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Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly Debate Whether or Not “White Privilege” is Real

We’ve discussed the concept of White Privilege before and it’s truly a complex issue. The idea is best applied when examining society-at-large, and can get trickier when the focus is narrowed to the individual. For example, those arguing against the idea ask incredulously how a white child from Appalachia is more privileged than a child from an affluent black family. However, at the macro level that White Privilege exists is almost undeniable, specifically in terms of law enforcement.

Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly from Fox News discussed this issue last night on O’Reilly’s show, framing the debate about whether or not White Privilege is “real.” He opened with a segment where a producer went to protests in NYC against the killings of Eric Garner (strangled by police for selling loose cigarettes) and Mike Brown (the unarmed teenager whose death sparked the Ferguson protests). The unseen producer asked the attendants – in a loud place, where his question easily could be misunderstood – if the officers involved should be convicted without a trial. Most black respondents said “Yes,” with the only “No” coming from a white supporter.

In this case, one could argue that many poor, black people are convicted without a fair trial, because of limited access to legal representation and “nuisance bail,” which can keep them in jail awaiting trial longer than the sentence would be for their supposed crime. Yet, instead, what they were trying to do was paint the police protesters’ distrust in the judicial system as irrational. Of course also not mentioned, is that Gardner, Brown, and hundreds of others are (essentially) sentenced to die by the police without any kind of trial or consideration of their rights.

Kelly, a former lawyer, took the position of defending the idea of White Privilege and quoted a series of statistics about how likelihood of poverty, violence at the hands of police, and incarceration are disproportionately high for black Americans. Kelly also points out that Attorney General Eric Holder – who O’Reilly believed should inspire confidence in the black community because he is black – and the Department of Justice “was cited for misconduct in an investigation against cops in New Orleans.”

However, both seemed to agree that the protests were excessive and offered a deference to police in the arguments and language that makes the case for White Privilege better than any stats could do.

Columnist: Ferguson Protests Are The New ‘Birth of a Nation,’ Will Cause Whites to ‘Strike Back’

WorldNetDaily columnist Mychal Massie has penned another racially charged diatribe, warning that if African-Americans continue to protest police violence, whites may “strike back.”

“I’m tired of seeing, reading, and hearing white people blamed for everything from black boys not being able to read to whites being privileged because of the color of their skin,” writes Uncle Ruckus from The Boondocks Massie. “If I am tried of these Americans being used as scapegoats to further the agenda of race mongers, then it is a sure bet that those being unjustly vilified are especially weary of the same.”

“The single greatest non-biblical truth today is that many times the majority of blacks are their own worst enemies,” says Samuel L. Jackson’s character from Django Unchained Massie. “Many blacks go through life with a chip on their shoulder and bad attitudes toward whites.”

“How long before white people, many of whom are growing increasingly resentful at being falsely maligned, decide to respond in kind?” Massie asks. “How much longer will whites stand by and allow the likes of Sharpton and Obama to continually cast them as racist villains?”

“If the 1915 silent movie ‘The Birth of a Nation’ by D.W. Griffith, which depicted blacks as unintelligent and sexual predators of white women (which was a lie), gave rise to the resurrection of the Ku Klux Klan, what can we expect to be brought about by the heathen behavior of many blacks today?” Massie asks.

“If a phony movie was able to give rise to at least two generations of condemnations of blacks, what will the in-your-face belligerent hostilities so many of them exhibit today ultimately result in?” he concludes.

An Alabama Republican Just Announced There is a War on White People and It is All Obama’s Fault

On Monday, Alabama’s Rep. Mo Brooks announced that there was a war on white people in America.

“This is a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else,” Brooks told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham.

He then said he knew exactly who was behind racial offensive – the Obama White House.

“It’s part of the strategy that Barack Obama implemented in 2008, continued in 2012, where he divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare, all those kinds of things,” Brooks stressed.

Now it appears, Brooks has no plans on backing down on his highly controversial claims any time soon.

