Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega
Location
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Birthday
September 11
Title
A (Sometimes) Respectable Negro
Bio
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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Editor’s Pick
JULY 20, 2010 6:09PM

The Lie of White Victimhood: In Defense of Shirley Sherrod

Rate: 21 Flag

 



Boo hoo once more at the absurd claim that white folks are seemingly the newest victims of discrimination and racism in America.

Did you know that white people are oppressed in America? That the NAACP is a "racist" organization? And that white people, in particular white Conservatives, routinely suffer grievous discrimination in these United States at the hands of the Obama administration? I didn't until I started watching Fox News and listening to Right-wing talk radio.

It would seem that the voice of a few, amplified by a 24 hour Right wing propaganda machine, can indeed make a mountain out of a molehill. Here, Fox News can magnify caricatures such as the New Black Panther Party into perpetrators of high crimes and misdemeanors. Limbaugh et al. can reframe the NAACP as being a hate organization. And if one were to listen to Glenn Beck, there is a grand conspiracy against "ordinary" "hard-working" White Americans that only he (as the rechristened Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) can save them from. In this long hot summer of race baiting by conservatives, we can add the bullying and subsequent resignation of Shirley Sherrod, a "racist" USDA official, to the list of the Right's short-term triumphs as they fight for a truly "colorblind" America.

Unfortunately, as long as it continues to pay dividends in the form of low hanging fruit, the news frame of white conservative victimology will predominate for the foreseeable future--where it serves as a distraction from the real issues imperiling our country's future.

Nuance and context were slain long ago by opinion based journalism and the rise of the 24 hour news cycle. There is no longer room for the delicate, for facts, or details that would suggest a news item is not as sensational as it would first appear. In the case of Shirley Sherrod, a person's career is now over precisely because of how race has become a spectacle, and the media replay a thin and tired narrative, one more than a century old, where white folks are portrayed as the real victims of racial discrimination in America.

I must ask a provocative question: What did Shirley Sherrod do that was so wrong? If one does some research, they would easily discover that she actually assisted a white farmer who had come to her seeking aid. Moreover, the moral of her speech, presented in heavily edited fashion by Fox News, was how class actually unites us, and where race is an illusion that separates folks of common concern and interest.

Let's be frank. As a practical matter, Shirley Sherrod was a bureaucrat faced with a condescending, quite likely embarrassed white farmer who had to ask a black woman (of all people, the horror...an experience that my fellow members of the coloured professional classes can certainly relate to) for assistance. She chose to offer the white farmer help, initially not going beyond the call of duty--but rendering the required amount of assistance--and also referred him to legal counsel. We may disagree about the level of professionalism she demonstrated in that first encounter, but once more how does a choice, one made some two decades before (and since resolved positively) reveal anything about Shirley Sherrod in the present?

To point. One more inconvenient data point excluded by the Right-Wing  echo chamber in their witch hunt for Shirley Sherrod: the family of the  white farmer in  question has come out in  her defense and praised the assistance she has given them over the  years.

Most troubling is how context and history will be reimagined in this moment. The USDA has a long history of discrimination against black and female farmers. In fact, they settled a billion dollar lawsuit to make amends for the persistent harm done to farmers of color and women by that bureau's racist and sexist policies. Given the myopia and selective memory common to the Right and enabled by its media machine, one story of a black bureaucrat's choice to help a white farmer (and do not forget that she actually assisted him) will become the dominant, uncontested narrative, as opposed to the real racism and sexism--structural, persistent inequality and disadvantage--experienced by the plaintiffs who sued the USDA.

There is also a powerful irony in the Right wing's discovery of white victimhood. Beyond the absurd claims of anti-white racism or "reverse discrimination" (two examples of Orwellian new speak that are in fact oxymorons) the very people screaming the loudest about anti-white bigotry are the same people that consistently dismissed claims of prima facie racism against people of color. Racial minorities were told to "get over it," that they were imagining things. "So what if there is racism just work harder and stop complaining." Or my favorite, that black and brown folks should "stop playing the race card."

