This is Your Nation on White Privilege

September 13, 2008
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 four 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 believing that reading
accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because, ya know, the
Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it),
is a dangerous and silly idea only supported by mushy liberals.

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

 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 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

 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, Wall Street is failing, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world       opinion, just because 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, a large part of the problem.

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