Saturday, January 14, 2012

White Privilege - Part 1

Most of my blog posts are spurred by personal observations or experience. What spurred me to write this post today was watching HGTV for several hours. As I watched several shows featuring multi-million homes [one worth $185M], I again noticed that every homeowner was white. This caused me, once again, to think about white privilege.

Some may ask for a definition of white privilege. Still others question its very existence. There are many who have written about white privilege and who have defined it. The concept of white privilege almost demands a discussion [and definition] of "race." I will save that discussion for another blog post. I like to define white privilege as the inherited ability to have access to resources that are: (1) taken for granted [often not even thought about]; (2) an inherited sense that one is not "the other;" and (3) inherited power.

I must add that while white privilege is most evident in wealthy white people, white privilege also extends to non-wealthy white people. In North America, white privilege is the norm. Peggy McIntosh [a white woman], who travels and lectures extensively on white privilege describes it much more eloquently than I in her article "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack."

A white person born in the U.S. is born with access to many resources that remain unavailable, at least in large part, to non-whites. This includes better schools, homes in better neighborhoods, ability to gain job interviews and land jobs, lack of denial for resources solely because of skin color and automatic acceptance into a club that excludes non-whites. There are social norms and expectations, based on historical events and current practices, which elevate whiteness to be the norm.

The advantages of being white are numerous. Probably the most important advantage is the sure knowledge that decisions made about you are not based on your race. You're confident in the knowledge that the reason you were denied housing, a job or college entry, was not because of your race. White people can choose to be around people who look like them most of the time. White people see themselves widely represented [positively] in all forms of media. A negative action, behavior or crime committed by a white person is not an indictment of the entire race, e.g., the white people on "The Jerry Springer Show" do not represent all white people.

Some people argue that the problems are socio-economic based and not race-based. "Poor is poor," many say. While socio-economics do, indeed, play a role in access to resources, a child born with white skin is automatically a member of an exclusive club, a club whose members already have the advantage. Consider, also, two men in their fifties, one black, one white. The white man [born into white privilege] has already climbed the ladder of success. At a young age, he had access to better educational facilities, access to better, higher-paying jobs [with benefits], access to partners successful in their own right or with inherited family resources, the ability to purchase one, two or even three homes and the ability to pass on these privileges to yet another generation. By his mid-50's, he is no longer chasing the dream. He has lived and experienced the dream and is now looking forward to years of leisure - if he so chooses. The non-white man, on the other hand, is still chasing his dreams. He began his life as "the other," already behind, not a part of, the norm. He spends his entire life being pre-judged and then judged by the color of his skin. His skin color may deny him access to better schools as a child, prevent his entry into higher education, relegate him to entry-level jobs and deny him access to financial resources. In short, he has spent his entire life attempting to prove that despite him being "the other," he is capable, he is intelligent, he is not this, he is not that. Even in his mid-50's, he lacks the financial security of his white counterpart. Instead of looking forward to a leisurely retirement in a few years, he is still struggling just to make ends meet.

Most white people do not recognize their white privilege. It is as much a part of them as their white skin, their grandfather's nose, their great-grandmother's blue eyes. You get up every day and its existence doesn't cross the mind.

My intent in this post, and indeed on all the posts in this blog, is not to anger, but rather to make the reader think, examine and discuss.

Friday, January 13, 2012

How far have we truly come?

Two recent stories have caused me to ask this question.

The first is the federal lawsuit recently filed against Panera Bread. Panera, owned by Warren, Ohio-based Covelli Enterprises,operates about 200 stores in four states, allegedly has a policy of not placing "black, ugly or fat" people at the cash registers where they can be viewed easily by customers. It seems a white manager at a Pittsburgh-area Panera cafe was chastised by a district manager for having a black man at the register and told "“You know that is a death sentence for me and you if Sam [Covelli] would walk in and see him on register.” This manager was forced to relocate a black man who worked the cash register to the back of the cafe - out of the public eye. Both the white manager and the black employee are parties to the federal lawsuit. I should mention here that Panera is a franchise operation. The policy in question is alleged to be a policy at Panera's owned by Covelli Enterprises.

As I read about this developing story, I thought about the numerous times I've visited a Panera cafe, both in Texas and in Pennsylvania. If memory serves, there has been only one time that I've observed a black person at the cash register. The son of a friend worked at Panera in Warren, Ohio for about five years. He worked in the kitchen. Pittsburgh is a city with about 26% African-Americans, many of whom patronize Panera. Is it wrong to expect to see someone who looks like you at the cash register? Are black people noticing the lack of representation in stores and restaurants, or as some suggest, are black people "too sensitive?"

The second story that triggers this post is a story today concerning a landlord [Jamie Hein] in Ohio who posted a "white only" sign on the pool gate of her apartment building. On 12 January 2012, Hein lost an appeal with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission regarding her posting of the sign. The background? A tenant of the apartment has a bi-racial daughter. The tenant, his fiance' and his child attended a pool party. The bi-racial daughter was the only non-white at the pool party. Hein later questioned him about the "chemicals" used in the daughter's hair. She then claimed that the "grease" in the daughter's hair "muddied" up the pool water. She subsequently put up the sign below.

When the complaint was filed, the landlord claimed the sign was merely "a decorative antique." The Commission ruled the sign, which read "Public Swimming Pool, White Only," violated state housing discrimination laws, and dismissed landlord Jamie Hein's claim that it was simply a decorative antique. Despite filing the appeal, neither Hein nor her attorneys were present for the hearing regarding the appeal.

So, I ask, how far have we truly come? This is 2012, the 21st century! Yet, there are still ignorant, biased and racist people who, I guess, believe that black people are still "the other," that black people are somehow inferior to white people and who, in their racist ignorance, still feel empowered to make such policy, display such signs.

The birth defect remains!