Friday, April 19, 2013

"I Thought He was White You Know a Regular American": The Boston Marathon Bombing Shows Us How White Privilege Hurts White People...Again

Race is a social construction. There is only one race, the human race. But, race has historically been something negotiated by the courts, has legal standing, and has impacted people's life chances across the color line.

As Cheryl Harris and Ian Haney Lopez have detailed, to be "white" is to have a type of property in America. Because "Whiteness" is property it can be inherited, passed down from one person to another as an inheritance, and has value--both symbolic and monetary--under the law, and in the broader society.

European immigrants understood (and continue to understand in the present) the value of Whiteness. In the most stark example, they knew to distance themselves from black folks as a way of become fully "white" and a "real American." 

In addition, the United States government helped to create race and reinforce the value of Whiteness when it passed immigration laws that privileged "desirable" races from Europe over those "less desirable" from Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world. 

And of course, the racist implementation of the G.I. Bill and FHA Housing Programs after World War 2 helped to create Whiteness again by creating a segregated place called "suburbia," and creating a stark divide in the racial wealth and income gap that is still with us today.

Race works through a type of "common sense" that is based on individual experiences, cultural norms, (misunderstandings of) history, the law, politics, as well as psychological motivations and decision-making that operate on both a conscious and subconscious level. In total, the race business is a type of magic and pseudo-science. This makes it no less real or important.

Whiteness is synonymous with "American" for those who have socialized into what sociologists such as Joe Feagin have termed "the white racial frame." Here, common sense dictates that "those people" look "American" and those "other people" do not. 

The United States Supreme Court summed up this logic in the Thind case (1932) where a South Asian man, a former U.S. Army soldier, was denied citizenship because he was not judged to be "white" by the "common sense" standards of the average white person.

Recent experiments in social psychology have demonstrated how test takers identified an image of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is white, as being "American," and an image of Barack Obama, the President of the United States, and a black man, as being a "foreigner."

For the white racial frame Whiteness and "white" people are understood be "normal"; those "other people" are "raced" and are somehow "different." 

Because citizenship is about the creation of an "imagined community" some groups and types of people are considered "outsiders." 

The color line has racialized this process in the United States: to be white is to be considered de facto part of the country's political community. 

History is inconvenient on these matters. 

The first great waves of immigrants to the United States were from Africa and not Europe. First Nations peoples were already present in what would later become the United States, when the first white settlers arrived from Europe. The Southwest was already populated when it was claimed under Manifest Destiny after the Mexican American war. 

Yet, European immigrants, the majority of who came long after those first arrivals can somehow claim to be more "American?" For race, Whiteness, and white supremacy to cohere with one another necessarily involves those great leaps of faith.

The two suspects in the Boston Bombing (and then manhunt) are white Chechens. While many in the mass public--white conservatives and racial reactionaries especially--will try to suggest they are not really "white" because they are Muslim, Chechens are considered white under the law in the United States, and through the pseudo scientific common sense norms of race.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokar Tsarnaev are also proof that racial profiling does not work as an effective law enforcement measure.

I was not alone in my long-held belief that the next "terrorist" attack on the United States would be conducted by White Europeans. I was also not alone in suggesting that it would be a group of white Chechen women such as the suicide bombers known as "The Black Widows" who would conduct a spectacular attack on the United States or her allies.

Why not? If the State and the public have telegraphed their hand by obsessing over "dark-skinned" Arabs that are a caricature out of a bad 1980's action movie, and the media and conservatives are willfully blind to white domestic terrorists in the United States, the preferred tactical choice is a clear one.

As the legendary comedian Paul Mooney has observed, "Whiteness is the complexion for the protection" in the United States. Whiteness will keep white folks safe. Whiteness, as it has long been for people of color, is also a source of terror and fear. However, Whiteness and white skin privilege are not benign. The Boston Marathon Bombing, and the subsequent manhunt and violence, demonstrates this long-standing history reality once again.

On CNN, a man was interviewed about the Boston Marathon Bombing and manhunt. He told the reporter about one of the suspects that, "I thought he was white you know a regular American."

Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokar Tsarnaev are "regular" Americans.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokar Tsarnaev are also white.

And Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokar Tsarnaev decided to kill other "regular Americans" who also happened to be white.


James Lance Taylor said...

Thanks for this. It is important to bear witness to these things. Please note that they also killed a young woman from China, who was visiting the US to further her education.

Deb C. said...

Great, insightful post, CD...

chauncey devega said...

We try. Hopefully it will get some traction over the weekend.

chauncey devega said...

And she will not mentioned by the msm. Sad. Let's make sure all the stories are told.

Azizi Dayo said...

I've said this many times and will continue to say it: The greatest threat to white people is other white people.
Great post.

_ _ said...

They are from the caucasus mountains region, you cant get anymore Caucasian than this. Already I've noticed on message boards some white folks questioning and second guessing the reaction of the attackers uncle. Some folks are suggesting that he really isn't upset by what happened, by what his nephews did... Suggesting he is only reacting this way to prevent retribution from Americans

Did white folks lay this much suspicion on the families of the McVeigh or Nichols family after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City ?

Buddy H said...

I saw this headline at "The Onion"

"Study: Majority Of Americans Not Informed Enough To Stereotype Chechens"

Buddy H said...

From the Onion:

WASHINGTON—Following FBI reports this morning that the suspects implicated in Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing are of Chechen descent, efforts to thoughtlessly stereotype the alleged terrorists were impeded by the majority of Americans’ lack of basic knowledge about Chechnya or the Chechen people, a new study has confirmed. “Our research shows that, while many Americans would like nothing more than to make sweeping, insensitive generalizations about these two individuals based purely on their ethnic identity, this process is largely impeded by the fact that 9 out of 10 Americans truly know next to nothing about Chechnya, including even the very barest details of what or where Chechnya is,” said lead researcher Dr. Tim Kinane, adding that a majority of American citizens are almost totally unaware of Chechen history and culture, how to locate Chechnya on a map, whether Chechnya is a country or a city or a region, or that a person from Chechnya is called a Chechen. “Clinical trials show that most individuals will make brief, fumbling attempts to stereotype Chechens based on what little they know about Russians, but eventually drop the subject entirely after running out of anything to say within seconds.” Kinane’s team was able to confirm, however, that once research subjects were told Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim region, they were “usually pretty good to go from there.”

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Melissa Fong said...

I love this piece and your blog.
Critical Race Theory put to good use.

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makheru bradley said...

They are white, but they are Muslims. That will good enough for the continued mass demonization of people who practice Islam. It will also play for the next round of patriotic sacrifice, because it's just a matter of time before the "alleged bombers" are connected to al-Qaeda. The younger brother or someone writing in his name mentioned support for the Syrian rebels.
Never mind that every act of "domestic terrorism" since 9/11 had a FBI connection, usually the entrapment of some dudes who didn't know a cap pistol from a Glock. Could be that this was a "deep-state" operation that backfired.

Steven F. Riley said...

Great piece... as usual. Also see Nancy Leong's essay: