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September 26, 2003

White Privilege

Two articles about white people who feel threatened by affirmative action and diversity caught my attention today, but what I found especially troubling were the comments sections following both articles. The first, about a "girl who wants to start a caucasion club at her school," devolved into some heated personal attacks on the Agonist message boards. The second was an unbelievably offensive action taken by the Young Conservatives of Texas at Southern Methodist University in an attempt to protest the use of race and gender as a factor in college admissions. The organization held a bake sale in which "white males had to pay $1 for a cookie. The price was 75 cents for white women, 50 cents for Hispanics and 25 cents for blacks." College Republican chapters have held similar bake sales at universities since February. Not surprisingly, the YCT are white and mainly male. I wondered how the white women members of YCT felt about being told that they were worth only three-quarters of what the white male member of YCT declared themselves to be worth? They accepted the designation rather than try to understand what affirmative action is really about?

This article touched off a firestorm at Fark. There are so many comments following this entry that Drew put up the infinity sign rather than a number. Quite a few of them, like these, are very offensive:

A sign said white males had to pay $1 for a cookie. The price was 75 cents for white women, 50 cents for Hispanics and 25 cents for blacks.
And if you are Chinese, you have to fold laundry for a cookie. If you are Jewish, you go to the cookie wholesale outlet. Russians stood in line for hours and still got no cookies, and the Irish just drank cookie flavored whiskey from a flask that they brought with them to the bake sale. The French refused to buy the cookies because they were not called "petit gteau". And the one you've all been waiting for -- Muslims were not permitted to eat any cookies because they consider it to be an evil snack of the great Satan, and chose to eat dirt instead.


If native americans can call us white boys can we start calling them "chief", "red" and "slopey head"?

Dru Blood posted about the racist and sexist cookie story yesterday. Ms. Lauren from Feministe had written a request last week for a short essay from interested bloggers about "what it means to be white." I know I have benefited from being white, and the reason I know how I've benefited is because I'm already sensitive to what it has been like for have experienced bias due to being female. The benefits of being white are so subtle and seemingly commonplace to me that it's easy for me to not notice how much I take for granted. It isn't so much what I have experienced as opposed to what I have not experienced.

I look at the television, magazines, and newspapers and see lots of white faces, faces like mine. On the rare occasions that I go to a store at the mall (I'm not a shopper), when I am followed around by store clerks it's because they're trying to sell me something. They don't give me the hairy eyeball, expecting me to steal something.

I've run into people who assume I was hired for a job fresh out of college because I was a pretty female. One prospective Cro Magnon boss years ago commented that he might hire me because he thought I had great legs. However, I have never been accused of being hired for a job because I was white, nor have I ever been accused of bumping a more qualified person from a particular job or assignment because I am white. My being white didn't even make a blip on the radar screen.

I have not been turned down for housing because I am white. I had lived in the Baltimore-Washington metro area until about four years ago. I had not noticed how racially diverse my former home town was until I moved to Massachusetts. The first thing all of us noticed is that it's very white where we live. All of our neighbors are white. That wasn't the case in Maryland.

I've seen racist assumptions behind some discussions of welfare reform. The myth of the lazy welfare queen with a pack of brats fathered by many different men may not be vocalized as stridently as it was years ago, but it's still there.

I have pointed out to those who are against affirmative action if they protest white affirmative action with the same zeal. I speak of legacies, like how George Bush with his substandard grades got into Yale and Harvard. He would have attended neither if it wasn't for Daddy. The closest I've come to observing a legacy in action was when I was in the movie unions and when I had attended college. Children of current A-Listers shot to the top of the hiring list. They were offered work before anyone else, including relatively new B-Listers like myself and other B-Listers who had been working in the union for years. Of course, the children of college alumni were accorded special privileges. Most were white. White people have historically had more access to that kind of privilege than minorities.

Bloggers who have either responded to Ms. Lauren's request or discussed the issue in general include Aldahlia, Cobb, Hellblazer, Prometheus 6, Liminal Liberal, and Peggy McIntosh.