Funny, it seems that white conservatives have rediscovered their religion. Its name? The politics of grievance and identity. Born of Jim Crow and slavery, it was refined as Nixon's Southern strategy, used by Reagan and Bush, and was the patina and timbre of the McCain Palin campaign against Barack Obama. I wonder though, why doesn't the Right, and its aggrieved white membership, follow the same advice that they so generously gave to others?

And ultimately one must ask the obvious: If the roles were reversed, and a white  bureaucrat made the same choices about a black farmer, how would the Right  twist themselves into a knot defending him or her?

 

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I heard her on CNN earlier today, and the farmer's family defending her. If they don't feel wronged, were they wronged? She certainly seems to be. Race continues to be a minefield in this country. I long for the day when that is a faint memory.
The Right's won. It's finally flipped the script. Twenty years ago, commentators remarked on the so-called angry white male but the implication was that he was nothing but a crybaby. Now the question of his victimhood is actually on the table for discussion.

I'm curious -- in the watching-a-train-wreck sense of the word -- to see how this is going to effect the discourse in the next couple of elections. Previously, politicians spoke in code when they wanted to appeal to white fear or white rage. After this, who knows? They may speak more directly. ("Vote Sarah Palin;/She's the Aryan,/Who believes in traditional marryin'.)
I wrote my own piece on this incident before I saw this one, but it seems the outcome of the story has already superseded your summary. Far from being hung out to dry by the media, responsible journalists - notably on CNN - have actually drilled down into this story and revealed the truth of the matter for everyone to see.

CNN has become what the New York Times once was but no longer is - the media channel of record. If CNN doesn't report it, it might as well have not happened at all. That may be unfortunate, but it is increasingly true.

As a white man who spent 25 years working for a predominantly black organization (and a Jew working for Muslim community leader), I long ago learned the truth of this maxim:

"A white man in Harlem is safer than a Black man on Fifth Avenue."

That's an unfortunate truth in this society.

One hopes that this story will be a stern wake up call for many Americans who consume adulterated information pouring forth from some news media outlet.
Outstanding post. Thank you for calling these morons out. I can hardly stand to listen to them they make me so angry.
I find it most hilarious that this comes right on the heels of the NAACP throwing their little bitch fit about racism in the Tea Party. Oh wait, I forgot, it's impossible for black people to be racist, silly me.

More Afrocentric pride-shame bullshit. Count me out, people are people, you tool.
What has come out in the last couple of days is that her comments were taken completely out of context. In fact, her point was completely the OPPOSITE of what she was accused of.

You can see the entire speech here:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/21/shirley-sherrod-defended_n_653747.html

If you scroll down, you can see the whole speech in the third video. In particular check out the segment from around 16:00 through 25:00. By viewing just that portion it is clear that in no way was she making a racist point.

That said, it doesn't follow that discrimination against whites is always a "lie." Here's an example of what I mean.

In my last year of college I was considering applying to the MBA program at the university I attended. I was a good student with almost a 4.0 GPA, but little money. At that time my father, a cook and bartender who never finished high school, was already dead, and my mother was retired. So I had no money, there was no family money, and no family connections that might help me get a job. So I hoped with my academic record that I might be able get some scholarship money.

So I made an appointment with the head of the MBA program. He told me flat out that the only scholarship money available was for minorities and women. He explained that the assumption was that students would take out loans to fund their educational and living expenses for two years, and then the loans would be paid back with what presumably would be a higher MBA salary.

So I asked him "if people are supposed to be able to pay back the loans with the higher salaries, why are scholarships available for women and minorities? Do they not get higher MBA salaries?"

He replied "they do. The purpose of the scholarship money is to encourage them to apply."

That was the end of the conversation, and my only thought was that I also would like to be "encouraged" in that way. But I was the wrong race and wrong gender, and there was no encouragement.

Fearing to take out tens of thousands of dollars in loans on the chance of getting a better job, I never applied to the program. After graduating summa cum laude, I went to work as a receptionist at a state agency.

