As we got up from our seats and stood in place to enter the aisle, the white woman behind me stood next to me in the aisle and was determined to gain the place in the line ahead of me. Elisabeth was standing by her seat in the row beside me, and the woman’s husband was standing behind us in the aisle.
We stood a long time, as it seemed to take longer than usual for the passengers ahead of us to file out of the passengers’ cabin. When it became closer for our row to exit, the elderly woman beside me started walking ahead and somehow got three rows in front of us. I am not sure how she managed that, but she did, leaving her husband behind us. So far, we have simple rudeness.
As she left the plane, she was about eighteen passengers ahead of me on the ramp. So, when it was my turn to walk out, I asked her husband if he wanted to go ahead of us, and he politely said, “Please go ahead.” So, my daughter and I stepped from the passenger cabin.
As we passed the elderly woman on the terminal ramp, she had an angry look on her face as my daughter and I emerged from the door ahead of her husband. She was waiting for her husband in disgust. Her displeasure was written on her face, and as we walked past her, she said aloud to her husband, “I can’t believe you allowed the Chinese to get ahead of you!”
She said it loud enough so that I could hear. As the words left her mouth, her spitefully-based statement to her husband angered me more than such events may warrant. My first thought was the perception that an Asian is always already viewed as a foreigner no matter how long they have been living in this country. Even fourth or fifth generation Asians are viewed as the “perpetual foreigner.” Asian Americans have been depicted as “perpetual foreigners,” “unassimilatable,” and other stereotypes that reveal historic and persistent racism experienced by this racial/ethnic group. For example, almost every Asian in America has been afflicted with the perpetual foreigner syndrome. Many have been asked, “Where are you really from?” This loaded question, which I shall call the “really-question,” differs from the usual one, “Where are you from?” The really question figuratively and literally ejects the Asian American respondent to Asia, because the assumption behind the question, even if the questioner is oblivious to it, is that Asian Americans cannot be “real” Americans.
The entire premise of the song, right from its very title, is garbage. There is no such thing as “accidental” racism. On an individual level, a White person may unintentionally say or do something racist, because they are cloaked in the ignorance of unexamined privilege. But that doesn’t make it accidental. That is the result of an entire culture carefully built around structural racism that privileges Whiteness and viciously defends White people’s ability to coast through life never having to become familiar with any perspectives or lived experiences but their own. That is no goddamn accident.
It is also the result of individual White people choosing to lazily bask in the luxury of their racial privilege, despite the fact there are all kinds of opportunities to question the white supremacist narratives with which we are all socialized. The luxury to know those narratives are bullshit is not one that it shared by people of color, and it is a choice to start the lifelong journey toward understanding (and not trading on) one’s Whit privilege, or to sit in the comfortable easy chair of unexamined privilege. That, too, is no goddamn accident. It is a choice.
It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to put on a shirt with a Confederate flag. It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to say he’s “got a lot to learn BUT.” It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to whine about “walkin’ on eggshells” and “fightin’ over yesterday,” as if racism is a thing of the past and not something active and present in the here and now. It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to say “we’re still paying for mistakes / that a bunch of folks made long before we came,” as if White Southerners’ lingering discomfort with slave history is the same fucking thing as the structural effects of slavery that inform the lives of Black USians’ to this very day. It isn’t a fucking accident to compare the Confederate flag to a do-rag or saggy drawers. All of this is thoughtfully conceived and deliberate bullshit.
Marginalized people don’t owe privileged people non-judgment and tolerance and indulgence of their gross redefinition of symbols of oppression in exchange for basic decency. The inherent power imbalance between privilege and marginalization makes the entire idea of an “equal exchange” of good will reprehensibly absurd.
If White people want Black people to trust us, then we should make ourselves fucking trustworthy. That means releasing our stranglehold on a lot of symbols and images and words and practices with racist origins, even if we like them a lot—boo fucking hoo!—instead of trying to argue selective context. Especially when there are always plenty of White folks who still value the embedded racism in those things. Brad Paisley, you are literally expecting Black people to be able to read White people’s minds and magically discern whether this one White guy is wearing a Confederate flag just because he has Southern Pride, ahem, or because he hates the fuck outta Black people.
That wildly unreasonable expectation is no accident, either.
There’s a comforting-to-white-people fiction about racism and racial inequality in the United States today: They’re caused by a small, recalcitrant group who cling to their egregiously inaccurate beliefs in the moral, intellectual and economic superiority of white people.
