[To have a chance at a just future, let’s find ways to push back
against the raging tides of racism that have driven too much of our
nation’s history and are now re-emerging in stridently blatant
forms. ] [https://portside.org/] 



 Howard Machtinger 
 September 10, 2018
Portside [http://www.portside.org] 

	* [https://portside.org/node/18107/printable/print]

 _ To have a chance at a just future, let’s find ways to push back
against the raging tides of racism that have driven too much of our
nation’s history and are now re-emerging in stridently blatant
forms. _ 



The concept of white privilege helps white people grasp the depth and
pervasiveness of racism in American culture and society.  For
starters, let’s be clear about what the concept entails and what it
doesn’t.  White privilege has both material and psychological
components.  It confers wealth benefits, but also serves as a balm
for ‘fragile’ white egos. The following is partially drawn from an
Educator Institute organized by the WE ARE (Working to Extend
Anti-Racist Education) group in North Carolina.  

WHITE PRIVILEGE IS—being perceived as normal; being considered real
Americans; thinking one is color blind; not having to think about
race; not needing to have _The Talk _about how to survive an encounter
with the police; being criticized and not having to wonder if it’s
related to race; believing hard work will yield success; believing you
have a seat at the table; benefiting from government programs while
stigmatizing them; being connected to a good ol’ boy (or girl)
network; having easier access to credit, education, housing, and jobs;
being the beneficiary of historical wealth disparities; a continuing
gap between White wealth and Black wealth.

WHITE PRIVILEGE IS NOT –White people escaping suffering in their
lives; being necessarily richer or more successful than people of
color (White people with privilege can be poor too); freedom from
oppression; all White people coming from _Leave it to Beaver_ homes. 

‘Whiteness’ is thus a form of property providing access to myriad
forms of power.  White privilege as a concept effectively
communicates racism’s centrality and ubiquity in our lives. It
infuses and distorts inter-racial interactions by keeping racism
invisible for those who benefit from racial hierarchy.  Further it
highlights and helps explain an extremely effective mechanism of
social control.  The concept can prompt Whites to engage in needed
internal reflection concerning control issues, arrogance, and the
inability and/or unwillingness to hear/understand/appreciate the
voices of People of Color. 

But white privilege does not serve as an all-purpose concept. 
Partially because it critiques white consciousness so effectively, it
does not necessarily aid in providing an incentive for Whites to be
active in the struggle against racism. If racial privilege is so
pervasive and fundamental, the struggle against racism can be expected
to be protracted and entail real risk.  How does the concept of white
privilege contribute to the motivation of White people to engage in
such a daunting struggle?

When we treat “white privilege” as an all-purpose concept, it is
as if we invite Whites to partake in the struggle against racism as
only an act of moral virtue or even atonement for the unearned
benefits they have gained from a destructive and divisive privilege.
In doing so, we may forego opportunities to expose the illusions of
white privilege altogether, and to make the argument that we are all
harmed by the toxicity of racism and have a common interest in
dismantling it.

That white privilege is both real and illusory is a consequence of its
role as a means of counterinsurgency:  a mechanism to keep potential
allies apart and to wed non-elite White people to those in power. 
Privilege has to be real enough to have a chance of winning over
significant numbers of White people, but not so real that the power of
the political, corporate, and financial elites—who dole out the
privilege- might actually be threatened.   The strategy behind white
privilege is to construct difference so as to suppress and divide
potential opposition.

Privilege assumes two advantaged groups: the privilege provider and
the privilege receiver.  How privilege is doled out through our
institutions is a subject for another essay, but it is obvious that
what is given can be taken away by those in control.