Sometimes there is discrimination against whites, especially against white men, and not all white men are little versions of George Bush, with wealth and family connections. Help should not be given based on race or gender, but based on need. This was actually the point of Ms. Sherrod's speech.
Troll Face: since you clearly have nothing substantive to say, we'll be happy to count you out. No problem.

@ mishima666:

So I made an appointment with the head of the MBA program. He told me flat out that the only scholarship money available was for minorities and women.

Was that because they weren't giving any money to white applicants? Or because the money set aside for whites had already been spoken for, and you were just a bit late in applying for it?

Your anecdote really doesn't support a case for "anti-white discrimination." (For starters, you could have applied elsewhere as well.) The mere fact that some people are setting aside scholarship money or jobs for women or minorities, does not mean white men are being "discriminated against."

You speak of your own circumstances and the obstacles you had to overcome. Did it ever occur to you that at least a few nonwhites might have the same circumstances? Did you think that scholarship money was limited, and whatever the rules were, some deserving student, white or nonwhite, would get unfairly excluded simply because there wasn't enough for all the deserving students? Life is unfair all around, every day, and just because a nonwhite person got something you wanted doesn't mean there's racism at work.
It especially disturbs me that, apparently, the White House was so quick to bring pressure to demand her resignation. Starting with Van Jones (if I recall his name correctly) they have been too quick to throw away people the wingnuts raise any objections to.
I'm disgusted that the Obama Administration fired her without any research. They have billions of dollars of taxpayer monies in their hands and I can research the full text in 20 minutes.

They couldn't be bothered to do that? Horrible.
motherwell writes: "Was that because they weren't giving any money to white applicants? Or because the money set aside for whites had already been spoken for, and you were just a bit late in applying for it?"

I was given no indication that any money was available for white male applicants.

motherwell: "Your anecdote really doesn't support a case for "anti-white discrimination." (For starters, you could have applied elsewhere as well.) The mere fact that some people are setting aside scholarship money or jobs for women or minorities, does not mean white men are being "discriminated against."

Yes, I could have applied elsewhere, but it would have involved additional costs related to moving to a different place where I would have no contacts.

My point isn't what might have happened elsewhere, but what happened at the university I was attending. When money or jobs are set aside for anyone EXCEPT white males -- without regard to financial circumstances, I don't know how one could say that white males are not being discriminated against. I don't know how else to interpret it.

motherwell: "You speak of your own circumstances and the obstacles you had to overcome. Did it ever occur to you that at least a few nonwhites might have the same circumstances?"

Of course. That's why funds should be distributed according to other criteria, not on the basis of race and gender.

motherwell: "Did you think that scholarship money was limited, and whatever the rules were, some deserving student, white or nonwhite, would get unfairly excluded simply because there wasn't enough for all the deserving students?"

Yes. But I was told in effect that I would have no chance at any of that money.

motherwell: "Life is unfair all around, every day, and just because a nonwhite person got something you wanted doesn't mean there's racism at work."

Yeah, but when the cause of the unfairness due to race then there is racism at work.

Look, I'm not saying that I got lynched or had a cross burned in my front yard. In the broad scope of things what happened to me was minor. But things like this do happen, and they shouldn't.
How many scholarships in the US and Europe have almost exclusively gone to whites, for how long!

The timeline is clear, and well-referenced in Miss Shirley's speech if you take the time to watch it all, a very inspiring speech, indeed.

"Indentured Servants/Laws keeping blacks enslaved/Slavery/Civil War/Reconstruction crimes/White League/Jim Crow/KKK/Segregation/John Birch/Lester Maddox/Southern Strategy/War on Drugs/Present Day-Arizona!"

This is the timeline showing the brutal treatment of blacks- THERE IS NO CORRELATING TIMELINE OF US HISTORY FOR THE TREATMENT OF WHITES!

The Angry White Male is nothing more than the confederate soldier who, unable to admit defeat, especially to blacks, instead, with NO Southern Public Schools, instead taught his children at home to HATE, HATE, HATE.