On the same day, he told AL.com that Democrats were “attacking whites based on skin color.”

Then on Tuesday, he went as far as to tell USA Today that whites were unfairly targeted because “if you look at current federal law, there is only one skin color that you can lawfully discriminate against. That’s Caucasians — whites.”

He also went on NewsmaxTV’s “The Steve Malzberg Show to clarify he meant all white people, not just men when he was accusing Democrats.

“Embedded in federal statutes, what is the one race that can be discriminated against? As a matter of law. What is it?” he asked, adding, “Not just white males, but all whites.”

In case you were wondering, for a ‘discriminated against by liberals’ class, white folk are doing pretty well. Caucasians- the majority of them Protestant Christian – hold the lion’s share of the seats in Congress. White households are also benefiting from a widening wealth gap, and are, on average 11 percent richer than their non-white peers.

Yet despite this privilege and power, Brooks said white people are being targeted in America right now because Democrats keep calling them racist to get votes and that’s not fair.

“It is repugnant for Democrats time after time after time to resort to cries of racism to divide Americans and drive up voter turn out,” Brooks demanded. “That is exactly what they are doing in order to drive up their vote and they are doing it when there is no racial discrimination involved.”

Photo Credit: Official Portrait

Cult of Outrage: Touré Attributes Holocaust Survivor’s Success in America to “Power of Whiteness”

Is it hypocritical to rail against someone in the Cult of Outrage, who seems to demand that everyone phrase statements – especially those crafted in anger – perfectly and then, when that person says something stupid, call them out on it? MSNBC’s Touré is one of those culture warriors who is often only focused on race issues, even calling out his fellow culture warriors when they don’t meet his standards.

Like all good speech scandals nowadays, it all started on Twitter. Mediaite.com aggregated the relevant tweets, but essentially after Touré shared a link to an article about reparations Twitter user @hope_and_chains responded angrily. In the exchange, he referenced how his grandparents survived the Holocaust and “came the US w/ nothing, LEGALLY, and made it work.” To which Touré responded “The power of whiteness.”

If we are to give Touré the benefit of the doubt – something he rarely does in these cases – it is safe to assume that he meant “the power of whiteness” helped this person’s family make “it work” after immigrating to the U.S. Yet it is understandable how many could think that Touré was suggesting that “whiteness” somehow helped these people survive the concentration camps.

Also, a quick scan of @hope_and_chains’s Twitter timeline suggests that he is both a conservative and has something of a problem with race. He frequently equates the Democrats and the KKK, claims that Don Sterling is an active Democrat, and mocking women’s/gender issues. Oh, and he also blogs on a site called “Yo, Dat’s Racis’!!” He also claims that the South was still mostly Democrat until the 1992 election, saying Reagan “barely” took the South during his two campaigns. This is, of course, all incorrect.

What’s ironic about this is other than opposing obsessions with skin color, Touré and @hope_and_chains are mad about the same things. They both have decried, in one way or another, police abuse of power, the moneyed interests in politics, and seem to care about the ways in which the black community is disenfranchised by the current system.

Instead of arguing with each other over reparations, privilege, and whose history is more tragic, they should be expanding their own perspectives by the commonality of their struggles. They have fare more common ground than they realize, but people in the Cult of Outrage only seem to know how to answer anger with anger.


Photo via screengrab

Check Your Privilege: Slave Jokes and Other Comedy

Yesterday, I discussed the story of Princeton freshman Tal Fortgang and the concept of Privilege. It is very difficult to isolate examples of Privilege, because with individuals comes a multitude of variables that can “better” define/justify/explain their actions.

Some examples of white privilege—such as when dealing with police—are clear, but other instances get murkier. However, since much of our national racial discourse happens by way of critique of art, specifically comedy, let’s dive into the muck.

In September of 2013, Jimmy Kimmel spoofed an interview with Kanye West, in which the rapper’s words were reenacted by children. While almost certainly not Kimmel’s intent—and as a comedian, he’s been an equal opportunity offender—the bit did exhibit Privilege, because of Kimmel’s ignorance of the historical infantilization of the black male*.

