Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega
Chicago, Illinois, USA
September 11
A (Sometimes) Respectable Negro
Editor and Founder of the blog We Are Respectable Negroes He has been a guest on the BBC, Ring of Fire Radio, Ed Schultz, Joshua Holland's Alternet Radio Hour, the Burt Cohen show, and Our Common Ground. His essays have been featured by Salon, Alternet, the New York Daily News, and the Daily Kos. The NY Times, the Daily Beast, the Utne Reader, Washington Monthly, Slate, and the Week (among others) have featured his expert commentary and analysis on race, politics, and popular culture.

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APRIL 29, 2010 3:21PM

"Black Privilege" in the Age of Barack Obama

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"I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in   invisible systems conferring dominance on my group."

The election of Barack Obama has been difficult for many Americans. As  Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Pat Buchanan (among many others) have bravely  pointed out, White men are experiencing discrimination and unfairness in ways never before imagined. In total, Obama's efforts to broaden the big tent of politics have been very upsetting to the natural order of things.

The Tea Parties and their efforts to "take their America back," as well as Sarah Palin's selfless work to speak for the downtrodden "Real Americans" all hint at a deep problem in America. As this country becomes more diverse and White Americans  longer a majority--frighteningly  reduced to only a plurality by  2050--it is increasingly clear that we are indeed two Americas,  separate hostile, and unequal. In response to these unfair changes, noble voices such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have dared to speak truth to power: White Americans are suffering under Jim Crow 2.0. They are indeed experiencing the same violence and inequality that Black people did for many decades under America's formal and informal systems  of white supremacy.

Earlier this week Barack Obama released a video in which he rallied  those  groups most important to the Democratic Party's future electoral  chances--women,  young people, Latinos, and African Americans. Speaking directly to those groups he encouraged them to continue with the "great progress" America has made since Obama's election. He explicitly thanked those members of his electoral coalition for their support and appealed to them to help set the Democrats' priorities in 2010. Most importantly, Obama wants young people, minorities, and women to help get out the vote in the upcoming elections, and for (then) new voters from 2008 to stay  involved in politics in the future.

We must not run from the  obvious.  Who was absent from Obama's appeal? White men. If you read the comment sections of such Conservative websites as the Washington Examiner; Breitbart, Politico,  and others you can hear the pain of White  men, and Conservatives  in particular, hurt and angered by how Obama has  slighted and excluded  them from this grand narrative.

In reflecting on this moment, I am moved to action and ownership of my deeds and thoughts.

For the world to be made more just, we must be willing to be vulnerable to  one another. This vulnerability often comes through a moment of profound clarity when a person (across lines of race, gender, class, and   sexuality) can reach out to another and without fear of condemnation   say, "I was wrong." In listening to the repeated cries of pain and  victimhood by White Conservative men  living during these first years of the Obama administration, I have finally arrived at a moment of shared empathy and confession. At these times we need one of our own to make our privilege and prejudice clear to us--an ally whose eyes are now open  to  injustice, one who in turn will shame us into action.

This is the  transgressive moment  when I will confess to the realities of my own  privilege as a Black man  in the age of Obama. Are others ready to walk  this path with me?  Honestly, I do not know. Nevertheless, I will be the  first to take on  this burden in the hope that my deeds will motivate  others.

I can  only hope that we as Black Americans, acting in the pursuit of  fairness, justice, and equality, can one day make amends for the many  unearned privileges that we have garnered since the  election of Barack  Obama.

Justice is shared work. Community is at the heart of  social transformation. I have worked hard to share this list with friends and colleagues and have  amended it appropriately. For those of you seeing it for the first time, please feel free to make additions to this  list.

Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of Black Privilege in the Age of  Obama

1. If I join the Republican Party I will have a great advantage over my peers. I will receive funding to run against other black people. Black people who join the Republican Party are also guaranteed to be shown on TV at the Republican National Convention, and there is an excellent chance they will be asked to give a speech. Even if you can't win a single election, black Republicans have job security for life. 

2. I will be placed directly behind many famous Republicans when they give speeches. 

3. In my professional life, I am blessed to be around people of a different race most of the time. This is very empowering and stimulating. Ultimately, this is an unearned advantage in a world that is increasingly diverse.
4. I know the success of Barack Obama has been unsettling for many white Americans--especially those who would normally be the default choice for appointment to the highest levels of government. I understand that this change can be quite upsetting. I promise to be more empathetic to your pain and to be more patient in my efforts to understand the roots of your discontent.

5. I have the luxury of knowing that I only have to be twice as good as my white colleagues and peers to be considered for the same positions. My broad range of skills are an unfair advantage in the workplace because they have afforded me opportunities to take on tasks and responsibilities my white colleagues have often been denied.