Lee Atwater should have been the last word on this, but haters pretend he never said what he said about them, just like they pretend States Rights isn't a code word for Jigaboo!
The news media and the agenda junkies thrive on conflict and reputation assault. Let's get everyone hyped and jumping to conclusions and call it THE NEWS. I am ashamed that decisions are made so swiftly and without checking the facts--all of them.
Obama is so sure of himself and brood of radicals that I keep forgetting why I voted for him.
Catherine griffiths et al.: Let's be perfectly clear - this was FOX & Beitbart, not THE MEDIA, not THE NEWS as those terms are typically. It was CNN that jumped on it and brought out the real story - even before the NAACP who also responded without the full story.

@ mishima - questions of the aggrieved white male aside, you seem to have a strong sense of entitlement to a free and perfectly convenient MBA. In the end you must not have wanted it very badly.

Maybe someone at your university thought it would be more fair for society as a whole if the numbers of minorities and women were to catch up with the numbers of white males in the MBA population. Just a thought.
"Look, I'm not saying that I got lynched or had a cross burned in my front yard. "

Yes you are.

Susan Sontag was right when she said "The white race is the cancer of civilization."

Later she took it back. But she got it right the first time.

If I didn't like to fuck white guys so much I wouldn't have anything to do with them.
Mr DeVega,
I noticed one sentence here that especially caught my attention :
"Most troubling is how context and history will be reimagined in this moment. "
Were it not for the "reimagining" of history , would we have any history at all? As a species it seems the recall of our collective past is most always listing toward the downwind side to ease the ride.
nerd cred writes: " . . . you seem to have a strong sense of entitlement to a free and perfectly convenient MBA. In the end you must not have wanted it very badly."

I never figured it would be free. But I was reluctant to take on a lot of debt, and by the time I got out of college -- having paid for it myself -- I was broke. Had scholarship money not been available, or had I not qualified academically, that would have been fine, and I would have had no cause for complaint. Being told that the problem was my race and gender bothered me.

nerd cred: "Maybe someone at your university thought it would be more fair for society as a whole if the numbers of minorities and women were to catch up with the numbers of white males in the MBA population. Just a thought."

That's an interesting view of fairness -- the cure for discrimination against women and minorities is to discriminate against white males, specifically white males without resources. Maybe we can apply that to the current situation. Women and minorities will be eligible for unemployment, but not white males. Women and minorities will be eligible for mortgage relief but not white males.

David Ehrenstein writes: "Susan Sontag was right when she said "The white race is the cancer of civilization." Later she took it back. But she got it right the first time.

I was wondering when the discussion would run off the rails.

David: "If I didn't like to fuck white guys so much I wouldn't have anything to do with them."

I see. Well, maybe you can make a movie about that.
Great post, Chauncey.

***

Least intelligent comment I have ever heard Mishima make:

"the cure for discrimination against women and minorities is to discriminate against white males,"

Only if you buy into the Republican hate speech does that sentence even make sense.
@Chauncey. Great post. Rated.

@mishima666 I'm not sure where you're getting that anyone is saying that discrimination against whites is always a lie. I must've missed that in the post. The point here is that the right has a clear, well-documented pattern of both manufacturing racist incidents as a way of creating a broad narrative about widespread white victimhood -- which isa lie. If it's not a lie, then why don't they focus on actual examples of discrimination? They don't. Their concern isn't even for poorer white folks or victims of any kind. Their concern is to manipulate emotions, divide people, and maintain power.

As to your example, I get that you feel that you were unfairly treated but you are making an equation between two unequal things. If society deems that there is a widespread pattern of institutional discrimination that has disproportionately harmed an entire class of people (blacks, women, for example), then society can create remedies that help tilt the imbalance of hundreds of years of discrimination into something closer to a level playing field. That's not a reparation or a payback or "reverse discrimination." That's a rational choice to do something that benefits ALL of society by creating the conditions where more of us have a shot at success.

And guess what? While not perfect, it's made incredible progress.

But, while you might not agree with some specifics of affirmative action, it's silly to equate that with someone's rights being violated. If you apply to get into school and you are denied entrance solely on the basis of race, that's discrimination. But if that school accepts you but doesn't offer you a scholarship, that's the school's prerogative to put their funding into programming that they feels benefits the school. You yourself said that you don't see a scholarship as a right. It's not. You weren't denied anything you were owed. You just weren't offered something extra because they're saving the extra for a different priority.

