Teachable Moments Require Willing Learners

Honoring President Obama’s request that the controversy involving a black Harvard University professor and a white Cambridge police officer become “a teachable moment,” here’s my contribution to an old lesson that we white people tend to be slow to learn.

In lectures about the United States’ system of white supremacy and the privileges that white people have in that system, I have sometimes told a story about being stopped by police in Austin, TX.

I was driving home in a dilapidated old Volkswagen Beetle on a busy street, late at night after a long day at work. I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, feeling rather cranky and looking rather raggedy. Eager to get home, I saw the yellow light and gunned it. Next I saw the flashing red lights of a police car.

I turned off onto a dark side street and dug in my wallet for my license. Just as the officer got to my car, I was opening the glove compartment to get the vehicle registration when out popped a small knife I keep for emergencies. I looked at the knife, looked at the white officer, and wondered what he would say.

“Sir, would you mind if I held that knife while we talked?” he asked politely. I handed him the knife and my documents, and he walked back to his car. When he returned he handed me those documents, along with a ticket, and my knife, without comment. “Please drive safely,” he said. And safely I drove home.

When I told that story to illustrate white privilege, I asked people of color in the room what they imagined might have happened to them in such a situation. The black and Latino men, especially, laughed. “Do you mean before or after I’m on the ground with a gun at my head?” one of them said.

My point was not that every cop is out to harass or brutalize every person of color, but that people of color could never be sure a routine traffic stop would play out routinely. I could be reasonably sure that, barring unusual circumstances, such a stop would be uneventful. Even when the knife popped out, I didn’t feel at risk.

I was feeling proud of myself for making this point to the mainly white audience, when I saw a hand go up. I called on the young black man, assuming he would endorse my analysis.

“You really don’t get it, do you?” he said. “You think your privilege started when the cop came up to the car and saw you were white. Has it ever occurred to you that when you turned onto a dark side street you were taking your privilege for granted?”

My first response was to explain: I had been on a busy street and turned to avoid blocking traffic. I was trying to be considerate of other drivers, I said.

“I know why you did it. My point is that I would never turn onto an unlit street with a cop behind me,” the young man said. “I would have pulled over and blocked traffic. I’m not going to take myself out of public view with a cop.”

My next response was to feel appropriately foolish for my unwarranted self-righteousness, and then to be grateful to the man for using that teachable moment.

He wasn’t suggesting that I be ashamed of myself, only that I recognize the burden he carries in the world that I don’t. The story was one more example of the privilege that comes with being a member of the dominant group in an unjust hierarchical system. It’s the same lesson men should learn about the sexual violence women face. Heterosexuals should learn it about the condemnation that lesbians and gays endure. The wealthy should learn it about the insecurity that poor and working people cope with. U.S. citizens should learn it about the fear of arbitrary authority that haunts immigrants no matter what their status.

I still tell that story when I lecture, now emphasizing that the man’s comments had reminded me no one with privilege ever fully “gets it.” It doesn’t mean we whites — or men, or heterosexuals, or the well off, or citizens — are consigned to perpetual stupidity, but rather that we should never think we have it all figured out.

In this allegedly “post-racial” era, these teachable moments are an important reminder that white supremacy is woven deeply into the fabric of this country. A system as perverse and pervasive as white racism — in all its forms, conscious and unconscious, brutal and subtle, personal and institutional — will not end simply because we appoint black professors or elect a black president.

In this moment, we white folks should ask ourselves, after so many teachable moments, why we still have so much to learn.

Robert Jensen is an Emeritus Professor in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Texas at Austin and collaborates with the New Perennials Project at Middlebury College. He is the author of It’s Debatable: Talking Authentically about Tricky Topics, coming this spring from Olive Branch Press. This essay is adapted from his book An Inconvenient Apocalypse: Environmental Collapse, Climate Crisis, and the Fate of Humanity, co-authored with Wes Jackson. Follow him on Twitter: @jensenrobertw. Read other articles by Robert.

50 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Darius K said on July 28th, 2009 at 9:23am #

    And while all of you are wrapped up in your meaningless diatribes, Washington spins further out of control. It’s about time all of you woke up from your tired, outdated idealogues and start learning what the U.S. was really meant to be. Where is our independence? Amazing that many of the founders were atheists, yet founded a country based on judao-christian law. Why is that? Read a history book…….it’s the only thing that keeps us from going the way of every other republic throughout history. It has nothing to do with religion. Strip that and you have anarchy. Why spurred the revolution? High taxes, yet we pay far more today than our founding fathers ever did. 75% of the people in the U.S. came here after slavery was abolished, yet they’re still blamed. What about England? (we were first English colonies) What about our kin in Africa who sold us into slavery in the first place? Martin Luther King was a Republican and the Democrats founded the KKK, yet now they are the champion of minorities. I’m black and had enough of the hatred and blame. Yes, slavery was a horrible thing, but how many other ethnicities have been subjected to that as well? The Irish have, Israelis, Egyptians, the Chinese……on and on and on. Heck, Native Americans were almost completely wiped out. Yes, there are some real pricks out there…..but I like to think that my kids can grow up in a world where most of that stupity is a thing of the past. Accept it and move on. Stop continuing the cycle. Blindly you follow the talking points, never realizing you’re being dupped. Both parties are corrupt. Have been for a long time, but nobody notices. You’re locked into the arguments Washington has fabricated for you. You think yourselves intelligent, but are you really? Or are you simply another puppet. The only one you can really count on is yourself, and REAL change starts there.

