Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Obama Disses White Guys--Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of Black Privilege in the Age of Obama


This is one of my favorite posts from last year. I have updated it just a little bit. Nevertheless, this post still rings pitch perfect in how it captures the Conservative, Right-wing histrionics--"Obama is playing the 'race card'"--that have erupted in response to his rallying the base for the upcoming elections.

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

The election of Barack Obama has been difficult for many Americans. As Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Pat Buchanan (among many others) have bravely pointed out, White men are experiencing discrimination and unfairness in ways never before imagined. The nomination of Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Obama's efforts to broaden the big tent of politics has been very upsetting to the natural order of things.

The Tea Parties and their efforts to "take their America back," as well as Sarah Palin's selfless work to speak for the downtrodden "Real Americans" all hint at a deep problem in America. As this country becomes more diverse and White Americans longer a majority--frighteningly reduced to only a plurality by 2050--it is increasingly clear that we are indeed two Americas, separate hostile, and unequal. In response to these unfair changes, noble voices such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have dared to speak truth to power: White Americans are suffering under Jim Crow 2.0. They are indeed experiencing the same violence and inequality that Black people did for many decades under America's formal and informal systems of white supremacy.

Earlier this week Barack Obama released a video in which he rallied those groups most important to the Democratic Party's future electoral chances--women, young people, Latinos, and African Americans. Speaking directly to those groups he encouraged them to continue with the "great progress" America has made since Obama's election. He explicitly thanked those members of his electoral coalition for their support and appealed to them to help set the Democrats' priorities in 2010. Most importantly, Obama wants young people, minorities, and women to help get out the vote in the upcoming elections, and for (then) new voters from 2008 to stay involved in politics in the future.

We must not run from the obvious. Who was absent from Obama's appeal? White men. If you read the comment sections of such Conservative websites as the Washington Examiner; Breitbart, Politico, and others you can hear the pain of White men, and Conservatives in particular, hurt and angered by how Obama has slighted and excluded them from this grand narrative..

In reflecting on this moment, I am moved to action and ownership of my deeds and thoughts.

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." In listening to the repeated cries of pain and victimhood by White Conservative men living during these first years of the Obama administration, I have finally arrived at a moment of shared empathy and confession. At these times we need one of our own to make our privilege and prejudice clear to us--an ally whose eyes are now open to injustice, one who in turn will shame us into action.

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. I have worked hard to share this list with friends and colleagues and have amended it appropriately. For those of you seeing it for the first time, 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. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. A great deal of attention is paid to the driving safety and comfort of Black Americans. The police are very interested in making sure that our cars are in working order, that we do not speed, and that we know exactly why we are driving in certain neighborhoods. It is very hard to get lost while driving in a White neighborhood if you are a Black American. By comparison, White people are treated as though they are invisible, anonymous, and unimportant while they are driving.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. If I join the Republican Party I will have a great advantage over my peers. I will receive funding to run against other Black people. I will be placed directly behind many famous Republicans when they give speeches. Black people who join the Republican Party are also guaranteed to be shown on TV at the Republican National Convention, and there is an excellent chance they will be asked to give a speech. Even if you can't win a single election, Black Republicans have job security for life despite their incompetence. This is wrong and unfair to the many White Republicans who have to work at least twice as hard for the same attention and visibility as their Black compatriots in the party.

13. 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.

14. 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.


Unknown said...


Citizen Ojo said...

This is a classic...

chaunceydevega said...

@Katy--yes I am. If I am lucky this piece will be making its rounds in another form. Look out for it.

@Citizen--Like Black Cherry soda.

@Black Steve--Thanks. Be sure to chime in more often!


Ravan Asteris said...


Ironically, most of the ones who should won't get it.

R-SON said...

Pure, unadulterated genius! May I repost everywhere?

Lady Zora, Chauncey DeVega, and Gordon Gartrelle said...

@Ravan--thank you. No they won't get it.

@R-Son--and unadulterated evil--insert maniacal laugh--sure post post post away.


Cassandra said...

This was fantastic, though I wish for purely aesthetic purposes you could have had 15.:p. Anyway, my comment is more of a question. What is this identification business you reference? I have never heard/read of this before, where a black american is asked to show identification when using a debit/credit card. Is this widespread? Has this happened to you or anyone you know? Is this more of an issue in upscale stores, as opposed to say, the local mall? I don't scoff-Im sure it happens. I'm not even sure why it should surprise me, except that I am often surprised at the meanness of folks. I'm just surprised it has escaped my attention, also that there hasn't been more of an outcry about it. By which I mean that if this is a common occurence, I would have expected Al to have gotten involved by now...

