Friday, February 12, 2010

Those Who Deny White Privilege Need to Admit that They are the Smelly Man

My final two cents on this Sarah Palin as a scion of white mediocrity dust up...

Those folks who are in denial about white privilege need to be like Bobby Hill and admit that they are the smelly man.

Much to my surprise, my post "What if Sarah Palin were Black?" has proven pretty popular (it has been among the most viewed posts on Open Salon and is being picked up by other websites next week). It has also been a bit depressing as it reminds me of the toxic mix that is white denial, blind partisanship, white racial resentment, and a type of soft bigotry wrapped in the robes of empathy-less privilege. It seems that in the age of Obama, as much things change, the more certain old habits seem to stay the same.

I have also taken the comments of folks here and on Salon quite seriously--and yes, even the overstated, bloated, defensive and conversation dominating claims often introduced by the supporters of Palin. They are an object lesson--much like their goddess--in privilege. Practically, their logic and reasoning when brought out into the light are exposed for the speciousness of their reasoning. That is both helpful and useful. As a final concession to their sense that this is "just" about race, and that only "certain" people can participate and be listened to in this conversation (which is to some degree true by the way, as we do not all possess equally privileged insight on these matters ) I offer the following anecdote:

A few years ago I was walking home from the local university tap after closing. As folks in this neighborhood tend to do, they walk in large groups made up of both strangers and friends. In this mixed herd the conversations of that night continue and new voices are invited to contribute. I passed a group of twentyish year old undergrads who were involved in a heated discussion. One of the students recognized me as their instructor and asked my opinion about his two friends' dispute. I obliged.

A young woman was arguing with her male friend about the merits of listening. I asked for some clarification: what did she mean by listening? She specified that as a young woman she has had some experiences with sexism that are hard to communicate with men because they can't relate to them. Her male friend was very defensive. He said that was "impossible, people can always understand each other, power has nothing to do with it. We always have to justify our feelings to one another!" "Not today, sexism is exaggerated." Both asked me what I thought. I reflected. My answer was simple. "I am a man in a society where I benefit from that fact, often without thinking about it. So yes, I agree with her statement whole heartedly. Men have to learn to listen to women on these issues, and to not force folks to explain their life realities." Her male friend was shocked. He could not understand it, so therefore it could not be real. He was too invested in how he saw the world that he could not concede the truth of another's perspective--one that perhaps saw things that he was blinded to.

Finally, this young gent asked his female friend to prove that sexism is real, that her feelings and experiences are "real" and not imagined. I asked him if he trusts and respects her. Our young male friend said "of course." If so I replied, "then don't you have to listen to her and accept her words at face value?" He stammered. I also offered a final thought. "Be quiet for a few moments and really listen. You don't have to have the final word. That is okay. But making that first concession is important for learning how to empathize and respect one another." As I departed, I saw him rambling and gesticulating again. Apparently, it was too hard to simply learn how to listen.

Sadly, I think our conversation on Sarah Palin has proven that point once more.


annum natalem said...

I didn't stick around for the mental breakdown and psychotic rantings of denial. I get enough of that radiating from the world all around me. There was a ranting white man walking down Franklin Avenue, punching road signs all along the way. There's white anger, for sure. To deny it would be like walking around with your headphones turned too far up. You'd end up too absorbed in your own world, and hence, a target.

A man too angry to listen is less reasonable than an angry dog.

chaunceydevega said...

You didn't miss much. One of my friends who is far more cynical/realistic than I am suggested that perhaps these efforts by conservatives/right wingers to thread jack is a coordinated effort. He has seen it alot lately. If so I am flattered!

Random question: do you avoid the angry folk or do you offer them counsel?

vikkitikkitavi said...

One thing that being a woman in the 9-5 world has taught me is to always listen when people talk about discrimination. Because I have experienced, first hand, being disbelieved about discrimination toward me before I am even heard.

Even white male colleagues that I am on very friendly terms with, and socialize with outside of work, and who are politically liberal, are pretty much of the opinion that discrimination doesn't really exist in the workplace, and have no problem discounting my opinion from the get-go. I have also witnessed these same guys treating instances of racial discrimination with the same incredulity and disregard. It is stunning (and eye-opening) to me. I would NEVER treat their experiences and opinions with such casual dismissal.

Teh Crazycakes said...

Hi there -

The original Sarah Palin post came up on my Google Reader, but I didn't want to comment over there because of all the nonsense flying around. However, I wanted to make sure to say thanks for the read because I had never even thought about the race perspective on her. I despise her for how she has set back my gender, but her race didn't even occur to me...which is exactly the point you were making. So, thanks. I needed that.