Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tim Wise on White Privilege & Palin

I like Tim Wise. I have read a lot of his stuff over the years and listened patiently to many of my students extol his virtues.

He is an important critic for white people. I say this because next to nothing he says is new to Black and brown folk.

This is not to say that Wise is not useful to folks of color. At the very least one can always point to his work when trying to navigate white folk and their racism.

I happened on a new post by Wise entitled "This is Your Nation On White Privilege" today and it made me smile as most of his stuff usually does.

The following passage best describes "white privilege" and the white woman who supported Hillary and are now drawn to Palin (or being drawn):
"White privilege is being able to convince white women who don’t even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a second look."
Ummmm ... yeah and the same can be said of the white men who supported Hillary and now see reason to give Palin and McCain a second look.

The second look is not mostly about white privilege really. The second look is about racism. No matter how much most white folks try to front that Obama is a "post racial" candidate the truth is that he is Black.

And being Black in America is a tough sell to white folk in any context or circumstance.

Obama knows this and he can't just come out and say that Palin is drawing attention and keeping the race close because she is a white woman who speaks to the central fears of whiteness.

In this sense, Obama only has himself and the deluded liberals who think he can be president to blame.

The obvious truth is that the US is no "post racial" state or society in any terms.

This election will be decided by white voters who will look at Barry Obama and decide if he is a threat to their privileges (the ones that supposedly don't exist anymore).

And when Obama comes up short Tim Wise will pen another series of essays and books for white people to 'interrogate' their whiteness. He will no doubt pick up his argument that Obama makes race safe for white people.

Recognizing this has not however stopped Wise from supporting Obama. For Wise, like other white liberals, Obama represents the best opportunity (at present) to soothe in-bred guilt while appearing to be progressive.

This is the business of racism in a manner of speaking. It is the one recession proof business that the fed won't have to bail out because it is bullet proof.

But be this as it may, racism is also the sword upon which the US will eventually fall, with or without in-service negroes like Obama and his ilk.


Picture Credit


alleman said...

I am not very knowledgeable about American politics, but it seems absurd to suggest white liberals would support Obama to "soothe in-bred guilt while appearing to be progressive." I do not think most people who support Obama do so because of race issues.
The fact is that in elections, there is almost never a really good candidate and therefore voters only get to vote against the worst candidate.
In this case, Obama supporters are most likely supporting him because he is not McCain (who is like an older version of Bush, and all that).

Dade said...

Ouch! A biting and painful post for me to read.

You may well be right, my friend. But forgive me if I hope not...

TroyCHooks said...

whats up, my brotha...

this is Troy :-)
i just read your post posted on 9/18 and i wanted to know if you are familiar and/or read the works of bell hooks???

STRONG recommendations:

1)were we stand: class matters
2)killing rage: ending racism
4)black looks
5)teaching community
6)teaching to transgress
7)rock my soul


Ridwan said...

Thank you for commenting Alleman. It is not "absurd" to know the racial politics that drive the white liberal establishment behind Obama.

It is somewhat of a leap to just wave aside a critique because it "seems" not to fit your logic about how candidates appear in the US election.

The notion that white Obama supporters are merely "post racial" candidate-driven voters is severely mistaken.

I wish however that your notions were somewhat right, but the US is a settler state and race is its essence.

Even Wise would agree in principle with this assessment.

I expect to see McCain keep his momentum even though he is 'McSame'. McCain/Palin speak to the white fears that drive the majority of white voters in the key electoral states.

Finally, I my thinking on white liberals and Obama is echoed widely among communities of color and left voters.

Many of those folk will still vote for Obama because they see no other viable choice, but they do not simplistically ignore what is a reality in this presidential horse race.


Ridwan said...

Dade thanks for your comment brother.

I know where you are coming from and feel your pain even though I am not an Obama supporter.

We have shared thinking on Obama here and it has been helpful for me in terms of assessing what folks expect from Obama.

I still think that a key problem has been Obama's pretense to run a political campaign on the nonsense that his race is central to his campaign.

In the early days his "post-race" pretenses found expression among many white voters who are guilt ridden but not necessarily ready to set aside their racialized lives (inclusive of privileges).

Now Palin and 'McSame' offer enough rope for many of those folks to pull themselves out of their racial pretenses.