Privilege is not analogous to being racist. Kimmel was not, via the spoof, suggesting that somehow the opinion of a black male is akin to that of a child, but merely making a statement about West’s ego. His ignorance of the larger, historical implications was most likely because the thought simply never occurred to him.

To show an example from the other side, SNL freshman Leslie Jones did a bit on the “Weekend Update” segment in which she makes jokes about forced breeding during slavery in early America. Unlike Kimmel’s bit, Jones’s monologue was done will full knowledge of the historical implications, something that she exploited brilliantly. Yet, she was criticized for it.

The example of Privilege here is in the idea that (mostly white) people are offended by the way Jones has chosen to mine horrific things done to people in the past who looked like she does for humorous commentary about a (mostly white) society “embracing black beauty” by naming an actress for a tabloid beauty award and congratulating themselves on how far they’ve come.

Both Jones and Kimmel delivered on (what I assume was) their primary goals: to write and perform something funny. Beyond that the two bits couldn’t be more dissimilar. Kimmel was poking fun at celebrity ego and accidentally played into a hurtful, generations-old stereotype. Jones, on the other hand, was deliberately exploiting America’s awful racial history for her art.

What makes these great examples, however, is what has happened afterwards. Kimmel has continued to take comedic chances and continues to draw humor from offense. Jones responded to her critics on Twitter, suggesting she’s going to go “even harder and deeper” with her future work. “Check your privilege,” truly asks that you simply do just that, through self-awareness realize that the world is much larger than one person’s point-of-view.
Photo via NBC Video screengrab

*We are limited for space here, but two of the most notable non-comedic pieces of art dealing with this subject are Native Son by Richard Wright and the film Baby Boy by John Singleton

Check Your Privilege: Is “Privilege” Really That Big of A Deal?

In my last piece, I described the curious case of Tal Fortgang, a college freshman who fled the internet after an essay he wrote attacking the concept of “white privilege” for a student publication was picked up by the national press. Yet almost all of the response was about Fortgang as a person and had nothing to do with the substance of his arguments, which are worth noting.

Essentially, he felt the same thing I did when I first heard the term “white privilege” while at the University of Pittsburgh on the Post 9/11 GI Bill. It was especially troubling to me—as a someone who hoped to make a living slinging words—that my opinion on certain matters was devalued or outright discounted because I was a white, heterosexual, gender-normative male.

Fortgang wrote in his essay, “I do condemn [those who accuse me of being privileged] for diminishing everything I have personally accomplished, all the hard work I have done in my life…to some invisible patron saint of white maleness who places it out for me before I even arrive.” This is, in my opinion, his central problem with the concept of privilege in general and underscores his total misunderstanding of what “privilege” in this case really means.

I argue that the term “privilege,” while appropriate, is highly confusing to a society with a 140-character attention span. Like Fortgang, I initially assumed “privilege” dealt with things like familial connections, financial means, and a general “easiness of life” that didn’t match with my own experiences. It turns out that what the word referred to was not an individual experience but a generalized experience for all people at all levels of society.

White/male/hetero privilege is a very real thing in our society, and its effects can be blatant or very subtle. When looking at something like racial profiling by police, the privilege associated with being white is both self-evident and representative of a serious problem in “the system” for everyone but white folks. It can also be something as simple as not realizing that the “Sleepy Mexican” or “Sexy Indian Squaw” Halloween costumes are as offensive (if not more so) as the shock-costume staples “the Pregnant Nun” or the corpse of the most recent surprising celebrity death.

The difference between discussions of white privilege and individual experience is the same as discussing the weather tomorrow in Topeka and global climate changes over decades. Of course like everything in the world of college—especially amongst freshman—deeply complex and nuanced ideas are appropriated into passionate shouting matches where neither party knows what the hell he or she is talking about.

