Sarah Hoyt posted on FaceBook about the twitter comment about ‘White Privilege’ that MSNBC commentator Toure made in response to a tweet about him recommending a piece in The Atlantic about reparations. This got me thinking what ‘White Privilege’ means, reparations, class and work ethic. Go back and read the links and the comments for background while I try to make my thoughts here coherent.
Coates article was about how he came to support the idea of reparations. While I don’t have a problem with reparations paid to victims, the time for such action would have been over a century ago when there were still victims around. Doing so now, 150 after the Civil War, would involve monumental problems. 1) There are no surviving former slaves from antebellum South. I doubt there are any surviving children of former slaves, though if there are you can probably count them all on your fingers and toes. 2) If we should pay reparations this would set precedent for a dangerous defunding and bankruptcy of our country. How far back would our country need to go to address all the other injustices committed in our history? 3) How would beneficiaries be determined? It’s not like we have a lot of official records of who was betrothed or begotten of whom. Sure, there are plenty of genealogical sources out there, but few of them are actually official documents. 4) Who will be funding these reparations? Will it be the Federal Government? Will it be the descendants of former slave holders? Why should people who have never owned a slave, and whose ancestors didn’t even arrive in this country until well after slavery ended in this country be financially responsible for this? There are many citizens here who weren’t even around for the Jim Crow era.
I also find fault with his reasoning that because some people are willing to put in the hard work to get an education that reparations should be paid to blacks so they can fund tutors to get into a good school like the kids doing the hard work. While a tutor can certainly help, I’ve found that much of educational success comes down to hard work. Some of that is undoubtedly due to culture, as in a culture that respects and honors the educated tend to instill the ethic that education will help you advance in life. You want to become a success in later life? Build a good foundation early in life. That starts with putting in the effort to study, and doesn’t end with parroting back whatever the instructor told you.
So, after Toure tweets about this article he gets some tweets back (I really don’t know anything about Twitter – I don’t use it and I don’t really understand the concept of it) by an account that posts:
“@Toure My family survived a concentration camp, came to the US w/ nothing, LEGALLY, and made it work. #SORRYFORBEINGWHITETHOUGHYOUGUYS
— Dat’s Racis’ (.com) (@hope_and_chains) May 23, 2014”
This apparently got a rise out of Toure who then responded with:
“The power of whiteness: RT @hope_and_chains: My family survived a concentration camp, came to the US w/ nothing, LEGALLY, and made it work.
— Touré (@Toure) May 23, 2014″
This now brings us to the question of ‘White Privilege’. Some people have tried to define it, like Peggy McIntosh’s invisible knapsack of identifying with the media around you, or how society unconsciously treats you by the way you look. While I think some of the points made in the PolicyMic piece are valid, most of that is just straight up racism and runs both ways. ‘White Privilege’ has simply become the new PC term to dismiss and discount someone based on their race. There will always be the segregation of ‘them’ and ‘us’, with the definitions fluidly changing depending on the situation at hand. Maybe it’s the neighborhood/town you grew up in, or maybe it’s the school you attended. Maybe it’s the language you speak or sports team you identify with. Perhaps it’s the political philosophy you subscribe to or the occupation you work in. Sometimes it’s color your skin.
I can only speak for myself. But, the minorities I’ve been around (growing up and living in ND means there is a definite lack of diversity seeing as how the state is roughly 95% white), the deciding factor in how successful they are has been how hard they’ve worked for what they have, how they treat the people around them, and to a lesser extent who they know (a new version of the old boy network at play). Growing up I didn’t give much thought to my friends’ backgrounds, we were pretty much all white kids in a white community in a white state. Their ethnicity, religious affiliation and color of their skin didn’t really wasn’t a factor. The black and Hispanic kids mostly came from the air base and the Indians mostly came from the reservations. Some of their parents had master’s and doctoral degrees, some ran businesses, some were nurses and doctors, others were educators or mechanics, some were salesmen or stay at home moms. Some had more money than others, but we all tried our best to make our parents proud. And what made our parents proud was playing hard and by the rules when we played and studying hard and learning when in school. Whether we were poor, middle class or wealthy didn’t bother us.
Let me wrap up this absurd idea of ‘White Privilege’ as it relates to success in life. The deciding factor into how my friends from school did wasn’t the color of their skin or even their economic class. It was the culture their family’s exposed them to. Hard work and getting an education was invariably seen as a way to improve oneself. Those who have been able to improve themselves more than others have generally had more natural aptitude than the rest of us or simply a higher drive to get to a certain station. It’s not always easy, but if you put in the effort you can do it. The Privilege is in the culture not in the color of one’s skin.