I think also, for example, of the white liberal feminists who have remained silent on the media's treatment of Mrs. Obama.

These same gender activists were shouting loudly about double standards for Hillary but have remained silent on Michelle.

This raises an important question, though not a new one historically.

The question is simply whether white liberal feminists exclude race as an additional jeopardy for black women.

Judging by their silence on Michelle Obama it would seem so.

See this article by Nadra Kareem for a discussion of this issue:

I am, therefore, hardly suprised that white women (inclusive of some white feminists) are found walking towards the republicans because Palin is on the ticket.

Just how many will decide to vote for McCain/Palin will be telling when the votes are counted.

Peace Dade,

Ridwan said...

Troy it is indeed a pleasure to read you here. I am well brotha and better to hear from you.

I know you have a birthday coming up, Happy Birthday!

I am familiar with bell hooks and admire her work greatly.

I attended one of her public lectures a few years ago and was impressed by her.

I think her critique of the racism present among white feminists is second to none.

She pulls few punches and I like that very much.

I have not read anything she may have written about Obama, have you?

I would be interested to know what she thinks of the primary race between Obama and Hillary, and now the so called Palin factor.

Anyway, you be well and enjoy what is left of your time down south.

Travel safely back home and holla when you can.

Peace brotha.


Prasanth said...

A very hard hitting post indeed.

I live in India and my only exposure to this topic comes from the media(Indian and American) and as you know, the less said about that, the better.
I agree with you that Obama's emergence(and that of the absurdity termed post-racialism) has been significantly enabled by the need for the white population to soothe their guilt and self-indulge in a self-deluding notion of progressiveness. However can one reduce the support Wise and others of his ilk give Obama to the abovoemoentionted. I too believe that an Obama administration will not bring about any considerable "change". However, the way things are going now, it would seem definitely better than what the other option. is.

Of course, it could be argued that the assuaging of this guilt is the vital factor of this mythical concept of change. However,isn't the Obama boom also fueled by a genuine feeling of fear/anger/despair about the direction(the most superficial aspects of it though) the country is taking.


Ridwan said...

Prasanth thank you kindly for looking in and commenting.

I think Wise recognizes that Obama plays a 'race game' and points out that this is playing to whiteness.

Wise also laments that Obama does not speak to white privileges and racism.

Yet, he cannot walk from the liberal position of hoping for the best to the radical position that questions the system that produces Obamas.

Wise knows that Obama can't win if he was anything less than friendly to whiteness.

Yet he supports Obama!

His support for me represents liberal guilt (even where such guilt is more about white advance than anything else).

Wise is too timid to reject the nonsense that Obama represents. His support is reflective of the further nonsense that Obama (because he is Black and a liberal) must be supported despite the fact that he looks like McCain/Bush and walks like McCain?Bush.

I agree totally with you that Obama will not bring change, no more and no less than McCain.

He is an institutionl player. His choice of vice president (Biden) is telling.

Biden's position on the so called Middle East is the reason why the US has been on the wrong side of just there.

Also, Biden supported and wrote legislation that has resulted in more Black folks in prison than in the history of the US. Biden's get tough on crack cocaine led to a racialized distinction between Blacks who use cheap crack cocaine and whites who use powder cocaine.

Crack cocaine users are mostly poorer Black men and women and the law that Biden underwrote sentences 'abusers' three times more than their wealthier white counterparts that use the more expensive powder cocaine.

The result in part is that Black folk and other poor people of color make up almost 80 pecent of the prison population in the US.

Now how did Obama overlook this?

Easy in my view. Obama is a new liberal conservative who reflects the racialized notions that Blacks deserve stronger overview in law and society.

Take for example when Obama lambasted Black fathers for not being responsible in front of a largely white audience.

He knows that this nonsense resonates with whites, he may even believe it, and therein lies the problem.

Wise should be more in-tune and willing to risk his neck and take a real stand.

But like I say, Wise knows like Obama how to play the business of race.

I can agree with you that there are also people out there who support Obama because they want change.

A very large proportion of those live outside the US and cannot vote in the election. Folks outside of the US do not want another idiot like Bush in the white house.

There are also folks like my good friend Dade in the US (see his comment above) who supports Obama because he knows that McCain will mean more of Bush.

