Conservative commentator Dan Riehl is apparently more annoyed at the President for speaking out on the fact that he has experienced being followed in shops simply because he is black, than he is that the President has experienced being followed in shops simply because he is black.
He also didn’t get this angry when Donald Trump and the Tea Party faction demanded the President’s birth certificate, in one horrendous display of racial profiling.
Yesterday, President Obama stood in the White House Press room, and shared his thoughts on the Trayvon Martin ruling. The President said:
“I think it’s important to recognise that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience in this country, of being followed when they’re shopping in a department store. And that includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street, and hearing locks click on the doors of cars. That happened to me. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator of a woman clutching her purse nervously. Those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.”
– For what it’s worth, I rate this as the President’s most important speech. It was impromptu, and that gave the speech its honesty. It was personable, heartfelt, and it struck right to the heart of the privileges that do not face the average white American every day, yet affects the average African American every day.
Predictably, conservatives across America react nonsensically, not wishing to know the feelings the first African American President has toward race relations in the country. Typically, as conservatives tend to be with women, with minorities, with the gay community the message coming from them is loud and clear; “we don’t want to know, shut up and deal with it.” Dan Riehl, rather oddly, says:
– Apparently President Nixon’s Southern Strategy; a strategy designed to provoke racial tension in the south thus attracting white supremacists over to voting Republican, isn’t considered racist. Nixon is also on tape saying:
“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white, or rape.”
– Apparently considering a child of mixed-race to be as terrible as rape, doesn’t qualify as racism.
Apparently, President Lincoln’s thoughts on race relations being:
“I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people.”
– is not racist. Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, and many more US Presidents owned slaves. Apparently, this isn’t racist. Nor Ronald Reagan’s subtle racial remarks on “Welfare queens” and his strategy to appeal to “George Wallace inclined voters“. But, President Obama sharing his experiences of a post-civil rights culture slowly trying to shed its racist past, makes him the “first Racist in chief”. The President was not suggesting the creation of a brand new social and economic system, based on black supremacy. The President was highlighting racial inequality and ingrained cultural racism.
Dan Riehl believes that any African American suggesting that America might still have race problems, or highlighting that racism, are themselves a racist for doing so. Dan Riehl is under the impression that the status quo, as long as the cracks are kept silent, is acceptable. He can enjoy the privileges afforded to him by virtue of his skin colour, without having to think too much of those that the system leaves behind.
So what are those unearned privileges afforded to Dan Riehl?
Well, it starts with education. Naturally, when a particular minority has spent 200+ years discriminated wildly against when it comes to standards in education, as well as healthcare, housing, justice, opportunities; they are at a disadvantage from birth. It is institutional. To alleviate those disadvantages, there must be a concerted effort to increase standards through funding among other things. Half of all public school funding, comes from property taxes. And so, the poorest areas (and those who have already suffered discrimination in housing, for decades) are disproportionately underfunded. Dan Riehl’s facebook page, tells us that he studied at Steinert High School in New Jersey. New Jersey is ranked second highest for graduation results, test scores etc……. New Jersey is also the second highest spender per pupil, spending on average $15,000 per pupil. Whereas Mississippi for example (which has an African American population 23% higher than New Jersey) is ranked 48th for student success, and spends just $9,708 per pupil. Dan Riehl is privileged simply by being born in a State that for white, economically advantaged students, is an educational haven.
Of course, had Dan Riehl, during the 90s, and right up until 2003, drove through New Jersey, he would have had the privilege of not being suspected of being a drug kingpin, and pulled over, in the nationwide scandal in which officers in New Jersey testified that they were told by their superiors to racially profile motorists on the New Jersey Turnpike and Interstate 95.
Most drug users in the US, are white. In fact, only 13% of drug users in the US, are African American. And yet, 74% of those sentenced to prison for drug use in the US, are African American. African Americans are on average, 11 times more likely to be imprisoned for drug use, than white Americans. If Dan Riehl wanted to use drugs, he will experience the privilege of being far more likely to get away with it, simply for the colour of his skin. In fact, he could have happily driven trucks full of heroin through New Jersey, and been able to do so, because officers were busy watching out for African Americans.
