Category Archives: Racism

We need to talk about white privilege

We need to talk about white privilege.

We need to talk about white privilege because many people refuse to believe it exists. I know white privilege exists because – and it has taken me a long time to feel I can admit this publicly – I perpetrate it. We need to talk about white privilege because I feel more uncomfortable when walking down the street at night among black hooded boys, than among white hooded boys.

We need to talk about white privilege because I have been the victim of crime twice – and both times the perpetrators were white. We need to talk about white privilege because once I was in a potentially dangerous situation where a drunkenly out of control homeless (white) person was pushing me for money, and a black man helped me out. Yet, I still feel safer surrounded by white people in some low income areas.

We need to talk about white privilege because even the people who know it exist sometimes respond with ‘and who is committing the majority of the crimes, huh?’. I don’t need to know who are committing the crimes, I just need to know that there are black people out there who would never commit a crime, but live under the constant suspicion that they will.

We need to talk about white privilege because even the people who know it exists sometimes respond with ‘so what? Can’t ‘they’ pull themselves out of it, and rise above it?’. Yet Psychological Science knows the effect of a single instance of telling someone that they are less likely to be successful at a task do drastically reduces their success. Yet people are growing up in constantly being told that they are more likely commit crime, they are less likely to finish school, they are more likely to have a broken marriage….

We need to talk about white privilege because we accept that it is a dreadful thing to do to raise a child telling then that they won’t succeed, and we love public health messages which tell us that if women are told their capabilities are limited their success will be limited, but somehow it is OK to tell whole races of people that their capabilities are limited.

(Above is an embed of the famous Verizon ad encouraging women, but if it doesn’t display, you can see it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XP3cyRRAfX0)

We need to talk about white privilege because women need positive messages, support and encouragement,to overthrow unfair expectations, but I am told that colors need to stop making excuses.

We need to talk about white privilege because I am so damn sick of hearing about black-on-black crime without hearing that 84% of US murdered white people* are white on white (http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/htus8008.pdf). And that’s not the damn point anyway.

We need to talk about white privilege because I don’t want my son growing up in a world where people are treated differently because of how they look.

We need to talk about white privilege because that in no way takes away from rich privilege, or male privilege (or sometimes female privilege), or Christian privilege, or high IQ privilege, or having a PhD privilege.

We need to talk about white privilege because it is oppressing people, and people are dying because of it.

Please, let’s talk about white privilege.

This was a very hard post to write, and I am really worried about a backlash. But I don’t want to be someone who buries this in the sand, and won’t acknowledge it, and let’s it continue. I want to talk about, understand, and remove white privilege.

* Thank you to my friend Robert for correcting the original statement.

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A few thoughts on the new immigration law….

It is a sad day for me. There are so many things I love about Alabama, I even wrote a post defending it against the popularized view. But slowly, I have been faced more and more with the stereotypes, and I have had to give in. I no longer want to live here, and I certainly don’t want to raise children here. I have met many wonderful people here, and I have learned many wonderful things from them. But this new immigration law was the final straw, and here is why:

The new law states that if there is “reasonable suspicion” about someone legal status to be here, the police can stop them and request they show their immigration status, and can hold them “without bond”. All non US citizens are required to carry their immigration papers with them, at ALL times, by law. This overrides the previous requirement that we carried our passport; now we have to carry forms such as our DS-2019, which can only be replaced twice EVER.

Clearly this is deeply impractical (I go hiking in Alabama for several days and I know it is going to rain and I am supposed to carry this with me, when it will likely get damaged? I go to a music festival and I am expected to carry around several flimsy pieces of paper?), but I *guess* this could be circumvented if the US produced some card like the US State ID that was more practical. But, it is not about practicality to me. It is about making anyone who looks, or sounds ‘different’ a second class citizen.

