BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Twitter Conversation about Privilege


  1. Hi
    BTSF, I’d be willing to continue our dialogue if you are still up for
    it. I guess I should start by letting you know where I’m coming from in
    this conversation.

    first thing is that my main goal is to seek clarity on this issue. I’m
    not out to win a debate with you or even to try to convince you of
    anything, I just want to understand different perspectives on this topic
    (but I also try to clearly convey what I believe as of now). So if I
    ask a lot of questions, its not because I’m trying to back you into a
    corner or anything, I just want to have an understanding of how you view
    the subject.

    second thing is that most of my questioning is probably based on the
    same motives you have. I want to find effective ways to help people who
    are disadvantaged. I will probably never be able to convince people who
    are critical of me, but the truth is my heart breaks for poor and
    disadvantaged “people of color.” Not only because they are poor and
    disadvantaged but because too many of those fighting on their behalf
    believe their main struggle is racial discrimination. I completely want
    to fight racism, and I have plenty of ideas on how to do so (and feel
    free to steer the conversation towards this specific aspect of my
    views), but I just fear racism has become the easy villain to hate and
    we are overlooking the truly determining societal factors for
    disparities in standards of living.

    of the things that began my questioning was the fact that in so many
    areas the disparity between whites and blacks have increased in the last
    30 years (wealth gap, prison percentage, and unemployment gap to name a
    few). I’m not convinced America has become more racist in the last 30
    years. I’m not convinced that the kind of “covert racism” we have today
    is more damaging than any kind of racism 30 years ago. I’m not convinced
    past racism has become more damaging than when it was in full effect.
    In short, I have serious doubts that racism is the main cause for these
    disparities. I’m guessing this is our main point of disagreement? Do you
    believe racism is the main cause? If so, how do you explain how the
    disparities are growing? The main causes in my view are numerous and
    complicated, but to give you a hint, two big ones are: family structure
    as a major determining factor, and some of the social programs intended
    to help. Oh, and I should also note that not for a second have I ever
    believed the disparities are a result of innate differences in the
    races. We probably agree that there aren’t technically different human
    races, and that “races” were all made up socially.

    a point of clarification: In our twitter dialogue, I mistakenly thought
    part of what you meant by affirmative action was quotas. After reading
    your blog I quickly learned that was not the case. My main problem is
    with quotas, and generally any government policy that sets standards
    based on skin color.

    this was a bit long, but hopefully we can dive into this much deeper
    than we could on twitter. Also do you mind if I post our conversation on
    my blog as well?

  2. I am really pumped to continue dialogue with you. Yes, we disagree about some things, but we also agree on others and I love your willingness to talk it out level headedly. That is the main reason I wanted to publish the conversation.

    I need to be disciplined today and stay on track at work, but I promise I will respond better over the weekend.

    Feel free to repost (if you wouldn't mind including a link back to source). If you want, can give you the HTML that allows for the dynamic interactions with the storyboard (replying and retweeting). I only just recently discovered 'storify' and I think it is a neat way to publish such things.

  3. Re your ‘first thing’: Amen! I really respect this attitude—
    everything about it.


    I don’t know that racism has necessarily grown or shrunk.  There is a lot of division and
    misunderstanding out there that really messes with any efforts for reconciliation.
    But I also know things aren’t the way they used to be. I contemplate this in
    myself a lot. How things gotten better, worse, or just different?


    I don’t know that racism is the single driving force
    propelling the disparities you mention—it almost certainly isn’t. I do think it
    contributes and I do think that small prejudices and disadvantages quickly
    snowball into generational and systematic issues that may or may not reflect
    the original cause.  I think when any
    group that experiences disadvantage (and there are several, not just along
    racial lines) while another group experience relative prosperity (even for a
    short time) we see the sort of divergence you describe. Obviously a lot of
    factors are at play here, though.


    You’re right, we agree that there is no such thing as true
    biological races. Glad to hear you there. It is, of course, a reality as a
    social construct and has consequences as such. But, no, nothing ultimately is
    behind it biologically. I keep meaning to do a post along those lines…will get
    around to it eventually…


    I bet we do have things to talk about regarding the two
    hints you give. Both are a real mess. Open to creative solutions.