  2. bozh said on July 28th, 2009 at 11:03am #

    US wants to settle the earth; thus all these wars for the planet. Latinos and blacks will be settled on in siberia.
    It will be quite balmy for colored people. And no more racism in america. tnx

  3. Max Shields said on July 28th, 2009 at 4:08pm #

    Teaching moments? For who, exactly?

    Why does this condition of fear exist? What is racism? Why are people threatened by the police and others are not? Why do police, some anyway, act this way?

    What the hell are we talking about, Mr. Tibbs?

  4. Melissa said on July 28th, 2009 at 4:47pm #

    Technically, shouldn’t we be calling this skin-colorism? Maybe the language and making a living off of “race” is part of the persistance of problem?

  5. joed said on July 29th, 2009 at 12:41pm #

    easy to spot the “white” folks in these comments.
    it is terribly difficult for whites to even admit there is white privilege.
    most will say and do anything to mitigate their inability to admit such.
    a great book by Stephen J Gould “The Mismeasure Of Man” tell how white people invented “race”. tells why whites are called Caucasians(as in the mountains).
    the usual knee-jerk reaction by whites to the idea of white privilige is anger. but i will tell you right now, being angry with me is not going to be worth much. just try talking to some a white friend about white privilege and watch the reaction.
    Robert Jensen does a great service to humans by bring up this topic. too bad it don’t go no where. i have tried and tried again and will keep trying but alienation is mostly what i reap from broaching the subject.

  6. Max Shields said on July 29th, 2009 at 7:40pm #

    joed, now when did you stop beating your significant other?

    Or am I just angry? or white? or Caucasion or not black enough? or too tall or too small or just plain ignorant? or too human, all too human?

  7. lichen said on July 29th, 2009 at 8:18pm #

    No, “white privelege” is a relic of 1970’s ideology that is actually to the right of many people today. It is not something valid or interesting, and personally, when I read something like that (or about “male privelege” or other similar terms) I do simply move on to something else without bothering with the rest of what such a person has to say.

    And actually, in the interviews I’ve seen, it is mostly people of color who go out of their way to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, who defend him and wish to talk of nothing but the historical symbolism he represents. Since we (or some of us) advocate equality for everybody and direct democracy that allows everyone’s concerns to be heard, making incredibly divisive statements outside of the world of real racism (i.e. not “white privilege” but discriminatory, hateful people) is probably not really productive.

  8. joad said on July 29th, 2009 at 8:27pm #

    hi max
    this is exactly the nonsense i am taling about. max dont run from white privilege. dont turn away. if you live in amerika then you are part of the white privilege system. if a person is aware of the part they play(no matter how small a part) then that person struggles each and every day to at least be aware of the part they play. real communication and real change are possible but starting with “self” is often the tough part.
    max, i am not faulting you but i have heard your words many many times when i mention “white privilege” many many times. we can at least be aware of the part we play. awareness dont come easy.

  9. joed said on July 29th, 2009 at 8:37pm #

    a great book by Stephen J Gould “The Mismeasure Of Man” tell how white people invented “race”. tells why whites are called Caucasians(as in the mountains).
    Robert Jensen, the author of this article has excellent books available too!
    one question to ask self is why there are so many “blacks” in amerikas prisons. is it because they are not able to live up to white moral standards, they are a sub-species of humans, they arent smart enough to fool the cops, the system is stacked against them, etc.
    white people dont and dont want to see the problem here?! why is that?
    at this point the person i am talking with usually says something like, i think you got the problem or why are you making up problems or you’re crazy or blah blah blah.

  10. Danny Ray said on July 29th, 2009 at 9:42pm #

    Joed, People ( Black White Yellow and Brown) only have the privileges that you allow them to have.

    People will not walk over you when you are standing up

  11. joed said on July 30th, 2009 at 5:11am #

    hello danny ray,
    well, the privilige i allow is not the privilige i am talking about here. white privilige is the privilige white people are allowed in the amerikan society. the privilige to go into a walmart and not be followed by security, the privilige to carry a pocket knife in my car and not be seen as a criminal. etc.
    amerika is very sick society. white people have a heck of a time seeing their privilige.
    i have a white, educated, “liberal” friend that told me he likes his white privilige, “it’s an advantage, why would i want to give it up”. this person loves his children and his job and tries to be a moral person. but he just cant/wont see the suffering caused by his white privilige.
    one of the main problems is that white privilege is soooo easy to dismiss and soooo easy to torque into a different problem.
    another friend tells me the problem is not “white privilege” the problem is “white male privilige”. thus, moving the problem from racism to sexism. the flight away from “white privilege” is part of the sickness that prevade white amerika.

  12. B99 said on July 30th, 2009 at 6:50am #

    White privilege is real – and it is historic. It was long ago understood in the South by elites that the best way to keep working class whites from allying with blacks (their natural allies) is to establish in their minds that they are better than blacks. That blacks are their competitors, not their comrades. That blacks and whites will be issued separate public facilities, a well-defined division of labor at the work place, and separate neighborhoods – all essential to keeping working class whites just a tad better off than blacks – and thinking they are better.

    Bacon’s Rebellion is the last major example of white-black working class unity. It was violently broken up so as to teach a lesson – there will be no working class unity against the elite class. From there we see the establishment of militias designed to squash such unity and rebellion. And that is why militias make it into the constitution – and the importance of gun rights – to kill unruly blacks and squash attempts at racial alliances against overlords.