6. Positive character traits such as humility and hard work are cultivated in me because I know I am held to a higher standard lest I be considered "lazy" or "arrogant" by my supervisors and peers.
7. I know that my race is always an asset and never a liability. At will, I can play the "race card" and win any debate or dispute.

8. People of color have long dominated the evening news. We are disproportionately represented in the coverage of many types of news stories, especially those featuring reports of violent, criminal behavior. Moreover, with Barack Obama's domination of the evening news, the hyper-visibility of people of color is further encouraged in the mainstream media. To remedy this, I will do my best to support an increase in the amount of attention given to white people in the evening news and by popular culture at large.

9. Black communities are afforded far more than their fair share of police protection. White communities can go days without seeing a police officer, but there is never any shortage of protection and service in black neighborhoods. Our streets are constantly swept for crime and would-be criminals. Surely we don't deserve such heightened attention, but we are privileged to receive it nonetheless.

10. People of color are given far more chances to go to prison and take the time to think about their crimes and rehabilitate themselves, than their white counterparts. Often white people are not held responsible for their criminal activity, thus denying them the moral value of learning from their mistakes.

11. I can go shopping most of the time knowing I will be given extra attention. This extra attention to my safety through requests for identification when I would like to use a credit card or debit card are for my own protection. My fellow white shoppers are not afforded this level of concern or assistance.

12. A great deal of attention is paid to the driving safety and comfort of black Americans. The police are very interested in making sure our cars are in working order, that we do not speed, and that we know exactly why we are driving in certain neighborhoods. It is very hard to get lost while driving in a white neighborhood if you are a black American. By comparison, white people are treated as though they are invisible, anonymous and unimportant while they are driving.

13. I am often asked to speak for people of my own race. With Barack Obama's election, I have to do this even more frequently. This privilege is unfair because it contributes to my intellectual, emotional and social growth in ways that white people are not generally afforded.

14. Linked fate. Barack Obama's success or failure reflects on me personally. Likewise, my success or failure reflects on Barack Obama. This sense of connectedness and lack of relative anonymity is wonderfully empowering for all people of color.

15. I can find the literature, music and movies that represent my culture neatly cordoned off and near the front of the store for my convenience.


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So few recognize their "Black Privilege" it is very refreshing for you to acknowledge the "Black Mans Burdon". As a White Man I can't tell you how the unfairness thrust upon us has damaged me (Mostly because it hasn't, but why let facts get in the way of one's victimhood).
I can appreciate the tongue and cheek, as much as anyone. That being said, as a white man I was not "hurt and angered" by him ignoring "me and mine" (as some would say, of any race, sex, color, or religion). But it is felt. It is noticed. It is not appreciated. And it affects votes. He had mine last time--will he next time? It's up to him. When he immediately and vehemently spoke out against Crowley, in favor of Gates, he did not make himself a racist in my eyes, but he showed that ethnocentricity is prevalent across America, in people of all races, in the Tea and Republican Party, as well as in the POTUS. I voted for him because he was right for our nation at this time. I don't like pro-white. I don't like pro-black. I don't like pro-Christian. I don't like pro-Atheism. This is America, and we need a president that can balance all of that, without leaning too far fascist, or too far socialist. If he takes care of you and yours, and acts like I should be lumped into some generic white category, then he'll lose my vote next time--not because he's black, but because he treated me or mine like I were white. As to a false privilege, I think you should consider whether there is some in effect, regardless of your tongue-in-cheek examples. I can tell you've I've been almost knocked down or pushed out of the way coming into or leaving a restaurant before, by someone that felt a false privilege from the election. Under no white president did I feel a privilege, false or otherwise, to look down upon or mistreat a member of any race, color, sex, creed, religion, marital or socioeconomic status, size, shape, or even sexual preference for that matter--nor would I act on such privilege, implied, inferred, false or otherwise. We can only hope that everyone in our country would someday feel the same way. Obama has to live up to the expectations of ALL who voted for him, white and black, and indeed or ALL Americans, regardless of political affilliation. He has to be OUR president, not YOUR president. When I hold Bush to task to be OUR president, I don't mean for whites, I mean for ALL of US. The burden is the same for both of them. That is what the position demands. I hope he remains up to the task. Bush wasn't.
Black privilege manifests itself in numerous forms:

* Blacks have the right to take pride in their race. Whites don't.

* Blacks can never be racist. Whites are always racist, even if they don't try to be.

* Blacks get to play the race card. Whites don't.

* Blacks never have to feel guilty about being black. Whites are trained to feel guilty about being white.

