Race, Obama, and white privilege
It is impenetrably difficult for we who are white to see what white privilege has handed us.
Sometimes I wonder if the common white “I am color-blind” outlook really amounts to just plain blindness. For to ignore color is to ignore the elephant in the room: being white is still very different from being non-white in the USA. Self-professed color-blindness, which has such a noble ring to those with the upper hand, may say to non-whites, “I am blind to how the past affects you and me today.”
It may be like saying, “You don’t hurt. If you do, that’s sad, but it has nothing to do with me. For since I bear you no ill will, I am no racist. As far as I’m concerned, we’re equals.”
Perhaps the operant phrase is as far as I’m concerned. Might it mean “My (white) view is the view by which we’ll operate”? Might it be the basis of Geraldine Ferraro’s rage: that her white view of what racism is—something like “harboring ill will toward people of color”—is, to her, the only view that matters?
Might the elements of racism that invisibly color our own outlooks be as pernicious as the more obvious ones we detest in others?
Roger Cohen, in a NY Times opinion piece, writes an eloquent, poignant personal reaction to the Obama race speech. I encourage you to read it all. Here are some excerpts:
Beyond America’s Original Sin
There are things you come to believe and things you carry in your blood. In my case, having spent part of my childhood in apartheid South Africa, I bear my measure of shame.As a child, experience is wordless but no less powerful for that. How vast, how shimmering, was Muizenberg beach, near Cape Town, with all that glistening white skin spread across the golden sand!
The scrawny blacks were elsewhere, swimming off the rocks in a filthy harbor, and I watched from my grandfather’s house and I wondered.
Once, a black nanny took me out across the road to a parapet above a rail track beside that harbor. “You wouldn’t want me to drop you,” she said.
The fear I felt lingered. […] Apartheid entered my consciousness as a kind of self-humiliation. […]
A racial divide, once lived, dwells in the deepest parts of the psyche. This is what was captured by Barack Obama’s pitch-perfect speech on race. Slavery was indeed America’s “original sin.” Of course, “the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow” lives on in forms of African-American humiliation and anger that smolder in ways incommunicable to whites. […]
It takes bravery, and perhaps an unusual black-white vantage point, to navigate these places where hurt is profound, incomprehension the rule, just as it takes courage to say, as Obama did, that black “anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.” […]
I understand the rage of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, however abhorrent its expression at times. I admire Obama for saying: “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.”
For seven years, we have lived with the arid, us-against-them formulas of Bush’s menial mind, with the result that the nuanced exploration of America’s hardest subject is almost giddying. Can it be that a human being, like Wright, or like Obama’s grandmother, is actually inhabited by ambiguities? Can an inquiring mind actually explore the half-shades of truth?
Yes. It. Can. […]
Perhaps it’s my African “original sin,” but when Obama says he “will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible,”I feel fear slipping away, like a shadow receding before the still riveting idea that “out of many we are truly one.”
May we be so bold as to listen and look—not to ridicule one another’s weaknesses, not to “fix” one another’s problems—but first, simply, to humbly wonder and learn from one another’s fears.
Tags: race, racism, Obama+race+speech, apartheid, white+privilege, black+rage, non-white, white+people, Rev+Jerimiah+Wright, fear, Monte Asbury
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