    Truman tried to get through a public health program. It was killed by Dixiecrats and AMA. The dixiecrats did not want public funds spent on blacks. This time around – what does Glenn Beck say? That Obama’s public health effort is a way to provide reparations to blacks for slavery. Same as it ever was. An unemployed West Virginian white man, speaking on NPR, says he’s against Obama’s health program because it means money for minorities. Gotta keep the races apart!

    White privilege, like all privileges, are not rights – they can be jerked away by the ruling elite. It is instead a form of social control. It has worked well, in that working class whites have decided to ally with the middle and upper classes even though their lives are tough and getting tougher. Whites and blacks together would have been able to extract great demands from capital – instead they were divided against each other.

    Roosevelt’s New Deal and the GI Bill, both were laden with privileges for whites. Keeping blacks away from whites in WWII, while integrating immigrants (also see the movies of the era where the soldiers sharing the bunks have Italian, Irish, Polish and Jewish last names – no blacks) into the armed forces was the way to make a white race out of disparate immigrant groups. Who wasn’t in on the scheme? African-Americans.

    White privilege is real – it is a form of social control.

  13. Max Shields said on July 30th, 2009 at 8:01am #

    joed, my point is that your statements are a deadend, zip, fini, nada…

    Saying that white people get angry about their having “privledges” is a non-starter when we don’t really know what we’re talking about.

    Ok, so, a policeman pulls me over. Looks at me, gives me a ticket and says “slow down, and drive carefully…” and I’m on my way. That’s PRIVILDGE!?!?!!

    THAT’S WHAT HE/SHE IS SUPPPOSE TO DO…. That this “guy” could turn around and stop a car with an African American male who acts just like me, and pulls him out of the car, throws him to the ground, and handcuffs him: THAT’S CALLED ASSAULT!?!!

    Now why, given these are hypothetical incidences, that seem to make reference to two realities we all have come to know as Racism narrative, are what they are has nothing to do with priviledge. The latter is a copout for what’s going on.

    Begin to address it and I’m here.

  14. Max Shields said on July 30th, 2009 at 8:43am #

    B99 Bacon’s rebellion is a good example of how “racism” works. It is a close cousin to classism, and frequently one is confused with the other and distinction blur. When a white poor person is confronted with immense disadvantages in this society it is thought to be classism/elite priviledge. When the same happens to an African American (whose percentages of poverty are higher) it is called racism or institutional racism or systemic racism.

    The Bacon Rebellion is really what’s still going on and it is a plutocratic ruling class who simply divides and rules – oldest tactic in the book of Empire. Wealth is concentrated by a few, and the rest pay.

    If by escaping the wrath of a police officer is prividege than welcome to eternal slavery – the kind that makes us think whites, by being white, really have privileges.

    That there is a lingering demonization – which is the root of genocide and racism – seems to exist to this day. But the real problem, the one of justice and peace and the ending of poverty for those who live in Western trailer parks as well as those in the South is really what’s at work.

    While not personally sold on “socialism” African American Socialist understand racism as a form of classism. I tend to agree with that analysis and that the solidarity between all “colors” is critical; otherwise were locked in a battle of self-flagulation….which suits the powers that be just fine…(as it did subsequent to Bacon’s Rebellion).

  15. joed said on July 30th, 2009 at 4:18pm #

    hi max,
    “That this “guy” could turn around and stop a car with an African American male who acts just like me, and pulls him out of the car, throws him to the ground, and handcuffs him: THAT’S CALLED ASSAULT!?!!”
    max, you and i may call it assault but our opinions really don’t matter to the cop, do they. and that is some of what i am trying to say about white privilege. the black student in this article that would not want to out of the public eye when dealing with a cop has that opinion because of real, solid, rational evidence. he isnt being silly or paranoid or hateful. he is being practical and he wants to survive.
    his survival depends on different variables from you and me( i assume you be white looking and i pass for white). try and stick with the whirte privilege idea. that book i mentioned really tells the story. there are no different races of humans except that which white-folk have created to remain dominant. there is only one specie of human. there are no sub-species. hair shape, skin color, lip shape etc are simply environmental stratigies for survival.
    ask yourself this; if the percent of blacks is about 13% in amerikan population, then why are the prision population over 50% black!?
    because blacks are not capable of being as moral as whites, or blacks dont have the intellegence to live peacefully, or blacks dont stand a chance in a society that is stacked against dark skinned people, etc.
    try to stay in touch with your white privilege.
    max, did you see the video of the oakland ca. transit cop that shot and killed the young man last new years night. this type of thing happens every day in amerika every day. i just cant imagine it happening to a white guy. max,

  16. Max Shields said on July 30th, 2009 at 6:17pm #


    I know full well why racism evolved.

    Your missing my point. I don’t deny racism as defined by dominate ruling class vis a vis a subserviant minority. I don’t think racism is purely between African Americans and White Americans. I think the term is one of power over another, with color or some distinguishing feature as a means of identification.

    I think Israeli Zionists are racist with regard to Palestinians. I think Europeans have been racist on every continent they’ve conquered, parts of China, Southeast Asia and the Americas and of course Africa and the Middle East.

    The issue of dominance and the authoritarianism to uphold that dominance is hardly unique to the US/Amerika.

    I don’t think whether or not a white guy would be abused by authority is the definition of priviledge in any meaningful way. So, it is really this mis-use of the word “privilege” that I find misguided and misguiding.

    A poor white person, sign in hand, saying will “work for food” is not priviledged simply because a cop may or may not handcuff him and haul him into jail.

    Using that same white vagabond, compare him to Professor Gates. So Gates, a man in his late seventies is arrested, and handcuffed. Prior to that incident was Gates a man of priviledge? Is he now? How about the white vagabond who has escaped the boot of police brutality (although I can’t imagine he’s never spent a night in the slammer). Get my drift?

