Tuesday, February 14, 2006

My stomach hurts, so here is some of my schoolwork. The second article is One Drop of Blood from the New Yorker, 1994 by Lawrence Wright. I don't know how to upload pdfs so I don't know how to share it:

I think the juxtaposition of the two articles is very interesting. Peggy McIntosh’s article explains the concept of white privilege and the article about race and the census illustrates it, although indirectly. I have read the McIntosh article before, and find it very compelling. I especially enjoy McIntosh’s attempts to explain white privilege in the ways she notices them in her own life. However, I think a way to strengthen her analysis is to write in the many ways that people of color seem white privilege working in their environments. For example, we see white privilege working even in contexts such as mentoring. The fact that some of our mentees do not even have phones, something that many people in America, the richest country in the world, take for granted is not the result of accident or the moral qualities of the mothers of these young people. From my own experience, I have found that people of all cultures and ‘races’ have a mixture of different moral qualities and personality types, yet in our country, the people at the bottom, and the people who are most despised for being poor, happen to be mostly the same color. Even when many whites live in poverty, they are not the faces of poverty- so they can wear whatever clothing they like, without sneers about how their clothing is too fancy for them, and buy what food they want on their small stipends without having it scrutinized for being what some checkout clerk thinks a welfare mom should eat. Also, the stereotype of the welfare queen has a black face. When politicians want to defund our public resources, they pull from the vast pool of cultural memes about black and brown people: about how they are lazy, don’t have the same values as ‘regular’(read white) people,etc, and the people mostly fall for it.
This brings us to the second article. While sometimes having some important points on the complexity of race, it also has a few points that show the viewpoint of the author as being situated in an interesting place. For example, the article makes the argument that multiracialism is a ‘threat’ to the entrenched ‘entitlements’. This takes a very white washed view of the current situation in which the threat to more equitable treatment of people of color is that some of them may identify themselves as more than one type of person or that they might just check ‘multiracial’, which seems to me like another way to mark ‘other’, which as noted in the article, happens already. However, the real threat, which is not even mentioned in this article, which of course references the mythical huge amount of set asides, is really white resistance to the few racial set asides we have, and of course, cultural myths about black and brown people. Like note the idea that the government helping non white people based on race causes racial strife. White people have benefited from government programs like preferential treatment in housing loans and the GI Bill, but somehow that doesn’t cause racial strife. White privilege obscures the fact that racial strife is caused by the racial interpretation of events by white people and others who buy into the ideology of white supremacy, and the invisibility of the many ways the government has benefited white people. I think his argument is a red herring- we’d administer the set asides as we already do, because people of color have been multiracial for years, but people are generally comfortable checking whatever group they identify most with.
Another problem I had was that the authors were frightened of the complexity of the social construction of race instead of embracing it. Race is socially constructed, so of course it’ll change over the years. That’s why I approve of asking people their race instead of having independent observers try to guess their race or find out using ‘blood quantums’, because race is about how you identify, although it is partially ascribed. Light skinned blacks aren’t going to be able to opt out of racial discrimination just because they checked the ‘white’ box, for example. Not to mention, the idea of ‘race blindness’ is basically white privilege in action- only if you do not have to deal with problems based on your race, can you say ‘oh, let’s just not talk about race’, and think it’ll be gone. If the author had really thought about what Peggy McIntosh was saying in her white privilege article, we could have gotten somewhere, but now we merely have a slightly useful history of racial confusion afloat on a sea of insidious assumptions.

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