The reality: racism and racial inequality aren’t just supported by old ideas, unfounded group esteem or intentional efforts to mistreat others, said Nancy DiTomaso, author of the new book, The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism. They’re also based on privilege, she said — how it is shared, how opportunities are hoarded and how most white Americans think their career and economic advantages have been entirely earned, not passed down or parceled out.
The way that whites, often unconsciously, hoard and distribute advantage inside their almost all white networks of family and friends is one of the driving reasons that in February just 6.8 percent of white workers remained unemployed while 13.8 percent of black workers and 9.6 percent of Hispanic workers were unable to find jobs, DiTomaso said
DiTomaso concludes, based on her research, that most white Americans engage, at least a few times per year, in the activities that foster inequality. While they may not deliberately discriminate against black and other non-white job seekers, they take actions that make it more likely that white people will be employed — without thinking that what they’re doing amounts to discrimination.
"The vast majority assumed everyone has the same opportunities, and they just somehow tried harder, were smarter," DiTomaso said of those she interviewed. "Not seeing how whites help other whites as the primary way that inequality gets reproduced today is very helpful. It’s easy on the mind."
So white Americans tell a neighbor’s son about a job, hire a friend’s daughter, carry the resume of a friend (or, for that matter, a friend’s boyfriend’s sister) into the boss’s office, recommend an old school mate or co-worker for an unadvertised opening, or just say great things about that job applicant whom they happen to know. But since most Americans, white and black, live virtually segregated lives, and since advantages, privileges and economic progress have already accrued in favor of whites, the additional advantages that flow from this help go almost exclusively to whites, DiTomaso said.
DiTomaso’s work does confirm that networks — not just the kind you build over awkward conversations, finger foods and watered-down cocktails but the kind you’re born into — matter, Austin said. It also points to just how different forms of inequality feed one another. Family-and-friends segregation feeds job and income inequality. That in turn feeds neighborhood and school segregation. That then leaves some kids less likely to receive a quality education and escape from the cycle, he said.
It’s not that black workers don’t attempt the same sort of job assists within their own networks, said Deirdre Royster, an economic sociologist at New York University and author of Race and the Invisible Hand: How White Networks Exclude Black Men From Blue Collar Jobs.
African Americans ask neighbors, significant others, the significant others of neighbors, relatives and friends about open jobs, too. But since black unemployment rates were far higher than white rates before, during and after the recession, the number of people in a typical black social network who are in a position to help is far more limited.
According to Royster, there’s an additional twist: When blacks are aware of a job, they describe the job, the boss, the company and its preferences and needs. Then they follow up with a warning.
"They give the person looking for a job all sorts of information and then they say, ‘But don’t tell them I sent you,’" said Royster.
Black workers are aware of something that researchers are still trying to explain: White bosses often worry, lack of statistical evidence aside, that black workers are more likely to sue them or band together in the workplace and try to change things, Royster said. That seems all the more likely if the black workers already know one another, she said. And many white hiring managers still assume, consciously or unconsciously, that black workers bring undesirable workplace habits and qualities, Royster said.
“Justin Timberlake entered the industry as a kid on Disney’s New Mickey Mouse Club, he went on to front the hugely popular boy band ‘N Sync and gained lots of media attention for his supposedly chaste romance with Mickey Mouse castmate Britney Spears.
For Justin, launching a successful solo career meant exiting the boy-band space occupied by white crooners like the Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees and entering one dominated by black R&B and hip-hop artists.
With production by Timbaland, The Neptunes and P. Diddy, Timberlake’s solo debut, “Justified,” thrived on his novelty: He was the white boy with the bleached blonde fade and vague hip-hop swagger who could really sing the black music he unabashedly recorded. Image-wise, he picked, chose and performed suave and often provocative black masculinities embodied by the likes of James Brown, Michael Jackson, and Prince. For that he was richly rewarded; the album sold more than 7 million copies worldwide and he won two Grammys, ironically for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
But when shit hit the fan after the 2004 Super Bowl when he exposed Janet Jackson’s nipple on live television, he was able — after making a public apology on CBS — to easily revert back in the public’s imagination to the wholesome white boy who made pop songs for teenage girls. And that’s what becomes tricky with Justin, that his whiteness acts as both an entryway into a popular culture and a buffer against its criticisms. Janet’s career, on the other hand, stagnated. (Black comedy legend Paul Mooney famously dubbed the scandal her “n*a wakeup call.” And Chris Rock blamed her exposed “40-year-old breast” for creeping censorship in American television.)
