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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Special Privileges of Being Black

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Back when I was in college, someone actually recorded a darkly humorous, satirical song that opened with the absurd phrase: “I wish I were a Negro . . .”

Absurd, of course, because this was the 1960s, a time when activists, black and white, were challenging the savage inequalities being openly committed by white America upon black America.

No sane white person, not even the strongest advocate for racial justice, would ever long to suffer from the vicious, widespread tactics including terrorism and murder used to deny equal rights and opportunities for people of color in this country.

We’ve made racial progress since, even though fair-minded people recognize we still have a long way to go.

But it’s incredible today that some of the most privileged people in our society—members of the U.S. Supreme Court and high government officials in this state—pretend we’re ready to burst into a rousing rendition of that ridiculously ignorant song.

Despite every factual statistic documenting black and brown people languishing on the miserable end of every measure of wealth, health, employment, education, housing, incarceration and early death, the right wing has created an upside-down fantasy world in which poor people of color are the luckiest, most privileged class on earth.

They rail against those we keep at the very bottom in this country for living high on the hog in poverty where they don’t have to work and get everything provided free to them on a silver platter as they loll about on their cushy hammocks of special privilege.

The conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, including ultra-conservative black Justice Clarence Thomas, an honorary member of the extreme right, white wing, just approved voters in Michigan passing a constitutional amendment to ban any university attempts to increase African American access to higher education.

The subject of the case is usually described as affirmative action for people of color, but that’s really a misnomer.

By destroying efforts to open up institutions from which African Americans and other minorities are overwhelmingly excluded, the court was simply expanding America’s oldest and most strongly defended affirmative action program—affirmative action for white people.

 

Grothman Stands Up for White People

The irony is the only reason Michigan voters held a referendum to stop the University of Michigan from considering race in admissions was to obstruct the Supreme Court’s previous decision upholding the university’s use of race as a factor to create a better, more diverse student body.

And the only reason racial minorities won that case was that Sandra Day O’Connor, a more decent Republican justice appointed by President Ronald Reagan, prevented her less decent right-wing colleagues from killing affirmative action outright.

Now that O’Connor is gone from the court, the new extreme-right majority couldn’t wait to sabotage the court’s previous decision.

And in Wisconsin, Republican state Sen. Glenn Grothman of West Bend, notorious for his denigration of African Americans, now running for Congress, immediately announced he would reintroduce legislation to ban efforts to increase minority access to Wisconsin universities.

“The average person does not realize how extensive race and gender preferences are in our society,” Grothman said.

There’s just the slightest microbe of truth in Grothman’s twisted, offensive statement. Certainly no member of any racial minority nor any woman is able to see the extensive advantages in being relegated to second class (if that) citizenship in our society.

In Wisconsin, the special privileges of African Americans enable them to be represented far beyond their presence in our state in such distinctive groups as prison populations and the permanently unemployed.

Gender preferences pay women about three quarters of the pay of men and then send them home to care for their children and clean the house.

So, yes, the extensive advantages of race and gender in our society are largely unknown to the average person or to anyone of any intelligence.

Anyone who spends any time on a Wisconsin campus (and I teach at UW-Milwaukee) knows how rare it is to see more than one or two students of color in a classroom. It’s even more rare in professional schools such as medicine and law, especially since the attacks on affirmative action.

Apparently, some whites in power in this country won’t be satisfied until our universities are 100% white.

Tim Wise, a white man who’s made a career out of writing and speaking about white privilege, describes the absurdity of the familiar white statement: “If I had only been black, I would have gotten into my first-choice college.”

Such a statement, he points out, not only ignores the fact that whites are more likely than any other group to get into their schools of choice even with affirmative action, but it makes the absurd, demonstrably false assumption that if those whites were black, everything else in their lives would be exactly the same.

They might not even be alive.