Dade has argued on his blog that Obama is wrong on Pakistan, Iran, and Palestineans.

He and others who mean well hope that Obama will be more in-tune later to change.

I however agree with your position that change is unlikely under Obama.

Prasanth I may have said too much in volume here.

Thank you again for weighing in.

Peace to you,

Rent Party said...

I'm now afraid McCain will really win. It'll be disastrous, I feel, but the only way I'll get through that if it happens is to consider that it already is disastrous & that an Obama win would just mitigate.

I'm for Obama for Alleman's reasons - why not vote against the worst candidate? And my modest hope is that under Obama it would be possible to make some inroads back to normalcy, repeal the Patriot Act, empty a few ICE prisons, get at least a little more civilized than we now are.

But it's true, the settler state mentality is really coming up around here.

I hate to think that's real, that that is the mentality that won out in the end and was what was behind the window dressing of the Constitution and all, but it seems to be the case / what makes sense.

U.S. = settler state, then, with liberal democracy as surface discourse and a certain radical tradition (Big Bill Haywood was American!) that is a minority strain.

This is hard for me since I decided as a child that the settler state thing was the past, the liberal democracy was sincere, and the tendency was to radicalize that. *This,* I decided, was American.

Nice work if you can get it, but it was not the trajectory that won out. It's a hard hope to give up, though.

Anonymous said...

Great post and the settler state point is key. I do think though that whatever the positions of the candidates the VOTES mean very different things. If Obama gets a majority of the popular vote I will be more comfortable with my neighbors in this country. I don't even care if they vote for him out of white guilt - I'd rather deal with that than unabashed racism, creationism, abstinence only education, unlimited drilling, and so on.

Z said...

Or: maybe I should put it this way: I don't think Obama will institute change. I do think voting for him is to vote against a change for the still worse.

It's true about Obama and Biden and all, I know. But an Obama win will be less depressing than McCain/Palin and it will be easier to organize to the left of him than to the left of them.

"Yet, [Wise] cannot walk from the liberal position of hoping for the best to the radical position that questions the system that produces Obamas."

I seem to be in both positions: of course one questions this system, but I'd rather not jump off the cliff into creationism, abstinence only education, Arctic drilling, and so on - it seems so foolhardy.

Ridwan said...

*Rent Party it is good to hear your voice her. I am not unsympathetic to liberal hope. But with Obama the word/concept liberal is stretched.

I would hope that if he was president we would see the movement on immigration and the Patriot Act.

I am not convinced of the latter though. He did vote to renew the Patriot Act.

In a very real sense one can see the republicans as representing the worst of settler politics.

I am worried too.

**Profacero thanks for your comment. I would have to agree that voting out of guilt for Obama is not necessarily all bad if we can reduce/remove the issues you point to.

I think a lot of white folk detest the guilt issue because it strongly suggests that they are complicit in racism.

It is a mainstay issue among many whites in South Africa for sure.

Whether guilt can be progressive is problematic though.

It would essentially ignore that ending racism has a whole lot to do with destroying whiteness.

***Z thanks for commenting. It is sad that a country as complex as the US can only offer a choice between Obama and McCain.

I see your point and have recognized that Obama is not as bad as McCain if one limits the bad part to insular issues.

Obama however is a disaster for Palestineans. A black man who is blind to the apartheid of the Israeli state.

A candidate who is anti-Bush but pro-invasion ala Bush.

I also worry about the state of race relations in an Obama presidency. Obama gives creedence to the nonsense that racism has been made less (even erased).

This essentially reduces the weight of living in a settler state like the US.

I am always amazed at how Obama suggests to black folk that they should lok beyond their conditions (oppression) and make nice with the status quo.

He will set back the gains of the civil rights era but worse, he will bring a larger denial even erasure to the reality of what the US means in racial terms.

Thank you kindly Rent Party, Profacero, and Z.


Anonymous said...

Well I can't really argue with any of that - you're perfectly right, and I have the liberal hope and I am also thinking something like, well, even one less Arctic oil rig puts off planetary death for a little longer.

The guilt thing, though, is definitely NOT progressive. I have not figured out why people take things so personally. I really really don't get it. Or maybe I do: they feel guilty because they want to preserve the status quo ... ? I don't get it at all.