members can't see IT--the bargain, that is--is the 11th Way on your list.

(The comments on Alternet are typically execrable.)

great stuff. thanks.

fred c said...

Whiteness is also the permission to hold an opinion that has no factual basis. Re: Number Four, most White Americans would tell you that the criminal justice system is racially fair, but a little bit of talking to those caught up in it disproves that premise immediately. Back in the day, a Hispanic friend of mine did a two-to-five in New York State for a drug thing. Prisoners compare notes on who got what, for what, and the skinny was that if my friend were Black, he would have gotten five-to-seven; if he were White, he'd have gotten off, with maybe some probation.

So I appreciate my good fortune (while feeling a little sheepish about it). Without going into detail, if I were Black, I'd have a record.

Pree-oz said...

In America, Chris Rock hit the nail on the head by saying that society will be equal when we elect a black dumbass president like George Bush. (Case and point: We would never elect Michael Steele.)
For this reason, Obama is head and shoulders above any other candidate that ran in 2008 and in my opinion, almost ever. I'm not endorsing him, I'm just talking about his qualifications.
I hear Pat Buchanan and others defend Sarah Palin saying that liberals attacked Palin's academic records, and that it is fair to ask for Obama's records.
May I conjecture that Palin's idiocy compelled the argument, and the profound idiocy in equating Obama and her... infuriates me.
Also, I used to beat certain "friends" out of jobs and stupid contests in college, like getting an RA position. You know a person's heart when they say, "It's because they want diversity that you would get that job." You know what dumbass? I am head and shoulders better than you--because in our country, you have to be MUCH better to beat out the George Bushes in every competition. That's the sad reality of it.

dr. becky said...

"Whiteness still imagines African Americans and other people of color as semi-permanent outsiders."

Absolutely. This is the mindset responsible for the 'everyday racism' of the question: "Where are you from?" that people of colour get on a regular basis from white people in Canada and the U.S.

Case in point: mere hours after my son was born a nurse stuck her head into the hospital bassinet, looked at my child and asked "What nationality is the father?" Her whiteness blinded her from seeing my brown baby as a Canadian citizen, needing to establish his "otherness" almost from the moment of his birth.

chaunceydevega said...

@Daniel. Thanks. Always so kind and encouraging.

@Vesuvian. Please don't insult mentally damaged and defective children by comparing them to the tea baggers ;)

@Fred C. There are so many stories we can share about the criminal injustice system. But then again we all know that only those bad negroes and greasers are in jail because they deserve it.

@Pree-oz. How dare you suggest that George Bush was incompetent! Show us his grades in school! How did he get there! Was he a benefit of "affirmative action" for white men? Channeling my reverse Uncle Pat Buchanan.

@Dr. Becky. I thought you Canadians were more evolved? You all disgust me ;)

Big Man said...

I can see why this would piss a lot of people off.

Great work.

Bruce T said...

That's what I'm saying! I believe in the ten points that point to the pointless and unsubstantiated ASSertions by the birther/teabagger that our good President Obama is not worthy for this reason or that, when their ENTIRE motivation is that he's BLACK!!

Green Eagle said...

This is the best treatment of this obvious, and yet furiously denied fact that I have ever read. Thanks for an exceptionally well written and researched comment.

Patrick McGovern said...

great post and sadly hits the mark

Anonymous said...

"The pundit classes have finally seen the obvious: race is the driving force behind Trump and the Tea Party GOP's obsession with Obama's birth certificate. When those not White said as much they were dismissed."

Only quibble: I'm White; I've been saying as much since mid-2008 and I was dismissed too.

Great post though.

Woefatcat said...

Good article; but I believe #4 is a bit more nuanced. I feel some of what is seen as racism is more along the lines of class warfare. My thoughts align more with a person of my social class, regardless of skin color, more than they do with someone just because they are white. Stand my poor ass up next to a person of any color who is just as poor as I am and Palin, Limbaugh, Beck, or any other will see me as trash just the same.

Bob Broughton said...

