Last week I attended a workshop entitled “Dismantling Racism” put on by the nonprofit group Growing Power in Milwaukee.
We did an exercise where white people in the room read statements about white privilege. I related to several of them. “I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well-assured that I will not be followed or harassed.” “If a traffic cop pulls me over, or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.” I even could relate to, “Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.”
It is nice that she thinks so highly of herself. In my experience, and by my conversations with people all over the U.S. as well as keeping updated on trends, statistics, etc. I feel it is safe to say that Ms. Krome doesn't know what she is talking about. First off, everyone, and I mean everyone judges other people by appearances. However, I don't necessarily mean skin color or race. Value judgments are made about people's socioeconomic class all the time. It is often easy to spot the difference in someone who is from a working class background, middle white collar background, upper middle class, etc. It is in the clothes that are worn, the cars that are driven, the hair, the style, the health of the skin. Etc. It doesn't always hold true. Sam Walton, founder of Wal-mart used to tool around the Ozark Hills here in overalls and an old pick up truck. But for the most part, those who have money or at least don't worry about money are easily identified just by appearance. I would wager that Ms. Klone feels privileged not because she is white, but because she is financially secure. Working class whites aren't guaranteed success just because they are white. They have to work like everybody else. And middle class whites aren't guaranteed success either. In fact, a big part of their income is spent paying the taxes to keep entitlement programs in this country afloat. I believe that a white person and a black person dressed equally as well will get the same treatment by financial institutions etc. And those who don't appear to have much in the bank or in financial distress, whatever the color will also get the same treatment.
But I was amazed by how few of the statements I, as a person of white privilege, had previously considered. I hadn’t noticed that “I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.” Nor had I previously recognized as a privilege never being asked to speak for all the people of my racial group. Or that I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race. These and many other statements were written by Peggy McIntosh in a 1990 article that described such unearned assets as “like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions ... tools, and blank checks.”
So being called a "credit to your race" is now considered racist? These so called "unearned assets" aren't racist. These "assets" mentioned such as not being late and its reflection is in fact a reflection on civilized society. Rooted deep within Western Christian civilization is a certain code that the U.S. was built upon. These are common courtesies, a certain refined etiquette, an appreciation for timeliness, and attention to detail. And most of all is the high value we place on law and order. A community run in such fashion and the recipients of a culture, whose bedrock is white Christian civilization, aren't unduly privileged. Our culture is a part of who we are and it is an outgrowth of our race. Yes, if you value these concepts then it is a privilege to be born into a race that manifests these values in the building of communities. It is called our birthright. Those who do not share this birthright, often do benefit from it if they conform to the standards of Western Christian civilization, but it is not their birthright because it is not who they are.
As the statements continued, people of color nodded knowingly. An African-American woman from Oklahoma added the privilege of a white person’s son or brother being able to go running without causing suspicion or fear. To which a Brooklyn minister noted that he doesn’t let a group of young African-American men whom he mentors even walk together in the neighborhood without accompanying them; they likely would be stopped and possibly worse. Had it ever occurred to me that my son’s ability to go for a jog was a privilege? No.
Again, it is white guilt. Is Ms. Klone's son privileged because he can jog without being stopped? Does he live in a financially stable area where jogging is an everyday of occurrence? If he was a white guy running in a black neighborhood I bet he would be stopped. Would that be considered racist? Or would the cop be suspicious that a white guy out of place in a black neighborhood might be looking to score drugs? And would it be racist to be suspicious of a group of black youths walking down the street together? Even black cops get called racist or Uncle Toms for being suspicious of a group of black youths walking down the street. How are these youths dressed? Are their pants hanging down below their rear end? Do they carry themselves with an apparent attitude? The crime rate among black men is staggering and white crime pales in comparison. Could it be the behavior associated with them that gets them stopped or is it just because they happen to be black or Mexican?
White privilege isn’t the same as racism, which involves using social institutions to carry out systematic discrimination against a racial group. But I’m conscious of both right at the moment, as federal and state budget debates are clearly about whom to advantage — wealthy, mostly white people, or poor people, many of them people of color. For example, two-thirds of the cuts proposed by Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan in his Fiscal Year 2012 budget would come from programs that serve low-income people — Medicaid, food stamps, Pell grants and low-income housing.
I was in Ryan’s office in Washington, D.C., last week when a man from New Jersey popped in “just to thank the Congressman, because I’m a taxpayer too.” He was white. When a colleague of mine arrived, he had a hard time joining our meeting because a crowd of people dressed up in tea party costumes was jamming the doorway to cheer Ryan on. They were all white.
Three weeks before, I was in the office of a newly elected tea party conservative, and I heard similar accolades about Republican funding cuts —all from white people.
Okay, the main thing Ms. Krome has pointed out was that the majority of taxpayers she witnessed were white. Is that supposed to mean something? White people paying taxes can't be good according to Ms. Krone's logic. It must be unearned. They are just the recipients of unearned privilege. And what about the unearned privilege of receiving government handouts? That doesn't seem to bother Ms. Krone one bit.
At the same time, a large delegation of people working with community action programs was at the Capitol — and I heard no such accolades from them. They understood that the Republican budgets being unleashed particularly target the most vulnerable population in the nation — many of them people of color.
Startling..really? A group of community action leaders (kind of like the ACORN group Obama worked with that was instrumental in the nation wide home foreclosure fiasco where banks were forced to set aside the traditional idea that you get to buy a home if you can afford it and if you don't then you wait - Ahhh yes, but this was so that people of color around the country could have what the allegedly white "privileged" middle class had - a piece of the American dream. Ms. Klone spoke about financial institutions and corporations discriminating against minorities - hogwash! If anything they are throwing their weight behind every so-called disadvantaged minority neighborhood or family they can get their hands on so they don't get called the "R" word! Racist!d So these community leaders were mostly people of color - shocker! And they are working to take even more tax dollars away from the white (and every other) taxpayer.
I was asked at last week’s workshop if I consider myself a racist. Although I benefit from white privilege, I don’t believe I’m racist. But racism is very real in the lives of millions of Americans, and the only way it gets changed is when people who benefit from it work to change the system so that benefits accrue to all or to none. Republican budget proposals are dangerously biased to champion a system that privileges wealthy, mostly white, people. It’s time to recognize these budgets for what they are.
Poor Ms. Krone! She is filled with so much guilt I don't know how she can sleep at night. But since she's clamoring for a change to benefit all (which only works if you don't have a society based on entitlements and everybody works for what they have) then to ease her privileged guilt ridden mind I challenge her to downsize her residence - maybe get rid of it altogether because she probably also buys into the false idea that we stole the land from the Indians. So Ms. Krone sign your home or condo over to the nearest tribe. Send your paycheck each week to that community group that you raved about, and basically get rid of what you have and give it away. You apparently didn't deserve it after all. And I for one could live without your nauseous drivel infecting others who potentially will come down with guilt fever!
Margaret Krome of Madison writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times.