    That there are more African American males in prison than all others speaks to an injustice. But the fact, that 45 million people (most white) are without healthcare coverage is an injustice. We live in a nation where human rights are in peril on all levels.

    However, if you want to know privilege – this incident aside – than look at Professor Gates (he is the topic of this post…is he not?)

    In the end, regardless of the arrest, Professor Gates is a man, regardless of color, of significant priviledge. The kind of priviledge, joed, you and I will probably never know. That does not ignore that fact that there is a power structure who is most gratified by the fact that you and I are going on about “racism” rather than the fact that they have stolen the planet from the rest of us and future generations….now that’s priviledge!

  17. B99 said on July 30th, 2009 at 6:22pm #

    It might be debatable whether a middle class white is privileged – generally speaking, middle and upper class whites have rights, not privileges. It is the working class that is denied rights, there’s has been a struggle against the bosses and the elite since the beginnings of this country – so it is the working class white that receives privilege – and privilege can always be revoked. These privileges are what are denied blacks. The different treatment serves to divide white and black, a very effective strategy to prevent an alliance against capital. The pact between labor and capital would have been a very different thing altogether had blacks and white workers been in solidarity.

  18. Max Shields said on July 30th, 2009 at 6:55pm #

    B99 you are making this up. I say that because you are stating something as if there are facts to support it. More poor whites have more priviledges than poor blacks?

    And you are using the word “priviledge” as if people of substantial means – frequently unearned – are not priviledged but have rights which cannot be taken away!?!

    Where do you come by this stuff. I get the Bacon Rebellion – I’ve used it many times before to show how this tactic of divide and rule was a means by which the ruling elite assured a degree of control.

    You are making up your own definitiion of what the word priviledge can mean – you’ve narrowed it to fit your convenient dichotomy between rights and privilege when both can be interchangeable.

    This gets us no where regarding the “teachable moment” exemplified by Professor Gates.

    Still we can go on and on with cases of “racism” of tales of beatings and lynchings. When Germans were lynched in the run-up to World War I, was that racism. When Italians and Poles and Irish were beaten regularly by cops was that racism? When a white youth is brutally beaten by the police because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, is that racism?

    Is it racism because there are more African American males in prison than White American Males, or Hispanic American Males, or Chinese American Males, and on and on?

    What is race? When it happens to George, who is African American, and Bill who is African American fears when the cop pulls him over because he heard about George – is it racism that Bill is worried about?

    I know the facts. I know that more African Americans are below the poverty level, per capita, than White Americans. I know about the high incarceration, the significantly higher death penalty verdicts….

    Is that racism? Is it a priviledge that more White Americans are not incarcerted, per capita, than African Americans?

    And what rights, by the way, are permanent? Who says rights are not perishable, as they are established by society, not by some diety.

    You see, these human things, can be solved. But we don’t want to solve them. By WE I mean the greater collective we.

    Racisim is just a way of dismissing solutions.

  19. Max Shields said on July 30th, 2009 at 7:29pm #

    I was just reading the Gareth Porter piece on Counterpunch about Afghan police raping young Afghan boys. Is that racism?

    When butality happens, when one has physical power through arms and such and abuses that power, or feels he has permission to use that power in inhuman/e ways, is that racism?

    Why do those Afghan police feel they can go into a village and rape young boys? There are horrible abuses like this all over the world. Are they cases of racism? When an African American cop beats the piss out of an African American youth is that racism? Does the cop have priviledges and rights the youth does not?

    The point: who cares? What person who wants to seriously begin to address this problem would care about these things called “priviledges” when cops are not put in uniform to go around beating, raping and killing. That they do is not a priviledge or right.

    Professor Gates has special priviledges, a wide audience, is a spokesperson for a faction of Americans, annointed by the Oprah talk show and such. He has money, can fly here and there at will. He lives in relative luxury, has had himself on TV shows, no doubt has met with the President, had dinner with him, hobnobs with the rich and famous.

    And what has he done to deserve this life-style? How much of this would be his if not for millions of us? What does he make? What does he cure? That is special priviledge, B99; and with it the rights that got him a seat with the President of the USA to discuss his little run in with the POOOOOLICE. I don’t care what color Professor Gates is, he got major rights and priviledges…

    But let me tell you why I think Israel/Zionist are racist with regard to Palestinians. They are systematically, publically, demonizing a people, committing genocide through a protracted effort to take over more and more of the land and resources and to do this they are doing what White men of means did in this USA back in the day – they are dehumanizing Palestinians so that they are easier to kill and treat as worthless. That is racism. Colonization and Post-Colonization all have this racist strain. Racism is dehumanizing so as to make ok the onslaught, humiliation and utter theft of anothers settlement.

    Today, African Americans meet with many injustices, many of which are less frequently felt by non-African Americans, but much of what’s going on is across the board classism in this country.

  20. B99 said on July 30th, 2009 at 7:47pm #

    It is privilege because the working class does not have rights that the state or elites are bound to respect. The history of the working class in this country is one of fairly savage oppression, beatings and killings by goon squads, abominable working conditions and atrocious living conditions, war fodder, etc., but the white working class gets a pass at times – a privilege – that blacks historically have not gotten. There are fewer (though this privilege can be revoked) restrictions on white working class mobility, while blacks have always had their mobility restricted, seriously so.

    The condition of the white working class is abysmal – that of blacks, worse. That is the usual formulation. The reality is that the condition of the white working class is abysmal BECAUSE the condition of blacks is worse. The two have been dancing together separately for hundreds of years now. And that is because they have been separated by the installation of white privilege, which enables working class whites to look down on blacks.

