Tim Wise is a sharp, incisive, southern Jewish anti-racist writer. Which is why the right people make anti-semitic attacks on him. (Seriously? The “big nose” line from David Horowitz? What, is “Horowitz” his stage name? Paragons of Aryan manhood, all of you…)
But that’s a tangent. Point is, at least three people have sent me this within the last couple days. Wise goes through a comparison of Barack Obama with John McCain and Sarah Palin in order to hash out the importance of white privilege on the election. He compares the treatments of the candidates’ personal stories and asks whether the same traits perceived as positive with white candidates would be acceptable with Obama. Example:
White privilege is when you can call yourself a “fuckin’ redneck,” like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you’ll “kick their fuckin’ ass,” and talk about how you like to “shoot shit” for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.
Quite right. This is the guy about to make Governor Palin a grandma. (So much for the “I don’t want kids” on his Myspace page.) Let’s see a black candidate’s 17-year-old daughter get pregnant by a profanity-laced, violence-threatening young man and count the seconds before CNN Presents: Crisis in the Black Family. There’s more:
White privilege is when you can develop a pain-killer addiction, having obtained your drug of choice illegally like Cindy McCain, go on to beat that addiction, and everyone praises you for being so strong, while being a black guy who smoked pot a few times in college and never became an addict means people will wonder if perhaps you still get high, and even ask whether or not you ever sold drugs.
Imagine that Michelle Obama had committed fraud to acquire painkillers through a medical charity and subsequently attributed it in part to stress brought on by her husband’s political scandals.
Unfortunately, the article is just a little too much race explains it all. Like an amateur Marxist, Wise has a theory that fits everything. Consequently, he overreaches:
White privilege is being able to sing a song about bombing Iran and still be viewed as a sober and rational statesman, with the maturity to be president, while being black and suggesting that the U.S. should speak with other nations, even when we have disagreements with them, makes you “dangerously naive and immature.”
This isn’t because Obama is black; it’s because he’s a Democrat. “Naive and dangerous” is exactly how they tagged Kerry when he questioned the formulation of the “global war on terror.” They ran ads asking how the Massachusetts Senator could protect us when he “[didn’t] understand the threat.” All foreign policy statements from the left are naive, dangerous, or both. Doesn’t matter what color the speaker is.
There’s other examples as well:
White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a “trick question,” while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O’Reilly means you’re dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.
First, Palin has already lost something like 11 or 12 points off her approval ratings between her convention speech and today. Second, it’s the anti-intellectualism, stupid. If you go on Bill O’Reilly’s sixty minutes hate, you’re going to be attacked; and if you speak to low-information voters in sentences longer than a bumper sticker, you’re an egghead. Gore was one, as were Kerry and Dukakis. (Remember this was old model Kerry, not the newly-combative Kerry 2.0) President Clinton was a bright guy but got away with it in part because Bush père sucked worse at slogans. Senator Obama joins a long and distinguished line of totally white Democrats facing similar charges of intellectual arrogance.
A couple times, Wise makes this mistake of confusing “standard Republican tactics” with evidence of white privilege. (Whether it’s preferable that the GOP be a party of bottom-feeding slanderers or simply a party of racists remains an open question.) Just because Wise is wielding a hammer of racial justice doesn’t make everything a nail.
That said, the article is a quick, fun, provocative read. Its pith also makes it ideal for email forwarding, which has become an important medium this election cycle. Worth a few minutes of your Friday.
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