Friday, October 31, 2008

Living White Privilege

By Eavon Lee Mobley, Managing Editor at the Kirwan Institute

Wow. I hadn’t expected the response from my sister when I emailed Tim Wise’s article “This is Your Nation on White Privilege” to her. I thought the article gave easy-to-understand examples of the concept of white privilege as Tim Wise stated in his opening statement. My sister responded: “This e-mail is bad do I send you Nation on Black privilege.” I haven’t received her answer to my question: “What is Black privilege?”

But the point I want to make is that my sister’s response to being presented with the facts of “White Privilege” is all about blame. When someone feels they are blamed for something it is human nature to try to shift the blame to someone or something else. Come on … we have all at least one time in our life sought to avoid taking the blame for something. Maybe early on a parent or other adult figure taught us the value of taking responsibility for our acts. Or maybe we learned on our own as we wrestled with our conscience. Or maybe we are still learning. Or maybe we aren’t even aware.

The reality is that every day white people are living white privilege. And that privilege spans the whole range of socio-economic status in our society. Yeah that’s right…it’s a privilege whether you are white and rich or white and poor.

Let’s get back to blame. So what are whites blamed for…the inequitable treatment of nonwhites…and what do whites counter with…Black privilege (?)…

It’s a dead end street. What white people need to do is acknowledge the existence of white privilege and stop the blame game. We need to discuss white privilege in a transformative way and get beyond the finger pointing and on to working towards an equitable society for all Americans. Let’s bring the discussion out in the open. Yes… if you are a white American you benefit from privileges and status that are not available to nonwhite Americans… “it’s as plain as the nose on your face.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

U.S. Empire Complex Revisited

By Hiram José Irizarry Osorio, Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

“Since modern globalization and capitalism are inseparable, the globalization that one regards as ‘desirable’ (unipolar, hierarchically multipolar, non-hierarchical multipolar) will depend on whether one’s preferred model of society is liberal capitalism, a more ‘social’ form of capitalism, or one or another form of socialism…I would place a radically anti-imperialistic approach that recognizes the need to correct the huge North-South inequality in the conditions of production created by five centuries of capitalist expansion. Such a correction evidently implies a socialist perspective (one that goes beyond the basic logic of capital accumulation), but it also requires a conception of global socialism not necessarily shared either by earlier historical socialisms (communist and social-democratic) or by all the currents of new social, and even socialist, thinking.” (Samir Amin’s Beyond US Hegemony?: Assessing the Prospects for a Multipolar World, 5)

We are immersed in the U.S. Presidential campaign mode. Quite a bit of discussion (or at least mention) of a plethora of topics has taken place, from the mortgage-housing crisis to race…war. All of these topics and issues affect the livelihood of every U.S. citizen and beyond. This last statement is what I want to briefly delve into, the beyond aspect. In other words, it is necessary to take a look at the world beyond the manufactured confines of the U.S. as a nation-state. This is not done to undermine U.S. domestic issues, but to connect them with “the other” (the racializing aspect of the modern nation-state building).

I write this to be critical of the myopic view and coverage of the current U.S. Presidential election, bringing to the fore perspectives coming from that international “other”. Nonetheless, I am also critical of the “othering” process that tends to take place when the subaltern responds. I do not underscore both “limitations” to promote stasis, advocate for perfection, or truncate conversation. My intention is to promote lively contestation that might get us closer to a more porous, flexible, situated and transparent dual “us vs. them” (or better “us/them”).

This is why I started with a quote from Samir Amin, which I think pushes the envelope of the current Presidential Election coverage and discussion. Again, not making it irrelevant, but underscoring its incompleteness. Having stated this, the challenge remains on what’s to be done. How do U.S. domestic concerns best connect to the outside? How are the processes of marginalization best addressed from within the U.S. Empire and beyond? How do we (as Amin challenges us to do) better coalesce those fragmented marginalized realities, without losing their particularities?

In other words, how do we move along a humane, progressive politics that might take us to a different and better world? Whatever the answers to these and other relevant questions that concern our organizing of our societies, I underscore that they should not emerge from a small fraction of the world’s population. Let the contestation continue, with the hope of it translating into tangible positive changes for common folk.

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Comedy of Errors: Race, Gender, and Chris Rock

By Angela Stanley, Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

In a summer issue of Vibe Magazine, one of the items in the“20 Questions” feature questioned whether or not Chris Rock had a problem with Black women based on his latest standup routine. Anyone who knows Chris Rock and his brand of humor understands that much of his material is racial, political, and social commentary. To hear that he has some things to say about Black women really comes as no surprise, but the buzz around his new material suggested that something different was afoot.

Because of the controversy, I was interested in seeing the routine for myself and when it finally aired on HBO September 27, I saw what many folks have been discussing. His take on the possibility of having a Black first lady set the tone for his entire routine. Specifically, a Black man with a Black wife can never be president “because a Black woman cannot play the background of a relationship.” His solution? “Get a White girl…because a White girl will play her position.” From there he went on to describe all the ways Black women are domineering, unsupportive, manipulative, materialistic, and every other stereotype imaginable.

So what is the problem many are having with all of this? If you believe, like I do, that there is often truth in jest, then it’s easy to make the assumption that perhaps Chris Rock does have some issues with women, Black women in particular, that seem to have manifested on stage. Regardless of Chris Rock’s comments, the larger issue is that this is yet again an unwarranted attack on Black women. From Slavery to Hip Hop we’re over-sexualized objects; from the household to the workplace we are “angry Black women”; and from the silver screen to the TV screen we are the loud, sassy, neck-rolling, unfeminine sidekicks. If we are successful then we are uppity. If we defend ourselves then we are argumentative. If we have opinions then we are emasculating. Our contributions to history, to social movements, to the workplace, and to society are often quickly forgotten. Our continued, and often belabored, support of our communities, our children, our leaders, and our men often goes unappreciated. Our leadership in the home and in the workforce is often trivialized. Our overall success, educational or otherwise, is often resented. This occurs from the classroom to the boardroom—tainting public perception, lowering self-esteem, devaluing an entire group of individuals, and suppressing opportunity. Not surprisingly, such treatment also extends to the realm of politics.

Unfortunately Michelle Obama, a woman who has the grace, intelligence and ability to be a phenomenal first lady, is suffering the same pigeonholed fate. I for one, hope that if Barack Obama wins the presidency, that Michelle will be allowed to take on her new role with a clean slate and that her presence in the White House will have a positive effect not only on the self-esteem of girls and women of color but also on the perception of Black women as a whole.

As for Chris Rock, his opinions are ultimately irrelevant. However, as someone who claims to be a Barack Obama supporter, it seems that his focus should be on helping Barack become president instead of projecting his own issues onto Michelle and all the women she represents. As one blogger named Tami writes, “Do a fan a favor, Chris, stick to the political and social stuff, and save the rest for a therapist.”