"Imagine if Sarah Palin, a person who wallows in mediocrity and wears failure as a virtue, were any race other than White."

Chauncey, have you seen the Peter Sellers film "Being There"? This quote reminds me of it.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the birther nonsense is racially motivated for a lot, if not most ,people,but don't think for a minute that this would have been a non-issue if Obama was White. If Bill Clinton had been born in Hawaii to an American mother and an Irish father, the Right would have been all over him, as well.Or put another way: if Obama had won as a Republican, would this issue have gained the traction that it did, or would it have died the same quick death that Bush's missing service records did? You only have to look as far as Bristol Palin's out-of-wedlock child to see IOKIYAR.

D. Tree said...

Great analysis, thanks!

Anonymous said...

As a "Negro" in America I am disgusted by the lack of perspective in this article. Obama doesn't embody the American dream and you insult every person who got themselves out of the ghetto by saying so. I was the first in my family to graduate from high school and college. Obama was raised as a part of the intellectual establishment. My parents still live off SSDI and food stamps in a tiny crappy rent controlled apartment. Obama is going to raise one billion dollars for his campaign. Has he ever done a single thing for the black community. Stop being blinded by race. Obama sold his blackness to the white establishment in exchange for power. As cornel west said, he is just another black puppet of the white wall street oligarchy. Wake the hell up and stop playing into their engineered system in which you agree with a tyrant just because he is black. I'm sick to my stomach after reading this. You are a disgrace upon all African-American or "brown" people in America. I am sorry that you can even call yourself part of our community while you blindly follow a puppet who was put into power by Wall Street. Obama is robbing our country blind and has proven to be a bigger supporter of the upper class white establishment than the oppressed black community. You should be ashamed of yourself.

rikyrah said...

thanks for this...this is absolutely on point...bravo

fred c said...

Don't let the Anon's of the world get you down. I think it was Oscar Wilde who wrote (preface to "Picture of Dorian Grey?") that if all of the critics like your stuff, there's something wrong with it.

Mack Lyons said...

You know, I find it a bit off when someone claims their "race" in a conversation, and then proceeds to denigrate their fellow "racial counterparts" on the pretext that the person they support is somehow not "authentic" and therefore not focused enough on their issues and that people of "X" race should not support him. Anonymous @ 5:55pm does this in spades. Probably the reason why he/she remains "Anonymous".

Mentioning Cornell West was another big giveaway, no disrespect intended.

Perhaps you should study your "How To Pretend To Be a Black Guy Who Happens To Have A Conservative Bent on Message Boards and Blogs" a bit more. Maybe you can pick up a few useful tricks to keep from being found out sooner.

chaunceydevega said...

@Big. Let em be pissed. You are right though...a hit dog does howl.

@Bruce. The Birther tea baggers are an interesting lot. I hope they gain more influence as that will make it more likely the GOP house of cards will further collapse.

@Green. Thanks. As most good things do it wrote itself on a napkin at a bar over a few beers. Funny how life works that way.

@Pat. Thanks

@Anon1. Cool. Keep fighting you have to tell your folks the truth even if they don't listen. You got the in.

@Woe. Race and class--the eternal overlap. Why don't poor and working class white sees the obvious as you do?

@Bob. Got to check it out. Thanks for the tip.

@Anon2. Good point. The Haunting of the President is a great documentary that highlights the Right's madness at going after Clinton. I agree, but the racial angle is like explosives added to their already smoldering fire.

@D. Thanks. Appreciated. Stay around. Chime in some more on other posts.

@Anon3--Massa's house is burning. You need to grab a pail and help put out the fire. If need be, throw yourself on the flames to help smother them.

@Rikyrah. Thanks. We should collaborate on something together. Saw the link at J and J, let's build.

@Fred. I hope you are well. How are things? You know I love a good fight. Judge me by my foes as the old saying goes.

@Mack. Be nice. Those double black face negro race minstrel Conservatives are sensitive. Give them hugs before you throw them out the window ;)