Justin wouldn’t likely have that musical freedom without his work in very white Hollywood. Despite early, notable flops (“Black Snake Moan,” “Alpha Dog”) he’s been able to build a movie career, generating Oscar buzz by playing Sean Parker in the “The Social Network,” doing raunchy, satirical comedy opposite Cameron Diaz (“Bad Teacher”), and straight-ahead romantic comedy opposite Mila Kunis (“Friends With Benefits”). Without Hollywood, his wedding to Jessica Biel might not have landed them both the cover of People magazine. He’s also hosted “Saturday Night Live” five times, a testament to his comedic chops and a larger-scale Hollywood visibility that he wouldn’t likely have access to without his whiteness.”
Competing images of the poor as “deserving” and “undeserving” became central components of the debate. Ultimately, the racialized nature of this imagery became a crucial resource for conservatives, who succeeded in using law and order rhetoric in their effort to mobilize the resentment of white working-class voters, many of whom felt threatened by the sudden progress of African Americans. As explained by Thomas and Mary Edsall in their insightful book _Chain Reaction_, a disproportionate share of the costs of integration and racial equality had been borne by lower- and lower-middle-class whites, who wee suddenly forced to compete on equal terms with blacks for jobs and status who lived in neighborhoods adjoining black ghettos. Their children—not the children of wealthy whites—attended schools most likely to fall under busing orders. The affluent white liberals who were pressing the legal claims of blacks and other minorities “were often sheltered, in their private lives, and largely immune to the costs of implementing minority claims.” This reality made it possible for conservatives to characterize the “liberal Democratic establishment” as being out of touch with ordinary working people—thus resolving one of the central problems facing conservatives: how to persuade poor and working-class voters to join in alliance with corporate interests and the conservative elite. By 1968, 81 percent of those responding to the Gallup Poll agreed with the statement that “law and order had broken down in this country” and the majority blamed “Negroes who start riots” and “Communists.”
Race had become, yet again, a powerful wedge, breaking up what had been a solid liberal coalition based on economic interests of the poor and the working and lower-middle classes. In the 1968 election, race eclipsed class as the organizing principle of the American politics, and by 1972, attitudes on racial issues rather than socioeconomic status were the primary determinant of voters’ political self-identification. The late 1960s and early 1970s marked the dramatic erosion in the belief among working-class whites that the condition of the poor, or those who fail to prosper, was the result of a faulty economic system that needed to be challenged. As the Edsalls explain, “the pitting of whites and blacks at the low end of the income distribution against each other intensified the view among many whites that the condition of life for the disavantaged—particularly for disadvantaged blacks—is the responsibility of those afflicted, and not the responsibility of the larger society. Just as race had been used at the turn of the century by Southern elites to rupture class solidarity at the bottom of the income ladder, race as a national issue had broken up the Democratic New Deal “bottom-up” coalition—a coalition dependent on substantial support form all voters, white and black, at or below the median income.
[W]hile I believe Asian privilege is a real thing, it certainly didn’t protect the seven people murdered when a racist opened fire on members of a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin last August. In fact, post-9/11 Islamophobia has imposed an experience of racism on South Asians in the U.S. that is quite distinct from that experienced by other Asian Americans. Increasingly, South Asian Americans are profiled less as model minorities than as terrorist threats.
And for Laotian Americans, privilege must feel like like a foreign concept. Almost all of them were driven out of their homeland and into the this country since 1973 by a now-exposed secret war waged by the U.S. The American war strategy included running 580,000 bombing raids. This is the equivalent of one planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years over a country about the size of Utah. The detonations were bad enough, but so much unexploded ordinance is left behind that one third of Laos is considered contaminated.
The experience of Laotian Americans is mirrored in many ways by that of immigrants who came to the U.S. from places like Burma, Vietnam, and Cambodia to flee war and political repression. They know horrors few American-born Asians can even begin to imagine.
Privilege is also a tough word to describe the situation of many Filipino immigrants in the U.S. Many were encouraged to migrate by the Philippine government because it is managing so much foreign debt that debt service is their single largest expense. The terms of the loans made from organizations like the International Monetary Fund have imposed austerity measures, including wage freezes, cuts to healthcare and
education, and privatization of water and electrical service. Filipinos often leave to survive and to provide for their families abroad because the Philippine economy just can’t afford them
Yet, for some of us, the privileges, though conditional, are real. I recall growing up in Hawaii, profiled as Japanese American in a school system in which we were expected to succeed, and in which Japanese Americans were over-represented among authority figures. I surrounded myself with friends who didn’t share in the protection afforded me by my light skin and Japanese surname. We felt one another, but they suffered the kind of racism reserved for those profiled as problem minorities – Native Hawaiians, African Americans, and darker skinned immigrants from Polynesia and the Philippines.