Ronnie from Louisville, Ky said...

I am white. Know that in advance, and feel free to write off anything I say from this point forward. I cant read this article and keep my mouth shut as you pick and choose your examples of how unfair your life is. I understand that you are very proud of your education by some of the posts. So you 3 get together to form this site because you fancy yourself as educated, smart black people with a voice. I COMPLETELY respect that. More power to you and I would hope that the people you speak to envy you in that way and use you as an example of what they can become. Now for the facts. As educated Black people you somehow missed one glaring example of your "reverse racism" that has existed long before Obama was elected. As a white man I am the one who had to work harder than you to get into medical school. I watched as multiple less qualified Blacks got into medical school with lower grades and STANDARDIZED test scores. I am sure the response is that they werent afforded the same pre-med education that I recieved as a white person but that is off-base. I grew up in poor, largely black neighborhoods where I was the minority. I chose to bust my ass to change my life IN SPITE of the hand I was dealt in life. I could write a book on this subject alone but will digress. The point is this; It is very easy to write sacrastic articles such as this, but dont pretend like this is not a true issue. The whole term "reverse racism" is ridiculous and, in fact, a perfect example of life in America. It works under the assumption that Blacks are the only people that feel the effects of racism. Everyone else only gets some ?reverse? example of it??? What does that even mean? I have never said a racist word to a Black person in my life but I can assure you I have seen many examples of Black racism against Whites. Ask yourself the following question: Of the following 2 scenarios, who is in the most danger? 1) A white man walking through a poor black neighborhood at night. OR 2) A black man walking through the equivalent white neighborhood at night? Believe what you want, but we all know the answer. We, as white males, are viewed as the enemy by Blacks. We pay for things that happened 100s of years ago to your great grandparents. Most of us, as white people, are truly sorry about what happened and would never engage in such stupid acts such as slavery. Now, though, we walk on eggshells around everyone that is black so that we dont dare offend them. We pay for the 5% of dumb white trash that still sport their confederate flags and keep these racist ideas alive. Meanwhile, what % of Black people would you say support anti-White racism? In all of the urban centers in America I have no doubt this number is far greater than the white trash. I could go on and on...and on. We could talk about many more examples of the opportunities afforded to the youg Black community. We could also talk about how instead of taking advantage many of your young males instead push back and prefer to stay "hood" or "gangster". It aint cool to be smart. It aint cool to be non-violent. None of that is portrayed in your rap videos. Well, I'll get off of my soap box now as I realize that this will undoubtedly just be written off as more racism from a typical white man. I applaud you for getting an education. Good luck in the future.

Ronnie from Louisville, ky said...

You really have to approve all comments??? That is awesome. Why are you afraid to let all comments be seen? It does look nice that everyone has agreed with you, and none of them are written by uneducated people who cant spell, use ebonics, or racial slurs.

Ronnie from Louisville, Ky said...

I'm sorry, but my rant must go on!!!

From your very educated article above, written by someone with "too may degrees", I am sure.

"13. 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."

--I love this one. A perfect example of what you have brought on yourselves. Your ancestors fought so hard to eliminate segregation and what has your generation done? They have attempted to keep it in place. You cant just be Americans? Why do you have to be AFRICAN-Americans? Most of you are no more African than I am German. I dont hold on to my German ancestry because I am so proud to be an American. Are you not? If you are, then you should just be American, right? Are you so surprised to see a corner of African-American things when you try so hard to maintain that you are different from us? You have Black entertainment television, Black college funds, etc. You WANT to be segregated. Why cant BET, FUBU, and other brands/companies just be about the urban lifestyle? Why does it have to be about race? It may shock you, but some of us dorky white people enjoy rap. Now, of course, we cant admit it or we are "Wanna- be's" etc. We cant relate because we were all raised in beatiful neighborhoods with nice cars, rich mohogany (Anchor Man),etc. Isnt that right?

You wouldnt let us, as white people, dare make you equal to us. That would be too offensive to you. So there, have your little corner. Its reserved for those that cant just be Americans.