Sep 17, 2008

This piece by Tim Wise (who happens to be white) is actually quite enthralling. He isn't saying anything we haven't said amongst ourselves, but I think the fact that he is a white man saying it is what makes it more interesting to say the least.

This is Your Nation on White Privilege
By: Tim Wise

For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.

White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because “every family has challenges,” even as black and Latino families with similar “challenges” are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

White privilege is when you can call yourself a “fuckin’ redneck,” like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you'll “kick their fuckin' ass,” and talk about how you like to “shoot shit” for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.

White privilege is when you can attend five different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.

White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you’re “untested.”

White privilege is being able to say that you support the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance because “if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me,” and not be immediately disqualified from holding office--since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the “under God” part wasn’t added until the 1950s--while if you're black and believe in reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school, requires it), you are a dangerous and mushy liberal who isn't fit to safeguard American institutions.

White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you.

White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto is “Alaska first,” and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you're black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she’s being disrespectful.

White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do--like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor--and people think you’re being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college and the fact that she lives close to Russia--you’re somehow being mean, or even sexist.

White privilege is being able to convince white women who don’t even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because suddenly your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a “second look.”

White privilege is being able to fire people who didn’t support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.

White privilege is when you can take nearly twenty-four hours to get to a hospital after beginning to leak amniotic fluid, and still be viewed as a great mom whose commitment to her children is unquestionable, and whose "next door neighbor" qualities make her ready to be VP, while if you're a black candidate for president and you let your children be interviewed for a few seconds on TV, you're irresponsibly exploiting them.

White privilege is being able to give a 36 minute speech in which you talk about lipstick and make fun of your opponent, while laying out no substantive policy positions on any issue at all, and still manage to be considered a legitimate candidate, while a black person who gives an hour speech the week before, in which he lays out specific policy proposals on several issues, is still criticized for being too vague about what he would do if elected.

White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God’s punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you’re just a good church-going Christian, but if you’re black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you’re an extremist who probably hates America.

White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a “trick question,” while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O’Reilly means you’re dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.

White privilege is being able to go to a prestigious prep school, then to Yale and then Harvard Business school, and yet, still be seen as just an average guy (George W. Bush) while being black, going to a prestigious prep school, then Occidental College, then Columbia, and then to Harvard Law, makes you "uppity," and a snob who probably looks down on regular folks.

White privilege is being able to graduate near the bottom of your college class (McCain), or graduate with a C average from Yale (W.) and that's OK, and you're cut out to be president, but if you're black and you graduate near the top of your class from Harvard Law, you can't be trusted to make good decisions in office.

White privilege is being able to dump your first wife after she's disfigured in a car crash so you can take up with a multi-millionaire beauty queen (who you go on to call the c-word in public) and still be thought of as a man of strong family values, while if you're black and married for nearly twenty years to the same woman, your family is viewed as un-American and your gestures of affection for each other are called "terrorist fist bumps."

White privilege is when you can develop a pain-killer addiction, having obtained your drug of choice illegally like Cindy McCain, go on to beat that addiction, and everyone praises you for being so strong, while being a black guy who smoked pot a few times in college and never became an addict means people will wonder if perhaps you still get high, and even ask whether or not you ever sold drugs.

White privilege is being able to sing a song about bombing Iran and still be viewed as a sober and rational statesman, with the maturity to be president, while being black and suggesting that the U.S. should speak with other nations, even when we have disagreements with them, makes you "dangerously naive and immature."

White privilege is being able to say that you hate "gooks" and "will always hate them," and yet, you aren't a racist because, ya know, you were a POW so you're entitled to your hatred, while being black and insisting that black anger about racism is understandable, given the history of your country, makes you a dangerous bigot.

White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism and an absent father is apparently among the "lesser adversities" faced by other politicians, as Sarah Palin explained in her convention speech.

And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because a lot of white voters aren’t sure about that whole “change” thing. Ya know, it’s just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain.

White privilege is, in short, the problem.



  1. A fantastic insight into the inequalities that are simply ignored becuase of the color of skin. As a "white" (in fact, French Canadian with some Irish tossed in for good measure), I am sickened when I hear "my" people say that they have a hard time considering Obama for President because they aren't sure the country is ready for a black man to be in charge. Whatever happened to having the RIGHT person, the BEST QUALIFIED person, and the MOST PRESIDENTIAL person in charge, regardless of gender, race, or any other item that we, as humans, are completely unable to choose for ourselves?

    Change is seeing what is wrong, accepting that something must happen, and then actually doing something to make the world a better place. Tim Wise brings this to light in much of what he shares, and I hope these words reach those who are uncertain about the need for real change in how we, as an American people, treat each other.


    --Robert Klein Engler

    Tim Wise thinks "White privilege is, in short, the problem." I doubt it. Instead of a problem, thinking about "white privilege" gives me a headache. Writing about it pains my wrists, but I will press on.