I got my masters degree in playwriting. PLAYWRITING. Where I went to grad school, they offered 60+ scholarships to football players alone and zero to playwrights. Do I like that imbalance? No. That's not my sense of priorities -- but it's theirs. And if I didn't like it, I could've gone to a different school or, as the case may be, pay for school myself instead of expecting a scholarship. That's what I did and 20 years later I'm still paying it off. But you know, that was my choice. I wasn't discriminated against because an ADDED opportunity wasn't offered me.

Personally, I'm with Shirley Sherrod in the sense that I think that special assistance should be extended to poor people, period. Perhaps that's what you're trying to say. But your argument isn't one of your rights being violated -- but one about society's priorities. And guess who doesn't share those priorities? The very same people who are trying to create a mirage of mass victimization of white people.
@misihma666: You should have taken the MBA anyway. Statistically speaking, your chances of being hired and earning a salary are better. This is not because you have an MBA, its because you are white.

Also, financial aid offices are often useless. Their job is to hook you up with pubic scholarships. If you wanted a scholarship, then you should have went past the bureaucratic and went straight for the stacks of books listing private and merit based scholarships. Also, many businesses offer internships that will help you with the loan burden.

There were options, but you just didn't use them.
Thank you for this article. I am a white male and am routinely incensed by claims of "reverse racism". I have never in my life, not ONCE, experienced discrimination of any kind based on my ethnicity. White American males are, as a group, perhaps the most empowered in the history of mankind.

Which is actually beside the point. Shirley Sherrod was testifying about her own struggle with racism in light of the fact that her father was murdered by a white man. The fact that this point could be ignored by a major media outlet is offensive and unforgiveable.

What do you say, whites? How about we all grow a pair.
Drewonimo writes: " I'm not sure where you're getting that anyone is saying that discrimination against whites is always a lie. I must've missed that in the post."

Upon reading the post, it was not clear to me whether the author was referring ONLY to the one specific incident, or whether he was making a larger claim. For example "Boo hoo once more at the absurd claim that white folks are seemingly the newest victims of discrimination and racism in America." A phrase such as that is open to either interpretation, but it seems to me to be the larger claim.

Some of the comments, however, had a different point of view. The comments were basically either that discrimination against whites doesn't exist, or to the extent that it does, it's justified.

Drewonimo: "The point here is that the right has a clear, well-documented pattern of both manufacturing racist incidents as a way of creating a broad narrative about widespread white victimhood -- which is a lie."

Yes, I agree BOTH that the right's comment about the Sherrod case is a lie, AND that discrimination against whites is not widespread. But to say that it is not widespread does not entail that it doesn't exist. That was my point.

Drewonimo: "If society deems that there is a widespread pattern of institutional discrimination that has disproportionately harmed an entire class of people (blacks, women, for example), then society can create remedies that help tilt the imbalance of hundreds of years of discrimination into something closer to a level playing field."

I don't have a problem with trying to create a level playing field as long as that effort does not penalize individuals. For example, universities can have outreach programs to minority communities. Employers can advertise jobs in newspaper and magazines that are popular in black and latino communities.

But the instrument used to create the level playing field is often a chainsaw, not a scalpel, and this causes a lot of harm -- not to mention an equal protection issue when government does it.

Drewonimo: "But, while you might not agree with some specifics of affirmative action, it's silly to equate that with someone's rights being violated."

I don't think it's silly. Actually, right now the people most harmed by the "level playing field" are the asians. In the name of "diversity" many are being denied admission to top-level schools because the schools don't want too many asians. Even kids who are top scholars experience this. In the case of Vietnamese students, many of their families lost everything, fled to the U.S. after the war, and ended up in a country where they couldn't speak the language. All they had with them was the clothes on their backs and a work ethic. But black and latino students are given preference over them, all in the name of diversity and the level playing field.