The denial of white privilege by those who gain the most from it, is not new. Currently, it seeks to turn any sort of alleviating of institutional racism into a sort of privilege for African Americans. For example, over here in the UK I often hear the claim that a Pakistani person got a job ahead of a white British person. As if that’s inherently wrong. Similarly, in America I often read claims that a white person didn’t get into a particular college, because, despite getting lower grades, the place was given to an African American person (not forced, just given). In both cases, the white person claims to have been the victim of some sort of reverse racism. And in both cases, neither bother to accept that not only does affirmative action not force a company or school to “put aside” places for people of different races (it is race neutral), but they also don’t seem to understand that white people have also been given a place ahead of them.
For example, A study by the American economic review between July 2001 and May 2002 entitled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination” found that job applicants with a white sounding name are 50% more likely to be asked back than an applicant with a black sounding name. It proved that regardless of credentials, African American applicants were 50% less likely to get a callback than a white applicant. And so the claim that work placements or college placements should be “based on merit” is fine, but isn’t the case in reality. In October 2012, the African American unemployment rate was around twice as high as the white unemployment rate. In fact, in one in six industries, white and black segregation has increased since the 1980s. Dan Riehl is privileged, simply by having a white sounding name.
In 2001, Gallup reported that 40% of white people believe that African Americans are treated the same as white Americans in the US. By contrast, only 9% of African Americans believe they are treated equally. Similarly, in 1962, 95 of white Americans believed African Americans had the same opportunities to get a good education, as white Americans. 1962. Prior to the civil rights act, and in the midst of Apartheid America. Dan Riehl has the privilege of being able to say “sure, they’re treated fine“, whilst never having to experience what it’s like for 91% of African Americans who completely disagree.
But white denial (which I characterise as a defence of white privilege; a way to try to ensure that ‘white‘ must come first) goes much further back. The philosophy employed in attempts to defend slavery in the south prior to the Civil War was full of denial.
The American Social Theorist George Fitzhugh argued that the Capitalism of the north would disproportionately affect African Americans, given that they were, in his mind, less able. And so slavery, according to Fitzhugh, actually protected African Americans. Fitzhugh comments:
“We do not set children and women free because they are not capable of looking after themselves, not equal to the constant struggle of society. But half of mankind are but grown up children and liberty is as fatal to them as it would be to children.”
– Suddenly, we have a philosophy of white, patriarchal denial. The privileges bestowed upon white Americans, defended as philanthropic. As if beaten, and immiserated African American slaves, treated like animals, should thank their ‘Masters‘ for the kindness of protecting them, from being free. Obviously, they have no choice in whether they wish to be enslaved or free in the first place. Perhaps they should have thanked their ‘Masters‘ for that too. The justification from Fitzhugh for slavery is as filled with a defence of white supremacy, as it is with denial. And it continues. Generation after generation, conservative white people insist that there is no problem. Fifty years later, they admit, there might have been a problem fifty years ago. During the antebellum period, any attempts to suggest an abolition of slavery, or African American civil rights, was met with conservative anger and derision by which it claimed those policies were in fact, anti-white. During the civil rights era, any attempts to equalise education, transport, housing, for African Americans was met with conservative anger and derision, by which it claimed those policies were in fact, anti-white. Today, it is no different.
Today, as then, those arguments simply reflect a desire to uphold a system of unearned, racial privilege and barriers that perpetuates a lack of opportunity, suspicion, fear, and poverty. The sort that President Obama was absolutely right to touch upon, and the sort that plenty of white President’s have used to their advantage in the past.
Dan Riehl will never accept, nor even understand the privileges that have allowed him to get to a position in which he refers to the nation’s first African American President, as ‘racist‘ simply for describing the prejudice he has faced in his own life. Riehl isn’t concerned about losing rights. Riehl is concerned about losing privilege.
Conservative America apparently doesn’t like to accept that there is an ongoing race problem in the US. What a completely new and original response from them.