Let me explain. Currently, in the UK and the US there are laws to protect individuals from law enforcers discriminating against them because of how they look, or how they speak (and actually for many other reasons, including in the UK, their sexuality and religion… the US is not universally quite so… enlightened). You cannot be stopped and searched, or detained for these reasons (hence in high areas of knife crime in the UK, where stop and search is legalized, law enforcers are legally bound to stop and search a racial distribution approximately equivalent to the racial distribution of the area. I don’t believe that has ever caused any problems). You are basically protected from the following scenarios:

“A policeman pulls over a pretty girl to tell her she needs to fix the tail light on her car. He likes her cute foreign accent. He asks her on a date. She says no. He takes offense and decides to make her life difficult. He asks her to show her papers… she can’t, so he detains her for 24 hours. Perhaps when she realizes what is happening, she will change her mind about that date?”.

“A policelady’s husband comes home, furious. An man of Indian descent has smashed into his car and didn’t have car insurance, so could not cover the damages. The police were called but the Indian man was here illegally, and so could not be prosecuted. He drove away (something similar actually happened to my husband with a different racial group). The car needs some $5,000 worth of repairs and the policewoman finds this out at she leaves the house to go to work. 10 minutes later she sees a group of young Indian men standing on the street. Her blood boils. Why are they just hanging around? Don’t they have jobs to go to? One of them drops a piece of litter. Ah ha! She pulls over and starts giving them a hard time, and asks them to prove their right to be there. She detains them for 24 hours. That will teach them a lesson”.

Whether these are far-fetched or not, the problem is that US citizens who are white, and sound American, are protected from this. Foreigners (and, admittedly any US citizen who does not) are not. Therefore, all legal immigrants have lost what I think of as a basic human right: To be free from persecution due to the colour of their skin or any other factors reflecting their origin. Why would I stay in state that mandates persecution because of how you look? We have become second class citizens, and why the heck would I stay in a place that has legally made me so? Why the heck would I stay in a place that does that to anyone?

What has disgusted me most of all, is the response of some Alabamians. Here are some examples:

-“Well, I don’t know why you worry, it’s not going to affect you [because you are white, blonde and female]”

They don’t realise that, in eyes, that makes it effing WORSE.

-“But our state really needs help with this issue”.

Then put something across the board. Instead of police being called when there is “reasonable suspicion” if someone wants to enter high school, make it a law that EVERYONE has to prove citizenship when they enroll. Make it that when the police come to the scene of a crime, everyone has to show ID that shows their citizenship. Yes, it would be a hassle, but if your so desperate to save help your state, you can do it. You are supposed to do it anyway, I believe, although the police have no enforcement method. And even more importantly, I strongly believe in the following quotation:

Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power” ~Benjamin Franklin. Often interpreted as:

“They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”

-But, we need to save our state from The Mexicans. We need to keep ‘The illegals’ out.

I don’t think I even need to discuss these ones. If my child openly used language like that, without seeing anything wrong with it. I would think I had failed as a parent.

I will concede that this is not even the worst of the law. It is just what touched me. The law also says you can be prosecuted for transporting or helping an illegal immigrant. So, if a young child gets very sick, you can be prosecuted for giving him or her acute care. The cries of ‘oh, but you won’t be’ leave me cold in a state who is happy to sanction such actions by law.

How disappointing Alabama. And how tired I am of seeing people who are wary, or unsure, of me and my friends because many of us are foreign. How sad I am to go out and about in Alabama and find such insular people that they have never really interacted with ‘foreigners’. It may well not be their fault, but perhaps that just makes it all the sadder.It seems clear to me that Alabama needs much more integration. It breaks my heart what a segregated society it is (seriously, different racial groups hang out in different areas; I have had places described to me as ‘the black area’. I am not sure I have ever even seen an African-American in Whole Foods). Laws like this are only taking away an enriched and enlightened life from you and your children.

And you are losing some of the very brightest and best people. I know excellent scientists who are (American and) leaving because they don’t want to raise their children in such a climate. I know some amazing Scientists who don’t even want to move here because of it. You are shooting yourselves in the foot.

