"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.
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.
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.
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.