Yet when the time came to be held accountable, I almost always escaped the worst punishments. In spite of doing poorly in school, I was passed from grade to grade, even tracked into college prep classes. I was considered a troubled child with potential where my often much more talented but darker skinned friends were perceived to just be trouble.
Today, without the benefit of a college degree, I have twice been a foundation executive and now work for a think tank. Now, I’m not going to say I didn’t work as hard and try as mightily as the next person, but in order to try I had to first get through the door. Those doors remained open to me when they would likely have closed to others because I lived under the cover (and intense pressure and scrutiny, mind you) of model minority stereotyping.
Reflecting on all of this I realized, part what makes being Asian American so complicated is that Asian privilege is really white privilege, conferred conditionally on some of us in order to maintain white power. If that’s true, we’re being used. And if being used, even lightly, is what this is about, the question is, are we really in control of how and over what damage that use might do to us and to others?
Nearly 60 years after that Supreme Court victory, which changed the nation, conservatives freely admit they have stolen that page from the NAACP’s legal playbook as they attempt to roll back many of the civil rights group’s landmark triumphs.
In 23-year-old Abigail Noel Fisher they’ve put forward their version of the perfect plaintiff to challenge the use of race in college admissions decisions.
Publicly, Fisher and her supporters, chief among them the conservative activist who conceived of the case, have worked to make Fisher the symbol of racial victimization in modern America. As their narratives goes, she did everything right. She worked hard, received good grades, and rounded out her high school years with an array of extracurricular activities. But she was cheated, they say, her dream snatched away by a university that closed its doors to her because she had been born the wrong color: White.
The daughter of suburban Sugar Land, Texas, played the cello. Since the second grade, she said, she dreamed of carrying on the family tradition by joining her sister and father among the ranks of University of Texas at Austin alumni.
Journalists and bloggers have written dozens of articles on the case, including profiles of Fisher and Blum. News networks have aired panel after panel about the future of affirmative action. Yet for all the front-page attention, angry debate and exchanges before the justices, some of the more fundamental elements of the case have been little reported.
Race probably had nothing to do with the University of Texas’s decision to deny admission to Abigail Fisher.
In the Fisher case, while the young woman may have lent her name to the lawsuit, the case before the Court has very little to do with her. Her name appears just five times in the thousands of words that make up the body of the complaint. She has already gone on to graduate from Louisiana State University, her second choice, and is working in finance at a firm in Austin.
Asked by a news reporter what harm she had suffered, she cited only her inability to tap into UT’s alumni network and possibly missing out on a better first job. If she wins, Fisher seeks only the return of her application fee and housing deposit — a grand total of $100 in damages.
So while the Fisher case has been billed as a referendum on affirmative action, its backers have significantly grander ambitions: They seek to make the case a referendum on the 14th Amendment itself. At issue is whether the Constitution’s equal protection clause, drafted by Congress during Reconstruction to ensure the rights of black Americans, also prohibits the use of race to help them overcome the nation’s legacy of racism.
In 2007, I moved to San Francisco from Stockton – a place once named the most miserable city in Forbes, a place where empty storefronts and people hanging out in front of liquor stores are fairly familiar scenes. I attended the journalism program at SFSU and lived in the Sunset, but was immediately drawn to the Fillmore. I eventually started covering and writing stories about the Fillmore for my reporting class. While I researched the area’s rich history – including the disastrous urban renewal program, which pushed out many of the city’s African Americans in the 1940s through the 1970s – I began to understand why there aren’t many of us in San Francisco’s historically black neighborhood. Partly it’s because there just aren’t many black people here in the city these days (according to the 2010 census, African Americans make up 5.8 percent of SF).
It wasn’t until I graduated college that I realized that while I was writing about black businesses and black people, all my friends were white. This wasn’t a brand new concept to me. I spent my days in high school listening to indie rock and punk music. In Stockton, I was used to being the only black person at rock shows, and I was one of only two black girls in my graduating high school class. The racism I experienced in my hometown, while sparse, was overt and by strangers. But there was something different going on here in SF. Partying with the hipster white dudes in the Mission would start out fun, but our hangouts would end with me feeling conflicted. If these people were my friends, why did I feel so bad when I hung out with them?
Before all the hate mail rolls in, I’m not saying that San Francisco is racist and my experiences with assholes in the Mission can’t possibly be a statement about this city as a whole. That deserves a larger article. However, in this city that prides itself in being so progressive, it feels like we need to go back and master something both simple as well as incredibly complex – each other. We can learn to embrace our differences without making them a joke or a spectacle. It might take more effort than making bourbon ice cream, but I feel like we can do it.