When I first commented on the segregation between blacks and whites here, I was once asked “well, whose fault do you think that is?” and I replied that I thought it was the fault of both blacks and whites. I now do not agree. The attitudes and responses I see from white Southern people (and yes, sorry, you have all been from The South), that I so far have not seen from black people, lay the blame squarely on one side of the divide.

I would say I have met some Southerners who are very sorry that this has been passed, and some who agree that a universal law (i.e. ALL show citizenship, regardless of race) is absolutely the only way forward, and some who simply want to reasonably discuss and learn. And I love these people. But that is not the majority. Let us not forget that I left my old church because at Bible study group, people went on a rant about foreigners and when someone said ‘but many of them are here legally’ I genuinely heard the response:

“Oh you don’t know. You don’t have to smell their cooking. They are not in your backyard”.

Sad.

I don't approve of this cartoon. But Alabama, this is how you are forcing the rest of the world to see you. http://theperplexedobserver.tumblr.com/post/6800089685/interfaith-march-planned-against-alabama

Writing with cultural sensitivity

It has been said that obesity is the last form of acceptable social prejudice. I disagree; it is indeed a largely tolerated form of prejudice but there are others, and I would like to write today about prejudice against the Southern States of the US. In large parts of the developed and Western world (and outside) prejudice has come to mean more than hating on a group because of the characteristics of that group (be it blacks, women, gays or whomever). Sure, hate and negative assumptions are indeed a serious form of prejudice that many, if not most, people are united in eradicating. But to me, living in London in the last decade prejudice or racism has also come to mean something else – it has come to mean making generalizations about a group of people, that even if they can be backed up by hard data and statistics, are made in a crude, offensive to that group, or culturally insensitive manner. Some people think this attitude has gone too far, but I am glad it was drummed into me that this attitude and manner of speaking about others is the right thing to do.

To be honest, my opinion is that I don’t think this extra layer to prejudice / racism is as prevalent in the South as it was in London. I have experienced many people for whom the concept of racism is still largely only tied to hate or erroneous / unfair generalizations and is not so concerned with speaking in a way that doesn’t offend a group of people, or be disrespectful to aspects of their culture we may not immediately consider: such as food choices. Not ubiquitously, but more prevalently than some of more urban / cosmopolitan / racially integrated areas. However, I find non Southerners writing about ‘Southern attitudes’ in a frankly equally unacceptable manner. Because people know I live in Alabama, I find sweeping statements about the ‘inbred racist backwards Southerners’ bandied about in public arenas with little regard for the sensibilities and sensitivities of Southerners. And I find it upsetting and offensive. If you want to write about Southern attitudes to race or homosexuality or religion I would ask that you do not do so without careful thought, as carefully that you might write about other groups of individuals, and do not act in a manner you may well accuse Southerners of acting in. Instead, please:

-Remember the history of the Southern states

-Respect the more prevalent Christian views – whether you share their views on Christianity or not

-Not make statements about racism or attitudes as if what you are saying reflects the attitudes of all Southern people, when in reality there is a huge mix of opinions

-Consider whether your own opinions and expectations of Southerners / the South have coloured how you interpret things

-Remember that racism / prejudice *in all forms* exists in every society (The BNP got a seat in parliament recently, right?)

-Consider whether even though a view or an attitude has been shown to be more prevalent in the Southern states, it could still offend a lot of people if it was written about in a crude and insensitive manner

-Remember that every culture and every society has something we can learn from. There are an awful lot of great things I have learned from living in Alabama, and being exposed to Southern attitudes, about treating fellow humans better.

Of course, acknowledging differences in opinion, or differences in attitude prevalence is OK.  Noting that some views, that you may not agree with are more common, or more likely to be accepted here is OK to me. Sharing first hand observations and opinions, thoughts and interpretations can be enlightening. If it is done nicely and sensitively and respectfully. Please think about how you would feel if somewhat wrote what you are saying about your culture, or highlighted the perceived shortcomings of your culture in such a manner. Otherwise, if you are talking about prejudice / racism – well, in my humble opinion, its just hypocritical.