Let’s Talk About Racism and Privilege: White Men Keep Out

MTV is coming out with a new documentary that delves into “white privilege.” It’s called White People. There is no mention of  documentaries called Black People discussing fatherlessness or disproportionate crime statistics, or Hispanic People talking about working in agriculture, or Asian People being good at math, because that would be racist. But if it’s about white people, it’s ok, because you know…

Oh wait, no, it’s not!

If you want to talk about racism and privilege, let’s have an honest conversation. Trigger warning: you might get offended.

First off, racism is not an American problem, it’s a human problem. Want to know who the most racist country in the world is? (Hint: it’s not the US). It’s Japan. Famous for its xenophobia, Japan has only recently reconsidered its “no immigration principle” as its economy struggles and the birth rate plummets.

Across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia people would rather not live next to a person of another race than anywhere in Europe and North America, in a survey looking at one aspect of racial intolerance.

Closer to home, racism has been a hot-button topic because of recent horrific events that were racially motivated.

On a day-to-day level, 88 percent of black people in America believe there is “some” or “a lot” of discrimination against them.

As someone born in Canada, one of the least racist countries, I found this statistic alarming, and it made me examine some of my own experiences.

Like most people who went through the process of becoming an American citizen, my family waited in many lines and filled out a lot of paperwork. It took years. I remember one instance we waited for over 3 hours at one immigration office to turn in one piece of information only to be turned away. The woman at the counter said we only brought half of what she needed, even though the last time we waited hours to talk to her, she told us all we needed to bring was what we had just brought. “You’ll have to come back later,” she sneered. Had either of us been a different color than the other I might have thought she was racist. But instead, I just thought she didn’t like immigrants or didn’t like her job.

It’s easy to take things personally and assume people are rude to us because of an outward characteristic than an internal one, whether it’s our weight, our height, our gender, or because of the color of our skin. But there’s usually more to the story if we’d go past our own assumptions about their assumptions.

On the other hand, if I had to deal with experiences like that on a frequent basis, then I’d probably start to think there was something going on beyond random hostility, and look at the larger factors and systems at play.

In her bestselling book Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo explained how African countries have received over $1 trillion in foreign aid over the last 60 years yet there has been increased demand for more. Initially, aid was supposed to help nations become self-sufficient, but instead it replaced initiative and inadvertently stifled opportunities, and now those countries have become dependent on that aid and its citizens cannot get by without it.

The same thing is happening here in America with welfare, as Thomas Sowell, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, argued in his essay, “The Scapegoat for Strife in the Black Community,” and it is creating resentment on all sides.

Throughout history, slavery has been far more common than freedom, Sowell writes, and it was America that was one of the first nations to condemn it.

“Racial problems almost invariably bring out the cliché of ‘a legacy of slavery,’” he says, and we have a “heavy emotional investment and ego investment in the ideas, aspirations, and policies of the the 1960s.” It distracts from the real problems, which are not being addressed:

Were children raised with only one parent as common at any time during the first 100 years after slavery as in the first 30 years after the great expansion of the welfare state in the 1960s? As of 1960, 22 percent of black children were raised with only one parent, usually the mother. Thirty years later, two-thirds of black children were being raised without a father present. What about ghetto riots, crimes in general and murder in particular? What about low levels of labor force participation and high levels of welfare dependency? None of those things was as bad in the first 100 years after slavery as they became in the wake of the policies and notions of the 1960s… It might never occur to many [on the left] to check their beliefs against some hard facts about what actually happened after their ideas and policies were put into effect. It certainly would not be pleasant to admit, even to yourself, that after promising progress toward ‘social justice,’ what you actually delivered was a retrogression toward barbarism.

Regardless of ethnicity, women were about twice as likely as men (23 per cent vs 12 per cent), and minorities were twice as likely as whites, to have ever received food stamps:

  • 39 per cent of black women
  • 31 per cent of hispanic women
  • 21 per cent of black men
  • 19 per cent of white women
  • 14 per cent of hispanic men
  • 11 per cent of white men

These statistics are from 2013, after the recession, even though more men, including a fair amount of white men, lost jobs in the recession than women.

Middle-aged white men are by far the most likely group to commit suicide, especially those with less education and lower incomes. Why would someone with “privilege” rather kill themselves than accept an unemployment check?

Could one element be that no one has empathy for them when they fail to live up to society’s expectations – thus keeping their benefit numbers low – reinforcing society’s belief that they are “privileged” (don’t deserve help) and their own belief that they will not get or receive help if they ask for it?

Could a sense of being discriminated against drive more women and minorities to seek out and accept benefits because they believe they are entitled to help – thus reinforcing society’s expectation and their own that they are “disadvantaged” and need ongoing services and support from special programs?

Might these special programs even get attached to their own existence, knowing that solving the problems they were created to solve means they’ll be out of a job?

All of us are discriminated against on some level. Being on the “good-person list,” and having the ability to explore what that means is one option whites, men, and white men especially, don’t have.

The more we focus on how we are individually oppressed, the less we can see how others are being treated unfairly. The more we focus on the privileges others have, the less we see the ones we have. And the more divided we become.

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