To move beyond essential moral concerns, it may be useful to employ a
concept from critical race theory—interest convergence.  If
properly conceived, where do the interests of non-elite White people
and People of Color converge—moving beyond alliances of momentary
convenience to a more profound connection in overcoming a system bent
on disempowering both?  Have we reached a moment where Whites can
question the privileges that have been proffered?  Or will they, as a
group, be content with ensuring that there remain groups more
disempowered than they are, pursuing a self-destructive politics of

When the powers that be are doing well, they can be more generous in
material privilege provision—witness the post World War II period of
economic expansion where many Whites were afforded the privilege of
suburban life and GI bill access to higher education.  When matters
are more challenging to the powers that be—as in the decline in US
global power beginning in its defeat in Vietnam--then privilege begins
to assume less material and more psychological forms.  Real wages
stagnate; deindustrialization accelerates; the welfare state is
disassembled; social inequality is magnified.  People of Color are
disproportionately affected, but Whites are less insulated and
increasingly vulnerable to these indices of decline.   The material
wage of whiteness is increasingly replaced by a more evanescent, if
still powerful, psychological wage. ‘Whiteness’ becomes more
public, generating a community based on resentment rife with barely
repressed as well as more open violence.  Some Whites fret about
becoming a ‘minority’ group in the near future.  This is not a
happy way of life.  As economic desperation has increased, previously
marginalized white supremacist groups enter the mainstream egged on by
a white nationalist President.

While such white anxiety maintains (with some exceptions), even
fortifies the physical distance between racial groups, the symptoms of
oppression that people face tend to cross racial boundaries,
especially for those not part of the elite. Environmental, health, and
infrastructure problems cannot be easily confined to the
‘ghetto’.    Drug addiction comes to undermine White, as well
as Black and Latinx communities.  Whites, too, are sacrificed in
failed imperial wars and suffer PTSD in their aftermath.  They also
suffer from foreclosures, loss of health benefits and of food stamps,
a generally diminishing social welfare.  The suffering of people of
color can be the warning canary in the coal mine and a signal of the
chickens—to offer mixed avian metaphors--of social inequality coming
home to roost.

There are numerous studies demonstrating the relationship between
economic equality and social satisfaction.[1]  Non-elite people
perceive growing inequality as unfair and as undermining their hope
for social mobility.  But when inequality is in large part
racialized, many Whites resent affirmative attempts to address racial
inequality, fearing that such attempts undermine their relative
privilege.  White society becomes less trusting and more fearful. 
The society as a whole becomes more militarized to protect some and
control others.  Racist violence becomes increasingly normalized
whether by the state or by non-state actors.

The future will play out in one of two ways.  Either white resentment
at presumed loss of status will dominate, morphing, into
American-style ‘fascism’--for lack of a better term to describe a
dangerous racist authoritarianism--or alternatively an authentic
alliance against racist, authoritarian capitalism can be created. 

There is desperation in the white panic that buttresses Trump. 
Moving beyond ‘dog whistles’ to a strident bullhorn is
belligerent, but also betrays weakness.  The manipulative psychology
of white privilege is both more aggressive and also more vulnerable. 
Our moment offers an opportunity to articulate a vision and practice
of a common interest in social transformation--social transformation
that is truly anti-racist, as well as anti-sexist, and of benefit to
most people, including Whites, in creating a caring, trusting, truly
democratic and just society.  

To have a chance at a just future, let’s find ways to push back
against the raging tides of racism that have driven too much of our
nation’s history and are now re-emerging in stridently blatant
forms. Trump seems eager to run on his exclusionary policies in an
attempt to invigorate a white, Christian, male-dominated America.  We
are called upon to offer a compelling alternative, powerful enough to
halt this dangerous trajectory.  To effectively counter Trump’s
open white nationalism, it is imperative to untangle the
contradictions surrounding white privilege: understanding the
centrality of race in our society so that the change we call for will
be anti-racist upending a deeply entrenched system of white supremacy,
and at the same time expose the illusory nature of white privilege,
contending with its temptations as we expose the flimflam at its


[1] See
, and

_Thanks to the author for this submission to Portside._

	* [https://portside.org/node/18107/printable/print]







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