One of the things that many right-wing Americans are fond of saying, and there are variations in the wording, is that there are a bunch of “professional black people” stirring up trouble between black and white people. By “professional black people,” I don’t mean black people who are doctors and lawyers and the like. Rather, their profession is BEING a black person. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are ALWAYS cited, and Barack HUSSEIN Obama has been recently added to the mix.
The general narrative is that, racially, things are FINE in America, that we have a post-racial society. I mean, we have a President who’s black! What more proof does one need? Well, none for the Supreme Court, which decides to gut the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action.
Every suggestion that things are NOT hunky-dory has a pushback. The difference in unemployment, wealth, and health care? That’s black laziness, and it’s self-victimization to even discuss it. Trayvon Martin’s shooting? He was a thug. Etc, etc.
In the last forty or fifty years, I’ve been to a number of talks, workshops, etc., in which the notion of “white privilege” shows up, and almost invariably, the air goes out of the room. White privilege, Wikipedia says, “refers to the set of alleged societal privileges that white people benefit from beyond those commonly experienced by people of color in the same social, political, or economic spaces (nation, community, workplace, income, etc.). The term denotes both obvious and less obvious unspoken advantages that white individuals may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice. These include cultural affirmations of one’s own worth; greater presumed social status; and freedom to move, buy, work, play, and speak freely. The concept of white privilege also implies the right to assume the universality of one’s own experiences, marking others as different or exceptional while perceiving oneself as normal.” You can find a whole category on the topic in the Huffington Post.
The reason it sucks the air out of a room, particularly early on, is that it has led to either a rejection of the notion altogether or a wallowing of white guilt with nowhere to go with that. Here’s a decent list about privilege (and no, it’s not just racial).
A popular trope out there is that the (non-monolithic) black community, or Muslim community, is need of Rising Up and Keeping Its Folks in Line. Even black people, such as Bill Cosby, say it. But the great thing about white privilege is that no one would be ridiculous enough to say that about white people.
If you’ve heard too much about the “pathology” of black people, you might appreciate Cord Jefferson of Gawker.com showing this Video of Violent, Rioting Surfers Shows White Culture of Lawlessness. But it was astonishing when Jefferson is interviewed on an episode of All In With Chris Hayes on MSNBC to discuss that video. They play it straight, like any other “talking heads” interview on the news programs. It works on multiple levels for me.
These are examples of showing, in a satirical way, how white privilege is so ingrained. As Hayes points out at the end, if you had substituted “black” for “white”, it would sound like normal American media chitchat.
Related: I was touched by this story: I have experienced what it is like to be a “sort-of white” person because of my racial background, my upbringing, and the way I look.