  21. joed said on July 30th, 2009 at 8:33pm #

    im sure the author of this article sees much better than i do, the movement away from looking at white privilege.
    my question is, why cant white people look at and consider their white privileged position in amerikan society?! seems they need to turn the idea of “white privilege” into anything that allows them to not consider “white privilege”. obfuscation seems to be necessary.
    very sick society.
    whites refuse to consider the prision population problem, they cant even mention it in reasonable terms. why is that?!

  22. Max Shields said on July 31st, 2009 at 6:03am #

    What “rights” exist for the elite? I would call anything that is not given to all priviledge. It’s that simple.

    joed, if there are “priviledges that being white affords people in the USA could it be they are “obfuscated” because people are not truly aware of such “priviledges”. The point is being “white” is not something parades around thinking – “I’m white.”

    Before “desegregation” in the US South, traveling through that region one could actually feel white “priviledge”. The sense of where people could enter and not enter was palatable. While the conditions in this country linger, the demarcations are less conscious and so what being black in American is today is described frustratingly by African Americans who keep telling whites they “don’t get it”. But there is a reason for that: “it” is just not what it use to be.

  23. Melissa said on July 31st, 2009 at 6:15am #

    The badge. The power. The lack of resources for any other defense than a public pretender. The attitude. The communication style. The amount of understanding of law. How to interact with others as equals.

    Moral of Gates story: when a cop is about to leave your property after responding at request of your neighbor, don’t follow him down the sidewalk yelling, name-calling and fighting with him. We all get in trouble for verbally assaulting police, it’s equal opportunity. Just be glad you live high on the hog and the police actually show up to protect your all-important ass and your high-end shelter.

  24. B99 said on July 31st, 2009 at 6:52am #

    You can Max, if you choose, call it all privilege – and not rights. But it is power that makes the difference – beginning with the original landed aristocracy of white gentile males. They are who established the rights for themselves only, and the mechanisms to maintain these rights – there have to be militias so that “the right of free people shall not be infringed.” They themselves were the free people they had in mind – not the working class or underclass of slaves – or women, for that matter. Of course, there has been an evolution of sorts – but the founders knew that the right to free speech belonged to those with a printing press. For the working class, the rights are on paper – but as we know from the Soviet Union and others – rights on paper can be reduced to privilege – a revocable privilege if you are in the working class.

    Teh problem is not past and it wasn’t just the South – ‘Sundown towns’ existed all over the US. Johnstown, PA was a sundown down. Blacks had to be out of Johnstown before the sun went down – and the sign said so. There were plenty of others. And in most any white neighborhood in the US today, if blacks are passing through, some one is calling the cops. Blacks still are uncomfortable in many sit-down restaurants, the notion that they will not be served still in the back of the mind. Where I live the main street is zoned against fast-food restaurants – that’s because a predominantly black high school is nearby.

    Glenn Beck is saying that Obama’s health program is a deliberate transfer of money to blacks – that they are slave reparations. And as a working class interviewee on NPR the other day said – Obama’s health program means giving money (the speaker’s money) to minorities. Race in America is still huge – it is part of the equation in virtually all social issues – it is not cross-sectioned with class, but interwoven with it. We must always be aware that we are white (those of us who are white). I am, and always have been.

  25. B99 said on July 31st, 2009 at 6:57am #

    Melissa – Cop had no business asking Gates to step outside of the house. He had already indicated that he understood Gates to be the resident – it was already established that there was no break-in. I say the cop deliberately called him out because he knew he could not arrest him in the house. And after all, Gates did not follow him out onto the sidewalk – merely his own porch. So Gates is a hothead – but the cop MUST be a professional.

  26. Melissa said on July 31st, 2009 at 7:22am #

    Aha! I thought something different had transpired.

    Gates is affluent, and cops really aren’t, though they are given borrowed power. The problem IS the chain of hierarchy, power bestowed by badge, power bestowed by titles.

    You are right, B99. One of these guys is paid (by Gates!) to be a professional. Either of them could have had better transpersonal interaction, but only one was on the job.

    Aren’t we ALL scared/angry/frustrated that cops are becoming militarized, refer to us as “civilians”, and are trained to intimidate??? Does that show through in the Gatesgate?

  27. Max Shields said on July 31st, 2009 at 7:25am #


    I know the history, no need to “educate”. I gave an example of the very visible segregation that existed as one traveled through the South several decades ago. It was irrefutably visible and with it a sense of “priviledge” (even though not expected or welcomed) comes over one not subjected to this dehumanizing segregated state.

    The clear visibility has diminished. Katrina/New Orleans reawoke some sense of that to be sure. But day in and day out, there is far less to create that sense as was the case in 50s and 60s (and before). But your self-flagalating “Dem libs” voted in an African American to soothe their “sense of priviledge”. Than they walk away with the bumper stickers as proof – They “did” something. That’s typical lazy American bull-shit.

    Your man Obama is giving nothing to African Americans. You buy that argument as worthy of discussion? Saying some wacko on the radio spouted non-sense and then repeated by some dodo on NPR is deadend talk.

    I’m not going to walk around the rest of my days and keep telling myself “I’m white, and have priviledges that African Americans don’t have.”

    The elite that put this crap in your head are just overjoyed that you’ve got the mantra. It solves NOTHING and is simply the other side of the coin that your Mr. Beck is on.

    I don’t define myself or the world by what the dumbasses – Dems/Repubs and their talking heads say the world is, but apparently you do.