By the way, I find it extremely interesting that David Ehrenstein can say that "whites are a cancer," and that white males are only good for fucking, but the comments that draw the most opposition are mine. Go figure.
"But the instrument used to create the level playing field is often a chainsaw, not a scalpel, and this causes a lot of harm -- not to mention an equal protection issue when government does it."

No, it fixes things and makes them better ... fascinating how Libertarians who supposedly are in charge of their own lives can't take the realities of either the Social Contract or the State of Nature it replaces ... mirror mirror on the wall ...
@mishima666 I can't speak for others but I didn't respond to the other commenter you mention because I thought his was a ridiculous and offensive attempt at flame-throwing and that seemed a waste of time to go there. I disagree with much of what you have to say but you're respecting people enough to engage their arguments.

You write: "I don't have a problem with trying to create a level playing field as long as that effort does not penalize individuals. For example, universities can have outreach programs to minority communities. Employers can advertise jobs in newspaper and magazines that are popular in black and latino communities."

First off, you not receiving a scholarship is not you being penalized or discriminated against. No, you didn't have the exact same opportunities -- but none of us do, ever -- as I pointed out in my response. I won't repeat it; you can go back and reread if you like. But you had opportunity and choice and access, all things that historically minorities and women did not have -- and that needed to be addressed, just as it still does.

What would you prefer? Reparations?

If you want to talk about "a level playing field," then you need to do more than address discrimination; you need to address the other half of the equation -- privilege. You were born with and will die with both white privilege and male privilege (and, if you're straight, you get bonus privileges for that too). You will not always have it better than others who are not white or not male but entrenched power and entrenched attitudes will very often give you more opportunities to rise to the top -- and more excuses when you fail to do so.

That was your scholarship, baby. You didn't ask for it and you might not even notice it -- but you've been getting subtle and non-subtle nudges and a leg up all along in life. More to the point, you haven't been getting subtle and non-subtle hindrances along the way. You're not black so you don't look scary to 90% of the people making hiring decisions. You're not a pretty lady, so you're not presumed to be stupid or sexy first, smart second. I could go on. I suspect that a good deal of those taking issue with you is because you don't or won't acknowledge that while you didn't get the privilege of a scholarship dangled in front of you, you hit the jackpot elsewhere and, because it's your privilege, you don't see it as something that has a cost to the rest of us.

A better read than anything I could write here: http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/freelance/whiteprivilege.htm

Has life also been unfair to you along the way? No doubt. It is to everyone. But if you honestly think the remedy for 500 years of racism and 500 years of sexism is, as you wrote, more outreach and advertising to those who have been systematically discriminated against, then it's clear you don't appreciate the problem at all. That's essentially saying that blacks just weren't aware of the opportunities available in college and women just never thought to apply for those management positions. A little outreach ought to fix that.

Affirmative action isn't perfect but this isn't an "equal protection" issue, as you say, and it isn't a "chainsaw" that "causes a lot of harm." It may wound your sense of fairness, but not giving you a scholarship is not a harm to you, it's just the lack of an extra leg up -- one you're getting inherently elsewhere by being who you are -- even if you don't recognize or appreciate it.

So let's get back to this post and why you responded. I'm glad you see the Sherrod charade for what it is. But that kind of manipulation by Breitbart and Co. is there to appeal to a sense of victimhood among white men, folks who have the same rights as everyone but they don't have the wealth of privilege they once had. The sad thing is that it works especially well on white men who didn't also have the privilege of class. So yeah, let's address class too. I'm with you there -- but guess who you need to address that with? The very same people who are manufacturing this BS about white male victimhood. You should hear them talk about the lazy poor.