* Blacks have the right to make blacks only organizations like the Black Student Union and the Congressional Black Caucus. Whites don't.

* Blacks have the right to never take responsibility for their own actions. Anything bad which happens to a black person can be blamed on racism or white people. Whites have to take responsibility and apologize for their actions.

* Rich black people have a right to be rich. Rich white people don't.

* Black people have the right to demonize white people. White people don't have the right to demonize black people.

* Black people are excused when they are prejudiced against white people. White people are never excused for prejudice against black people.

* Black people are a "protected class." White people are not.

* Violent crimes by whites on blacks are "hate crimes." Violent crimes by blacks on whites are just regular crimes.

* Blacks have the right to affirmative action and minority set-asides. Whites have to earn their positions.

* Blacks have the right to support programs from the government. White people don't.

* Blacks are "cool." Whites are "squares" and "rednecks."

* Black men are sexual supermen. White men are sexually inadequate. Black men have huge penises. White men have small, inadequate penises.

* Blacks have "civil rights". Whites don't.

* Blacks are in prison because of racism. Whites are in prison because they're criminals.

* Black jury members have the right to acquit criminals, if they're black.

* Blacks have the right to put a halt to any policy, statement, symbol, statistic, outcome, word or expression they find offensive. Whites have no such rights.

* Blacks are morally superior to whites.

* "[Blacks] enjoy cultural cache around the world as victors over oppression and the hard reality of what that looks like at this point in world history. The music that they enjoy, the clothes that they wear, their very mannerisms carry a certain amount of gravitas."

* Blacks can assign collective racial guilt to "you white folks." White people cannot do the reverse because that would be racist.

* Blacks have "black culture." Whites are not allowed to have white culture.

* African-American studies is a celebration of blackness and black culture. Whiteness studies is a demonization of white people and white culture.

* White people need to undergo diversity/sensitivity training. Black people don't.

* "... any generalization--favorable or unfavorable--about any minority that someone does not like is by definition "racist" and deserves to be suppressed--as long as it is said by a white person. Black diversity consultants, in contrast, can parade, without a shred of empirical evidence, the grossest racial and ethnic stereotypes with virtual impunity."

* It's racist to point out racism by blacks. It's never racist to point out racism by whites.

* Whites have to walk on eggshells around blacks. Blacks don't give a shit what whites think.

* Blacks have the right to riot and commit violent acts in response to perceived grievances. White people have to obey the law at all times.

* Blacks have the right to never be portrayed as criminals or low-lifes in films or on TV. Bad guys on the screen must always be white.

* Blacks have the right to never be ridiculed, mocked, belittled or laughed at. Whites have no such right.

* Black criminals have the right to have their race censored in media reports.

* Facts which cause blacks embarrassment or cast them in a bad light must be suppressed. Facts which cause whites embarrassment or cast them in a bad light are reported as is.

* Blacks can silence and intimidate whites by calling them racist. Whites can't silence and intimidate blacks because that would be racist.

* Forcing whitey to apologize shows black power and clout. Whites can never force blacks to apologize because that would constitute a lynching.

* Whites are held to a system of 'sensitivity' requirements that do not apply to blacks.

* "Whites are monitored, pestered, and punished for preposterous reasons--for a look, for an innocent word, for wearing a T-shirt, for expressing a plausible argument--but blacks can say almost anything with perfect impunity."

* "In discussions of race between black people and white people the conscious black person is always right; is always the ultimate authority on questions having to do with race and racism; must always be regarded as the ‘injured party,’ or the oppressed. . . . [Whites] cannot possibly be expected to be objective about questions of race."

* Blacks may work for explicitly racial goals but whites may not.

* Blacks are permitted to notice race. Whites are not.

* "It is quite acceptable for either party to explicitly go after the black, Hispanic, or even the Jewish vote. In fact both parties gain an indispensable moral authority by doing so. But it is absolutely verboten for either party, or any white candidate, to appeal to whites as a racial identity group. Racial identity is simply forbidden to whites in America and across the entire Western world. Black children today are hammered with the idea of racial identity and pride, yet racial pride in whites constitutes a grave evil. Say 'I'm white and I'm proud' and you are a Nazi."

* A black person who punches a white person is a hero standing up to oppression. A white person who punches a black person is a racist.

* It can be publicly admitted that blacks are superior to whites in certain pursuits (i.e. basketball). It can never be publicly admitted that whites are superior to blacks in other pursuits (i.e. winning Nobel prizes in science).

* When blacks are overrepresented in a desirable field, it is due to their abilities. When whites are overrepresented in a desirable field, it is due to racism. When blacks are overrepresented in an undesirable field, it is due to racism. When whites are overrepresented in an undesirable field, it is their own fault.