  28. Max Shields said on July 31st, 2009 at 7:41am #

    I think Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks to the issue eloquently in ’67, ’68 with great insight into the problem.

    Sounds like some here (B99/joed) are stuck in world where self-contempt substitutes for social transformation…a kind of feel good “I’m privileged” and for that I’ll keep telling myself so as not to forget my superiority.

    B99 it’s time to turn that page.

  29. joed said on July 31st, 2009 at 9:58am #

    hello again max,
    whites refuse to consider the prision population problem, they cant even mention it in reasonable terms. why is that?!
    max, why is the % of blacks in prison sooo high? certainly not because im stuck in something.
    i am aware of my privileged status but this awarness is not cause for any contempt. awarness gives a person the ability to remove contempt. awarness is anti-contempt max.
    max why do white people run from their white privilege status in amerika?!
    max why cant white people consider the prison population problem that is so blatent today and has been for many years, why max?!
    why anybody?!

  30. B99 said on July 31st, 2009 at 11:00am #

    Yes, Melissa – that the police do not consider themselves civilians is a big step in the wrong direction. At some point police as office of public safety morphs into police state.

  31. Deadbeat said on July 31st, 2009 at 11:16am #

    Joed raises some very good questions and unfortuantely Max’s response to those issues is yet another example of why solidarity with communities of color and the Left is so retarded. The idea of race is a construct used to divide and conquer workers and unfortunately the notion of Whiteness is why there is blackness (or of color). Blackness only due to White supremacy and it is up to whites to relinquish the idea of whiteness. That is how racism is going to be resolved. The rhetoric today that Max seems to be falling into is the same “post-racist” crap that the Obama campaign was subtlety selling. To pit race vs class is nonsensical since the two are intertwined. What has also helped to water down racial oppression on the left has been identity politics which tries to conceal racism (and classism).

    All we have to do is look at the history of the labor movement and the progressive era to see how racism weakened these movements. We even see the far-right like Limbaugh, Hannity, and Glen Beck attempt to use their microphones to spew out racist animosity in hopes to build up their base. This cannot be disregarded.

    Also in addition to white supremacy, the Left needs to deal with Zionism as well. Anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism in the U.S. is very acceptable.

    In short if there is going to be any struggle against Capitalism it must also incorporate a struggle against all forms of racism. Otherwise as conditions worsens there will continue to be no coherence and no solidarity from the Left.

  32. B99 said on July 31st, 2009 at 11:22am #

    Max – Seems the dem/libs are to the left of you – and, more civil. Apparently, you think this conversation is about you. And you think that the point of my relaying what is said on national tv and radio is so you can differentiate yourself to me from the dumbasses and wackos. No, the point is to show that conservative politics is STILL about race. Glenn Beck is just repeating what the Dixiecrats said during the Truman Administration – and the guy in WV absorbs that lessonwell. But what do you get out of the message? That you are too smart for a dodo shock jock and so why should I bring that up. And you are what – a post-racial citizen of the world? I think I know where you are coming from – you don’t want to admit to privilege because that draws you, Mr. Greenjeans, in as a participating party to race in America. Without notions of racial privilege you can pretend it’s a thing of the past, an aberration in the present, or its institutional. Hey, not Max. He’s the metro-racial man. I suppose that’s a common sentiment among modestly liberal white boys that are not from the working class.

  33. dariusk said on July 31st, 2009 at 11:33am #

    Some astute observations, but I would like to add this: Not many are aware that the original American colonists came here, not of their own free will, but were kidnapped and brought to this country in chains.

    From 1609 until the early 1800s, between one half and two thirds of all the White colonists who came to the New World came as slaves. White slaves cleared the forests, drained the swamps, built the roads, sweated in the fields, and died like flies in hellish factories. Owned like property, they had no rights nor recourse to the law. Fugitive slave laws applied to them just as to Blacks if they should flee their masters. Black slaves were expensive, and though at times cruelly used, were not often used beyond the limits of human endurance. That would have been a waste of a costly investment. White slaves, however, consisting of the poor and unwanted “surplus population” of Britain, were available for nearly nothing, just a few pence for a thug to billyclub them and shanghai them aboard a westward-bound vessel. Thus they were expendable.

    The word “slave” itself is derived from the word “slav,” a reference to the Eastern European White people who, among others, were enslaved by their fellow Whites, by the Mongols, and by the Arabs over a period of many centuries. Children were openly seized from orphanages and workhouses and placed in factories or the plantations. The expression “spirited away” originated with the White slavers, who were called “spirits”.

    The impression is given that only Whites bear responsibility for enslaving Blacks and that only Blacks were slaves. In fact, Blacks in Africa engaged in extensive enslavement of their own kind. Slavery was endemic in Africa, with entire tribes being enslaved through conquest on a regular basis. When Arabic, Jewish and White slave traders arrived on the coast of sub-Saharan Africa, they seldom if ever had to travel inland and fight or pursue their quarry. They were met on the coast by Africans more than willing to sell slaves to them by the thousands. Americac records show that Black slaves were owned, not just by a few wealthy Whites, but by free Blacks and by Cherokee Indians. In some cases, these Blacks and Indians even owned White slaves.

    In recent decades, there has been a lot of misdirected hate. Far more Whites in America are descendants of White slaves than are descendants of slave owners. And considering the endemic nature of slavery in Black Africa, it’s also true that a large proportion of Blacks in America have ancestors that were themselves slave owners. That is what MLK alluded to. Anger is human, but we fail to see how much we really have in common. Yes, there is a problem that exists in America, but not all whites are guilty and not all blacks are victims. Entitlements, Privelege, etc. are concepts spawned out of the past few decades, not our sordid past. It’s time we stopped fueling the hate and moved on. The majority of us are more than capable of overcoming the stupidity of a few.