Posted on September 26, 2003 at 04:53 PM | Permalink


Ugh, I have nothing intelligent to say except that the Young Conservatives at Texas are utterly disgusting and ignorant. :-(

Posted by: Clancy at Sep 27, 2003 12:41:44 PM

on the welfare queen myth: when i was pregnant and very concerned about the state of my economic future as a single parent, i picked up a book called The Myth of the Welfare Queen. this book is probably outdated, but still a worthy read. the author does a series of case studies in one of the poorest areas on the east coast, following around African-American families on welfare.

the most interesting thing about this book for me was the resourcefulness employed by each and every one of the families the author followed. welfare alone was not enough to keep the families going, and they spent most of their days looking for jobs and looking for other resources to supplement the welfare they were receiving.

i had a similar experiences when my boy was first born - medicaid and food stamps in particular. i won't go into detail, but i will say this: the "benefits" given to the poor are indeed helpful, but they remain substandard. welfare is not a leg up - it's a dark, dark hole. if it weren't for my family and my economic privilege as a part of that family, who knows where i would be?

and shame, shame, shame on the college republicans for perpetrating such offensive myths about race and gender.

Posted by: ms lauren at Sep 30, 2003 10:15:47 AM

That's funny - when someone described the bake sale to me - without saying who was running it - I actually assumed it was a bit of leftist guerrilla theater to make some kind of point about evening things out. I read it as the sort of thing where you make the healthy able people put a pebble in one shoe and use crutches all day, or navigate around their own workplace in a wheelchair, so they can see what's going on. Make the white guys feel at a disadvantage to make them think.

I actually hate the YCT with white-hot intensity, but I'm not specially offended by their anti-affirmative-action bake sale. I disagree with their ideas but I like to see who they are and what they think. I woudl have been there at their bake sale handing out flyers with my analysis and criticism and a socialist free cookie I guess, or a suggestion that people steal the cookies and grind them underfoot. (Rather than trying to ask the powers that be to make the YCT stop).

I think the "queers take over the university" actions I was involved in were pretty offensive to a lot of people who felt that I should be ashamed as we all tied each other up and gagged each other with red tape and so on, to try to make a point about the univ. dragging its feet on domestic partner benefits.

Anyway, when I found out the bake sale was the YCT, I rolled my eyes, but never in a million years would I say that this should have been forbidden. Though, again, I hate the YCT, am driven frothing-at the mouth mad by white guys claiming "reverse racism" and "reverse sexism".

If you haven't ever seen it, take a look on the Frontline archive database and find the "blue eyes, brown eyes" documentary. (looking up url...) Here it is: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/divided/ A Class Divided. you can watch the entire documentary online.

Posted by: badgrr at Oct 5, 2003 12:54:14 AM

One more reason to be glad I left Dallas.

Posted by: aldahlia at Oct 5, 2003 4:06:32 AM

I always roll my eyes at this topic... Because I have experienced, in my life, some distinct sexism, and even some discrimination based on my last name being long and Polish. I've also had doors open for me because I graduated from a private high school.
While I believe that affirmative action, in theory, is wrong... I mean, in a vacuum, it's not fair. But sadly, the state of our society in history has made it the only viable means... since we can't MAKE people colour blind, and we can't MAKE people not prejudice, we can't stop people from discriminating - we can ONLY influence people from furthering the injustice. And despite affirmative action, discrimination still continues on all sorts of levels. I can't even imagine how much worse it would be for many people if it never existed.
Thanks badgrr for that Frontline link - I don't think I ever saw that show - but I do remember hearing about it some while ago. I think the blue eyes brown eyes thing is very interesting because I remember VERY WELL the first grade, when I was told I wasn't as good by blue-eyed classmates, because my eyes were brown! I mean, and this was in the 1970s! Of course, that was the least of the ways I was told I wasn't as good - the primary being because of my long Polish last name.
And as it happens, I had just mentioned this recently on my weblog.

Posted by: Chloe at Oct 6, 2003 4:19:21 AM

Check out my photos of the Bake Sale at http://s88515748.onlinehome.us/gallery/BakeSale

Posted by: David at Nov 23, 2003 4:41:27 AM