    I wonder what white privilege really is. Is it what makes rich kids at the University of Chicago become Marxists? Maybe white privilege is something like colorblindness. Max Sebald claims Napoleon was colorblind. For him blood was the color of grass. Thank goodness, I'm pinko-grey, a color that reflects neither my politics nor my age.

    It does little to tell ideologues that "white privilege" is simply an idea advanced by delusionary liberals to explain a world of their imagining, yet it is just that. White privilege is the "higher criticism" of the social sciences, or should I write "Marxist sciences?" Sometimes, when personal guilt is projected onto the world it becomes a pseudoscientific concept. Remember the words of Carl Jung, "All concepts are confessions?"

    At first, white privilege was a hypothesis in the social sciences, like the documentary hypothesis in biblical studies. These ideas were advanced to inquire about certain aspects of the social world or the biblical text. They were not facts, but speculations.

    In the hands of the media and Marxist white privilege was soon turned into a reality. Bear in mind, there is a difference between a hypothesis put forward to explain reality, and reality.

    White privilege now operates in sociology and among the new racists like "damning grace" in an anti-religion. It is the outward sign of an inward prejudice. This is no accident. Pseudo-Marxism and pseudo-social science is now the religion of many progressives to begin with. The sociology of Auguste Comte never dies, it just smells that way.

    If there is such a thing as white privilege, then does Affirmative Action create "black privilege?" Why is it someone has to be told about "white privilege" in the first place? If it is so powerful a social determinant, it ought to be self-evident.

    But that's the way Marxism works. People are ignorant of the true reality, operating with a false consciousness. They see only the superstructure, and need the communist party to enlighten them what's below. But, as we now know, the people who need Marxism don't understand it, and those who understand Marxism, don't need it. This is the unkindest "ungluckliches Bewusstsein" of all.

    The truth is, most people are aware of their talent and know talent is distributed to varying degrees in the world. There may be privilege, but it is not white, it is more the color of money. Remember how Nietzsche called Christianity the religion of the weak? Well, today, belief in "white privilege" is part of the religion of the resentful.

    Even if there were such a thing as white privilege, what could we do about it? Should we destroy all the beauty "white" civilization built-up over the years for the dull, gray of communism? Should we tell the Chi-coms to be fair and stop using their "yellow privilege" and reduce their population and carbon emissions?

    There are other methods in sociology and biblical studies besides Marxism and the documentary hypothesis. Participant observation also tells us a truth about human involvement in social groups, just as the Talmud and the scholarship of Umberto Casuto helps us understand who wrote the books of the Bible.

    The value of these conservative methods is that they do not destroy what they observe. In short, they are not revolutionary, and why should they be? How are you going to get rid of authors without getting rid of the text? How are you going to get rid of "white privilege" without getting rid of white people? The point here is to cut off error, not heads.

    You may say the same thing about "white privilege" that Moses H. Segal, professor emeritus at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, says about the Documentary Theory: "(W)e must reject the Documentary Theory...The theory is complicated, artificial, and anomalous. It is based on unproved assumptions. It uses unreliable criteria for the separation of the text into component documents."

    Remember, too, the same people who feel guilty about their so-called white privilege are also the ones who may feel guilty that the Jews are God's chosen people. White privilege actually masks a virulent form of anti-Semitism, an anti-Semitism that denies all religion for the sake of destroying one religion. Multiculturalism is just another name for anti-Semitism, too.

    If you feel guilty about your white privilege, go right ahead and feel that way. Liberals these days want to be victims, that, too, makes them feel good. I just hope you feel guilty enough and are foolish enough to give your wealth away to me, and not the Democrat Party.

    Better yet, consider the prophets of Israel. They knew there was no true social justice without first a fear of the Lord. That belief is a privilege, if ever there was one.

    Robert Klein Engler lives in Oak Park, Illinois. He is a member of the Illinois Log Cabin Republicans. His book CONTRA OBAMA is available from

  3. I believe that Nisargadatta Maharaj said that there are two ways of looking at things. One way tears things apart and shows how they're different. The other builds things up and shows how they're united.

    Tim Wise is calling on all of us, including himself, to create a more beautiful world. This is, in essence, the hope of every ideology and movement. Even those that destroy believe that they are destroying the obstacles to liberty, justice, peace and dignity. This is also Mr. Engler's hope and longing.

    Often it seems that the way that a message is expressed overwhelms the message itself.

    So if a particular concept or ideology is communicated in a way that incites guilt among some of the people who hear it, they may react more to the guilt rather than to the idealism of the message.

    We're all in it together. One country, one planet. Communicating in a way that unites us and brings us together is a challenge, but it seems, at least to me, to be the only strategy that is likely to succeed.