  34. B99 said on July 31st, 2009 at 11:46am #

    Amen, Deadbeat and Joed. Max’s problem is not so much his views, but his quick umbrage – he takes someone’s differing opinion as a personal attack and starts clawing.
    But you are totally correct. The only way for the working class to succeed in getting something approximating its just deserts is to actively seek solidarity with blacks (and now Latinos as well). Separately – and that is the history of social control in America – the working class will not only fail, but whites will make every effort to protect the few privileges they have over blacks and Latinos. Only together, in a big push to re-organize labor, can change come.

    The purpose of understanding white privilege is to enable acts of solidarity by whites, to ask your dry-cleaner to consider hiring an African-American, or to recommend a black company get a contract, or to tell a white person that a racial joke is not OK even if that outgroup is not around. When a cabbie says something about jig-a-boos, you reply; “Oh, you must think I am white.” These are not random acts of (silly) kindness, but concerted efforts to realize what whiteness affords the individual and to establish a pattern of solidarity with its victims. The effort is not only to end racism in America, but is an essential part of getting the working class its due. And that means of course, taking every opportunity to discuss race with the white working class.

  35. Max Shields said on July 31st, 2009 at 11:54am #

    Just one question (really, a summation of what I’ve said): are you saying that if you are an African American you cannot be priviledged?

    Just answer that simple question if you would.

  36. joed said on July 31st, 2009 at 12:01pm #

    i have a white, educated, “liberal” friend that told me he likes his white privilige, “it’s an advantage, why would i want to give it up”. this person loves his children and his job and tries to be a moral person. but he just cant/wont see the suffering caused by his white privilige.
    to see that suffering doesnt mean he has to suffer or feel guilt or feel anything about his white privilege. i just ask that he be aware of it. but asking just for the awareness is too much and i just cant figure out why 99.999% of white people i try to talk with about this cant even admit that white privilege exists.
    white privilege is not “white supremacy” or “white power” or those sort of violent ideas.

  37. Max Shields said on July 31st, 2009 at 12:05pm #

    Deadbeat there can’t be “solidarity” if Whites are priviledged and African Americans are not.

    Who gave you or me priviledge? Where is this handed out and how do you keep it?

    I’m not wealthy. All my work is without pay and is dedicated to community. I’m able to subsist on a meager exchange.

    I can’t give “priviledge” to someone; nor do I want to. If a police officer stops me, I don’t know what he may or may not do. He’s packing, I’m not. He’s got authority to use the gun. He’s the law.

    Saying someone has some kind of yet to be shown, priviledge because of color and that we should, as B99 say, remind ourselves (whites) that we “have” this thing called priviledge is pure…pointlessness and counterproductive.

    Solidarity is not based on a colonial mind-set of priviledge. What B99 is saying, in so many words, is that there is a White Man’s Burden and that burden is PRIVIEDGE. Franz Fanon would have a field day with this upsidedown liberal (aka B99) talk.

  38. bozh said on July 31st, 2009 at 1:26pm #

    joed, patience please,
    US is about to go for siberia. By the time US get’s part of it; or russians sell parts of it to japanese-americans, it’ll be just right for blacks.
    and, no more blacks in america.
    blacks wld still be loked dwn on even tho whites wldn’t be here had not blacks endured scorching sun.
    Had they known what awaited them, they wld have done the right thing and en masse drowned in tanganyica, chad, or victoria lakes.

    but it is not to late for all pals to drown in three-meter wide and two km long gazan ocean. Iraqis cld do that in either the tigris or euphrates.
    This way, present iraqis and pal’ns, wldn’t give birth to new untermenschen to serve supranatural ‘jews’.
    but people never learn!
    by the way, i am not going to drown self; i am no longer of kissing age.

  39. Max Shields said on July 31st, 2009 at 1:33pm #

    B99 can you not answer the simple question posed? Are you saying that if you are African American you cannot be priviledged?

    If I were an oversensitive person, I’d say your comments are racist…this be “kind” to African Americans is belittling and down right nausiating.

    You think you have priviledges that African Americans (without exception don’t) and that they, African Americans have no priviledges?

    What are these priviledges? (Plural please and not just the cops won’t slam your head to the ground if your walking on the “wrong side of town”.)

  40. Max Shields said on July 31st, 2009 at 1:56pm #

    I have a friend, let’s call him Oscar. He’s not a real friend, an acquaintence but thinks of himself as an honest person with moral goals and a dog that loves him dearly, the tail wags, that’s how he knows that he (Oscar that is) is loved. But Oscar has a problem he knows joed. joed says that Oscar would be ok if he’d just own up to the fact that he’s a white man and therefore has special priviledges.

    He should give those priviledges a good hard look and start to reconsider his life and what his priviledge has brought him in this great land of ours (the United States of America). Oscar never thought about priviledge before, let alone that he had some, more than, according to joed, African American’s even the fellow in the White House has less priviledge than him! Ohhhh myyyyy. That’s stunning.

    So, what should Oscar do? It’s like he’s just found out he’s won the lottery and the checks in the mail, and he needs to figure out what to do with the money, once deposited. Should he buy things, or invest? No he should give it away…make the lives of others better…richer…create a foundation of priviledge and provide credit to people in need of….well…priviledge. One person one share of priviledge credit…it’s the American way!

