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If you think I exaggerate, consider the video made at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, part of an ad-campaign created to fight for “racial justice” by pointing out “white privilege.” In the ad, self-flagellating white people confess their “white privilege” with the statements scrawled in ink across their faces. For example, one woman says, “We’re privileged that people see us, not a color.” There’s something incoherent in complaints about being seen as black when all hear are insistent demands that we recognize how wonderful being black is. Then there’s the man who scolds, “We’re privileged because society was set up for us, and our silence keeps it in place.” These sentiments reflect the old charge of “white-skin privilege,” which had some truth-value before the vast changes in racial relations and opportunities that followed the Civil Rights Act, the astonishing growth of the black middle class, and programs such as Affirmative Action.
But even before those changes, there certainly wasn’t any “white-skin privilege” for poor or working-class whites. I grew up amidst the rural poverty of the San Joaquin Valley, and none of the poor white kids there were being paid to attend Harvard or handed a job with IBM just because they were white. Many of them ended up where many poor Mexicans and poor blacks did: in jail, the army, or on drugs. The obsession with “whiteness” and “white privilege” obscures the real advantages provided by social class and the possession of social capital.
Here we reach the fundamental lie at the heart of such racialist discourse. As Obama himself shows, these days as long as a black person is suitably progressive in his political beliefs, his skin-color is an asset, particularly if he is obviously middle-class in his demeanor, speech, and dress––or as Joe Biden said, “articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” How else explain Obama’s careful fabrication in his memoir of a black consciousness and subjection to racism––which, according to David Maraniss’s recent biography of the president, made him “blacker and more disaffected” than he really was––if not to exploit that privilege? As Jonah Goldberg writes, Obama is “a product of campus culture — at Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Chicago — and his vignettes of racial struggle were in some respects the coin of his realm. Later, when he entered the national political scene, he discovered this currency was accepted by much of the mainstream media as well.” For millions of educated, middle-class black people, their race may cause them the annoyance of being followed in a store, but it also can grant them huge social advantages––including becoming the president of the United States.
Those advantages explain why some well-off, educated black people, especially those who work in government, education, and the media, are quick to exploit the race card. By identifying with and capitalizing on the social miseries of under-privileged blacks, they can gain social power, deflect criticism of their shortcomings, and direct attention away from their own socio-economic privilege, which often surpasses that of millions of whites. Meanwhile, the degradation of the black underclass worsens, something that has little to do with race or racism, and everything to do with a dysfunctional culture that scorns the traditional virtues like self-control, personal responsibility, and hard work that in the past sustained black life even in the days of Jim Crow.
We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that in the next few months Obama and his supporters will obscure his incompetence and failure with the verbal spray-paint of white racism. Without it, he wouldn’t have become president in the first place.
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