Dear White Males

I'm talking to the Rush Limbaughs and Lindsay Grahams and Pat Buchanans primarily here, but I think anyone who is, like me, white and male, might be able to take a little something away here.

The whininess about reverse racism popped back into the public sphere about two seconds after Sonia Sotomayor was nominated to the Supreme Court. It's easy to just dismiss people like Limbaugh and Graham and Buchanan as out of touch and the types of people who have to pander to white people to maintain their level of influence, but if you're a working class white male in a tough economy, it might be difficult to see a real-world example of how your skin color affords you any privilege. Steve Benen points out one way, though it's not his main point:

Richard Poplawski, a right-wing extremist and white guy, allegedly gunned down three police officers in Pittsburgh in April, in part because he feared the non-existent "Obama gun ban." Jim David Adkisson, a right-wing extremist and white guy, allegedly opened fire in a Unitarian church in Tennessee last year, in part because of his "hatred of the liberal movement."

Imagine if James Von Brunn, Scott Roeder, Poplawski, and Adkisson were all Muslims.

What would the rhetoric be like? What kind of legislation might congressional Republicans offer? How many special reports about the "epidemic" of domestic Muslim violence would Sean Hannity host?
When a white guy does something like this, the immediate assumption is that his whiteness had nothing to do with it--there's always some other motivation. He's an anti-choice psycho, or an anti-Semite, or a gun nut, or a ultra-conservative. His whiteness is just coincidental.

But if you're not white? Well then it's at least a potential motivation--you're a drug dealer or an illegal immigrant or a radical Muslim ready to take out a dozen city blocks with the nuke you've smuggled in in a very uncomfortable place. Even if you're a cop, it's tough to get the benefit of the doubt. Being white very often gets you that second look. That's privilege.

The thing about privilege is that if you have it, you might not even realize it. It's not something you have to actively seek in order to benefit from--most of the time it just happens. There might not even be any conscious intent on the part of the person extending the privilege--it's just an after-effect of a society where white-maleness has been privileged for so long that it feels natural to both extend and receive it.

As long as you're a white guy, that is.

That's why I have so little patience for the types of people I started this post talking about. They're white men who act as though no one ever extended them a helping hand to get where they are, that their white-maleness never did them any favors (don't get me started on those people so clueless as to argue that their white-maleness has been a hindrance), that they made it to where they are completely on their own. It would be comical if it weren't so insidious, if it didn't appeal to a group of people who've shown themselves to be capable of great violence--white men with no sense of just how lucky they are.

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