The most important lesson—and the one we continually miss—is that at the heart of understanding the concept of male/white/American privilege is realizing that our personal experience of the world is far from the entire story. Rather than taking “Check Your Privilege” as an insult—despite how snarkily it is often said—take it as an invitation to consider another person’s perspective without comparing it to your own.

If folks like Fortgang—or, for that matter, his critics—took a moment to consider that maybe they don’t have everything figured out, they could have a discussion rather than a debate.

Photo by Joselite Tagarao via Flickr Creative Commons

Check Your Privilege: Princeton Freshman Tal Fortgang Flees the Internet After Essay Criticism

A Princeton freshman named Tal Fortgang has “gone viral” thanks to an essay he wrote for the conservative student publication The Princeton Tory about the current vogue of the phrase “Check your privilege” and what it means to him. The essay was picked up by TIME and Fortgang was subsequently profiled by The New York Times.

In his essay, Fortgang writes that the phrase “teeters between an imposition to actually explore how [he] got where [he is], and a reminder that [he] ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world.” In fact, he then goes on to imply—as all those who argue the wrong points about race inevitably do—that those who believe in white privilege are actually racists themselves.

Those on the right—e.g. Fox News—and those on the left—e.g. (according to Fox News) everyone else—naturally took sides, not for the argument made but on the person making that argument.

Mediaite.com’s Luke O’Neil tracked the response, showing that those on the right paint Fortgang—and the story of his grandparents fleeing Nazis and then achieving the American Dream—as proof that all this “white privilege” stuff is liberal hooey. The other side suggests that Fortgang is simply out-of-touch, slightly racist himself, or (most likely) has the wrong idea about what white privilege is. Fortgang has since deleted or hidden his Twitter account, but screenshots of controversial statements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict abound.

The Times profile notwithstanding, most of the response to Fortgang’s essay seeks to prove that this 20 year-old kid isn’t actually an expert in matters sociological and historical. Big surprise. The most significant question raised by this whole situation is: why must we destroy everyone we disagree with?

This was just some kid who wrote something that caught a little heat online. He’s most likely experienced fantastic highs—like appearing on national television to be praised—and staggering lows—such as whatever led up to his deleting his Twitter account—yet little has been said about the substance of his comments. Rush Limbaugh and Al Sharpton say far more outrageous things every day, yet their careers continue to improve. It seems, in modern America, you can’t say anything dumb unless you plan to make a living doing it.

To read what Fortgang got wrong and what he got right about white privilege, check out Part 2 here.

Columnist: It’s Common Sense That Black Students More Disruptive Than Whites

On the heels of a new study that found discrimination as the cause of disproportionate discipline toward black students, the National Review Online has published a column arguing that the black crime rate and not discrimination explains the disproportionate discipline.

“Black males between the ages of 14 and 17 commit homicide at ten times the rate of white and Hispanic males of the same age combined,” writes National Review columnist Heather Mac Donald. “Given such high crime rates, what do the civil-rights advocates and the Obama administration think is going on in the classroom — docile obedience and strict self-discipline? In fact, the same weak impulse control that leads to such high crime rates among young black males inevitably means more disruptive behavior in school.”

Of course, it’s not just the crime rate, it’s the cause of the crime rate – black family breakdown, she says. “None of the federal studies mention or control for single-parent households, of course,” Mac Donald writes. “Instead, we are supposed to believe that well-meaning teachers, who have spent their entire time in ed school steeped in the doctrine of “white privilege” and who are among the most liberal segments of the workforce, suddenly become bigots once in the classroom and begin arbitrarily suspending pacific black children out of racial bias … Given the black-white crime disparities, it is equally common sense that black students are more likely to be disruptive in class as well.”

And, of course, all this is naturally at the root of the government wasting taxpayer dollars to push “anti-racism”. Anti-racism?

“The refusal to take student behavior and family breakdown into account in interpreting student discipline rates means that more millions of taxpayer dollars will be wasted suing hapless school districts for phantom racism and sending teachers and administrators back to anti-racism training,” Mac Donald concludes. “The advocacy and anti-bias training complex cleans up, while the root cause of student misbehavior still goes unaddressed.”