    As we continue, forgive me if my responses are slow. I will
    always respond, though. 

  4. Hi
    again BTSF, sorry its taken so long for me to respond but there has
    been a lot to think about. I think we probably agree on a lot of general
    statements and our disagreements probably come when talking about
    specifics and what the focus should be. So I guess I’ll raise my
    concerns about focusing on privilege along racial lines. It would be one
    thing if people acknowledged that race isn’t the most determining
    factor and simply want to talk about it regardless of the degree of its
    role, like you have done, but in 90% of the times where people want to
    talk about privilege it is about race. People act like it is the most
    socially determining factor, and continue to incorrectly attribute
    social problems to race. That’s why a major theme of my blog is
    “racialism,” or basically making something about race when it isn’t.
    That leads to another major problem I have with how race is talked
    about, and that is people have become solution blind. There are a lot of
    problems that come along with talking about privilege along racial
    lines, even if it is done as carefully as possible. One thing is that it
    will innately emphasize racial division. One might hope that yes,
    people will be more aware of race, but they will be more sensitive
    towards it. But this is very often not the case as you have pointed out
    on your blog. People act defensively. People instinctively are inclined
    to view themselves as a victim. People will think the achievements of
    minorities were given to them out of white guilt rather than their
    merits (thus undermining their dignity). All these elements contribute
    to greater racial animosity. I might say this would all be worth it if
    1. privilege along racial lines was one of the most significant factors
    in determining economic status,and 2. if it produced real results that
    outweighed these negatives. But as I see it, these conditions aren’t
    My main beliefs about the conversation on race is that ideally people
    of color should be treated like anyone else, and race should never enter
    into their judgment (in my view such a focus on race undermines this
    ideal). Realistically they don’t need whites to understand white
    privilege, although its fine if a person wants to contemplate such
    things. Realistically, all they need is opportunity. I disagree with you
    that “when any group that experiences disadvantage...while another
    group experience relative prosperity (even for a short time) we see the
    sort of divergence you describe.” Jewish Americans, Irish Americans,
    Chinese Americans,etc. have all faced enormous discrimination but
    because of opportunities presented to them they gained prosperity
    despite this. Saying that the fate of people of color relies on whites
    understanding their privilege makes people of color more dependent on
    whites, thus increasing white supremacy, even if it has become a
    friendly and compassionate white supremacy. Therefore my focus is
    opportunity, the true foundation of privilege. A lot of the policies
    that had the intentions of helping people of color have only limited
    their opportunities. I suppose I should stop now before I go into all
    the ways I think we should increase opportunity, I’ve already said
    enough to respond to. 

  5. I am interested in several statements in your first paragraph. To whom do you refer? Who are having these conversations about privilege?

    In my daily experience, I very seldom hear conversations about race or privileged at all (besides in the obvious forums such as this that I seek out). 

    I'm not sure I full understand your second paragraph, so I'll simply say this and see if it relates: I will always be on the side of talking about the issues rather than pretending that they're not there. All hurts deserve to be reconciled and I don't believe that honest and calm conversation about such things will ever really make things worse. Do you suggest that we censor issue that are tedious to solve?

    I def agree that POCs should be treated like everyone else. I just don't believe that doing nothing accomplishes this. They are currently treated differently. This is a fact (arguing about the size of the disparity, might be something else). So lack of action perpetuates the very issue that seems to bother you. Re your examples of other groups: Setting aside the fallacy of model-minority success for a moment, I would argue that the levels of discrimination against the groups you mentioned are not equal to one another, and certainly neither are the consequences or the resolution. 
    You make a good point that saying the success of POCs depends on white folks' understanding has a very 'white savior' ring to it. However, I am not trying to imply that white benevolence it the key. I do believe that 1) relationships require understanding and 2) the road to restoration is a whole lot easier when traveled with allies rather than adversaries. 

    I wish you hadn't stopped! How does one increase one's access to opportunity?

    There are a lot of different topics here that we could go in depth into. My answers could all be expounded. I am happy to take the dialogue in whichever direction interests you. 


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