Finally, I mentioned it earlier but it really bears repeating: we have all benefited from affirmative action. Is it not better to live in a society that has proactively sought to remediate centuries of discrimination?? Do not husbands and fathers have it better because their wives and daughters do?
'hear hear!' is what i would say if i wasnt a white conservative (via h8 u minorities) instead ill go back to setting my dvr to record glenn beck repeats. he has dream!!!!!
mishima666

Conversations about class in this country are almost as freighted -- and in some ways more so because they are choked off, battered down and hidden -- than conversations about race. Ms. Sherrod's speech, which, as you noted, addresses the wounds of class, is a kind of communication that would never see the light of day in the mainstream media without the kind of extraordinary circumstances that brought it forward. I wish your experience could be related, in as honest and non-inflammatory way as you did relate it, without some of the needlessly inflammatory reponses you received. But, I would point out, you will find much more awareness and reasoned and sensitive discussion of these issues among black civil rights activists (like the Sherrods) than among elite whites. Conservatives see the white working class and class injustices and conflicts only as something to be exploited, while, even more sadly in my view, too many elite white "liberals" -- who do not share working class economic interests or understand the experience and lived realities of working people of any color or ethnicity -- see the white working class only in terms of the most offensive stereotypes, and, are incapable of recognizing their own, at times extremely offensive, class prejudices.

On the one hand, it is true that in trying to encourage gender and racial diversity in our academic institutions attempts to insure diversity based on economic class has been put on the back burner. It is an honest issue that deserves discussion -- dismissing any discussion of the issue as always and always based in racism is offensive.

On the other hand, it's true that as a white man, even a poor white man, you are priviledged in ways that you may for granted, or, even more so, just simply not realize.

For instance, I run a small business and for years employed a young white man to do a job that involved a lot of contact with suppliers, banking tasks, purchasing, etc. From a very poor background, raised by a single mother with an absent father who had spent time in jail on drug charges, labeled ADD after a brain injury resulting from a serious car accident when he was seven, this kid hadn't received any of what we think of as advantages in life -- and he defiantly communicated his class and "outsider" status with spiked hair, tattoos and extreme piercings. But he was, despite the hard scrabble upbringing, a terrific, creative, hard working young man with a great sense of humor who was, even as defiantly unconventional as he looked, well received by the people he was tasked to deal with as part of his job -- from bank managers to tech specialists, to delivery men, to the heads of the sub-contracting firms we work with.

When he left us for a new opportunity, we hired a young black man to replace him. He too was a terrific, hard-working, creative, extremely personable employee -- but much more conventional in speech, dress and education than the man who previously held the job. He had a great sense of humor and a lot of patience, which was good, because the very same people -- from bankers to sales reps to delivery men -- who had accepted our former employee without question, despite the unconventional way he presented himself, found a thousand ways to communicate their distrust of our new employee. His use of a business credit card or checks was always questioned -- although the same people had always accepted that our other employee was authorized to make these same kind of transactions. When he came to the dock to accept a delivery, drivers would refuse to get out of their truck to help him with unloading -- unless my husband was on hand to see what was going on and insist that they do so, etc., etc. I have reasons in my own background to be a little more aware of this kind of thing than perhaps many middle class white people are, but, even I was shocked at how ceaseless the petty little affronts and attempts at humiliation this young man was subjected to were. He handled it all with grace and good humor. What other choice did he have? But it was an incredible eye-opener for me and my husband. (We live and run our business, by the way, in urban, liberal Seattle, WA.)
This is an excellent post. As is typical in an economic downturn, the white "underclass" or those not economically advantaged lash out against the most vulnerable, namely blacks and Hispanics. It happened in California and Proposition 209 ending affirmative action was the result. The same thing happened in Michigan with Proposal 2. Now we are seeing the white backlash against the first black President and members of his staff. First, Van Jones was the casualty; now Ms. Sherrod -- incidentally, both African Americans. This week, there were two op-eds, one in the New York Times and another in the Wall Street Journal about white anxiety. When will we learn? The Obama Administration needs to learn from these assaults and protect its people. At the very least, it should treat its staff like human beings instead of political commodities that can be jettisoned when Glenn Beck and the Fox Cabal rattle their chains. Thanks to CNN, Shirley Sherrod turned out to be the exception and rose above the racist onslaught. CNN should be commended for taking the time to review her entire message. As a former political appointee, I hope she does not take the job she's being offered. They will monitor her every word and eventually, she will say something that will get her fired. Better to remain free to offer her guidance and opinions outside the oppressive scrutiny of government.
Deeply true. Deeply obvious to anyone not a bigot. Thank you.