Of course, the study in question did look into all of that. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the research found that “even when they commit the exact same offense as white students, black students suffer more severe consequences.”

Bill Maher Defends Arrest of Ahmed Mohamed

Progressive talk show host Bill Maher came to the defense of the teacher who reported Ahmed Mohamed to the police for bringing an alleged bomb to school.

Maher defended the teacher, claiming that the clock did look like a bomb and that the teacher was following established protocol.

“Look, this kid deserves an apology, no doubt about it, they were wrong, but can we have a little perspective about this?” Maher said on his show on Friday. “Did the teacher really do the wrong thing?”

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos was appearing as a guest on the show suggested that Mohamed was targeted due to his ethnicity.

“Because for the last 30 years, it’s been one culture that has been blowing shit up over and over again,” Maher responded.

“What if it had been a bomb?” Maher asked. “So the teacher is supposed to see something that looks like a bomb and go, ‘oh wait, this might just be my white privilege talking’? ‘I don’t want to be politically incorrect, so I’ll just let it go.’”

Maher downplayed the significance of the issue, claiming that Mohamed wasn’t treated like an ISIS prisoner.

“He was arrested and they took him off in cuffs and then put him in a cage and burned him,” he said. “Oh, no, that’s ISIS who does that. We put a kid after school for a couple of hours. This is not the end of the world.”

Photo credit: National Review.

The Soft Bigotry of Oversensitivity

During the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, an unarmed black male shot to death by police, those of us without the editorial budgets to travel to Ferguson watched it all unfold on social media. While on Twitter I noticed a hashtag people were using to show solidarity with the protesters: #IAMMIKEBROWN.

A brilliant writer and poet I know commented on this in a way that struck me as divisive, even though she was trying to show sensitivity. “Fellow white people,” she wrote, “we are not Mike Brown and we are not Ferguson. We are white people and this is not about us. Let people of color speak for themselves.”

While I am certain that my friend was trying to show sensitivity to how the black experience differs from the white experience, at least with respect to police, ultimately I think it drives a wedge further between the two populations who’ve found a cause around which they can unite. A militarized and overzealous police force’s abuses will certainly affect black people disproportionately, but is actually a problem for all Americans. A white person saying “I am Mike Brown” is actually saying “There but for the grace of God (and levels of melanin in my skin) go I.” Perhaps it’s just a problem with syntax; perhaps it should be: #MikeBrownIsMe

The system’s imbalance is not just one of race but also one of economics. White privilege may play into the decision of the police whether or not to arrest a person, but once that person is in the system it’s all about money. Noting the specific experience differences between white and black folks is enlightening and important, but there is far more that we have in common. The threat of a domineering police force is just one of them, maybe the most pressing.

In Matt Taibbi’s book about the U.S. criminal justice system, The Divide, he talks about the power of bail. He quotes Roy Wasserman a public defender in Brooklyn who says, “It’s a resources game…If they have the money to bail out, they fight [the charge]. If they don’t they plead.”

However, to my friend’s earlier point, Michael Brown didn’t make into the system. However neither did James Boyd, who was shot in the back by Albuquerque police for “illegal camping.” Inexplicably, after being shot in the back, the police then fire non-lethal rounds at him. According to CNN, “It is just one more in a long line of police killings that has the city’s Police Department on the verge of federal oversight.” Race — or at least appearing white — also didn’t save Dillon Taylor, who was shot by Salt Lake City police, according to FOX 13 News, because he was wearing headphones and couldn’t hear the officers’ commands.

Is James Boyd Mike Brown? Is Mike Brown Dillon Taylor? Or are they men who were murdered by trigger-happy police officers too quick to take a life? So, fellow white people: if you feel like you are Mike Brown, good on ya. Because under circumstances wholly beyond your control, you could easily end up just like him.

Photo via Twitter