    Oscar did just that. He’s a happy man with his dog who loves him and the priviledge he shares through his foundation.

    End of story

  41. joed said on July 31st, 2009 at 2:09pm #

    deadbeat, you make very interesting political comment and i think that those who profess anticapitalist ideas would be the first to aknowledge their white privilege status and use their knowledge to further ideas and ways of overcoming their elite masters. but, if that were going to happen it would have at least gotten off the ground by now. the masters are the best at creating chaos and derision and confusion.
    “the masters make the rules for the wisemen and the fools”
    —bob dylan
    but that doesnt mean we cant, as individuals, do our best to overcome the nonsense and crap we were taught as young people. each day is a struggle for me to at least be aware of my white privilege and to not act and react as a white privileged human.
    or something like that.

  42. joed said on July 31st, 2009 at 2:18pm #

    and still i get no comment about the prison population problem in amerika.
    why are there soooo many blacks in the amerikan prison population relative to civilian population?!
    because blacks are not able to be moral?
    black are a sub-specie of humans ?
    blacks are not inteligent enough to stay out of trouble?
    the system is stacked against blacks?
    this is such a glaring huge, obvious real problem (for blacks) so why is it not talked about. because it is not a white problem?

  43. B99 said on July 31st, 2009 at 2:28pm #

    Max – Really, do you think this is about individuals? You, who knows the history of racism so well? I’m talking about social controls, the sweep of US history at a population scale far above whether Joe-Shmo gets privileges (can you possibly take the ‘d’ out of your spelling of that word?), I’m talking about institutionalized racism inculcated into all populations including immigrants. If you remember, there was a legal, if temporary, category in Apartheid South Africa called ‘honorary white.’ It was given to visiting dignitaries, etc., like the Chinese ambassador. That’s something like what Blacks who have made it get in America. When that shield is down, they are just another nigger. Of course, nothing is cut and dried, because race and class are interwoven – so someone like OJ Simpson can buy his way out of killing white people. But the treatment of Simpson is not a guide to race in America.

    The biggest privilege whites have is that of not having to think about being white. It makes them regular – all else is the other.

  44. Melissa said on July 31st, 2009 at 2:29pm #

    Civilian is a military term for non-target people in a war-zone. Targets and civilians.

    Citizens are the people in a society that contribute to all things that make society. Citizens are valuable, good, and are the reason for any office in the first place.

    There is a nuance with the words, fellow citizens. Language is powerful.


  45. joed said on July 31st, 2009 at 2:29pm #

    fine writing there max. except for one thing–i dont say those things nor anything like those things. now your making stuff up.
    but i do like your style.
    max ive heard your words many times over from many people. it is a dodge to get out of simply aknowledging your white privilege. you dont have to be or do anything about it just simple acknowlegement is enough–thats all. you dont have to feel anything or do or expect anything. just simply acknowledge your white privilege
    i am white and therefore privileged in amerika! thats all.
    like my real friend really said to me, “…white privilege is an advatage for me, why would i want to give up an advantage!”

  46. Max Shields said on July 31st, 2009 at 3:32pm #


  47. Austin Home Search said on August 5th, 2009 at 6:55am #

    It is unfortunately that many in our country hold on to the horrible legacy of the white supremacists. With an African American president, a majority of our citizens have made the choice to leave that prejudice behind has plagued our country. However, there are still those pockets of the country that refuse to let go. As we enter into this new era, with new responsibilities for each citizen, with a new president, and without a clear future for our country, we all need to worry about the things that matter, like the economy and our families, and put aside superficial difference that mean nothing.

  48. joed said on August 5th, 2009 at 6:34pm #

    “White Privilege is not the same as “White Supremacy”
    white privilege is the day to day functioning of amerikan society.
    a white guy and a black guy enter walmart at the same time, which guy will security follow around?

  49. lichen said on August 5th, 2009 at 7:06pm #

    Everyone has their own issues, their own deficiencies and advantages in relation to others. To claim that your own issues and disadvantages in our extremely unequal society are more important, in fact the only important and recognizable issue is ridiculous, is bound to create nothing but animosity and the opposite of solidarity. I for instance, as a homosexual certainly am not overtly “priveleged” wherever I go, as it’s always been obvious, and people of all races and sexes have insulted and discriminated against me.

    When you are ready to move to a society where everyone is equal and everyone’s issues and caveats are addressed and everyone has their rights (including essential human rights to housing, education, healthcare, healthy food, clean water) addressed, then good. Otherwise it is just noise, and when you look in the mirror, you have a thousand different types of “privileges” over other people waiting to be recognized.

  50. dave billings said on August 12th, 2009 at 4:32am #

    Add to the discussion of racism, Obama and the signs of the times.
    Who ever does not have God in their life has nothing to fear but getting caught. If we could go back in time and stand on the bible truth this country was founded on then things would surely get better. When I was young I hated the blue laws and bible beating religious people. All I cared only about was myself. Drinking and partying like their was no tomorrow. Mind set was carreer, work hard play hard and answer to no one. My life passed me by like a vapor and today I am the old guy. No longer foolish. Our children our now paying for the choices we are making. It’s no longer a race of people that’s oppressed. Even the Federal Government is going broke and poor Obama must find ways to make things work. Help/Live No Help/Die! We should stop the bickering and take a stand. Not in anger..
    Tired of the God Bless America… How about America Bless God by putting back the things that were taken away. If God & the Bible offends you then go somewhere else. Jesus first others second and ourselves last. Time is running short and you never know what tomorrow may bring. http://www.greatdreams.com/2012.htm