This post is slightly different from my usual contributions to Social Science Lite. Nonetheless, this post is as real as the others. I receive versions of the comments anyone posts on our blog via email whether the comment is for Jeremy’s post or my own. His recent posts on white privilege/white guilt (“This is Where White Guilt Comes From”/"The White Privilege of Anti-White Activists") sparked me to write this “reply post” instead of individual comments on each post so as to explain my position and think about the larger issues at play. I think Jeremy’s comments are honest, well reasoned, and well-argued. I think that activists and scholars like Tim Wise can learn something from Jeremy as he relays his personal experiences and effectively places them in a larger context rather than going for sound bites that, to be colloquial for a minute, grinds people’s gears.
My thoughts on the recent posts on white privilege/white guilt are in part agreement with Jeremy. Let me elaborate and be more specific on what Jeremy has alluded to with respect to my comments on being Black and my (learned) reluctance to “argue” my point with “passion” and also the guilt that sometimes ensues from such inactivity on my behalf. I must say that I do not speak to the experiences of all Blacks, let alone all minorities, but do believe that what follows holds some familiarity with many people of color. To put it simply, I can’t show passion for it will be taken as aggression. I always have to hold back and (try to) be the cool, calm, and collected co-participant in debates or even casual conversations otherwise I am painted as the one who shows emotion with physically expressed enthusiasm about my theoretical findings or just my plain old opinion about the most mundane, quotidian things that populate out lives. For reasons rooted in vicious stereotypes, menacing prejudices, and negative external definitions of Blacks (especially Black males), people equate my bark with my bite. I think this is what Jeremy was getting at when he mentioned the conversations we had backstage about me feeling unable or my hesitance to articulate responses when racist comments are made.
But, sometimes, thankfully, I am more than my race. I will be the first to say that I occupy different social spheres of social dominance and subornation. I too feel a guilt of sorts when around other minorities (and sometimes whites) when racist comments are made. When my friend told me about the “Puerto Rican shower,” referencing when one tries to hide the smell of weed with Axe cologne, I knew the comments that followed could not be good. I am male so when I don’t stand up against sexist comments made against males or females, even when made by women, I feel a little twinge in the pit of my stomach. Though more spiritual than religious, when people make prejudiced statements about those from other religions, I feel that pain as well. I actually felt guilty when I didn’t say anything when Nick Cannon, in his zeal to be savior of all those dark and female, inadvisable and deleteriously employs the female gender as a tool to ridicule Eminem by calling him “Miss.” I am heterosexual and insidious, homophobic comments simply piss me off.
The underlying thing that we get out of talking about privilege and guilt is this false bifurcated world between those with and those without, as I have mentioned before. I think we need to be conscious of the multiple identities which make up who were are. Patriarchy is, in many ways, as dangerous as racism, sexism as dangerous as homophobia, depending on the person (or people in question) and especially the ways in which these prejudices as reinforced by structural factors via the job market, housing, and the like.
However, I recognize that this reality is only* in public. As I told my friends, the public Anthony is PC and docile compared to the more private Tony. And with that said, I argue that the private sphere offers a more complex realm of interactions, both real and symbolic.
I say that the private sphere is more complicated because it usually serves as a safe space where things are said without the worry of being held up to public scrutiny. As we used to say back home, one is not held susceptible to social crucifixion. This is for all races, sexes, creed, classes, and colors. Where I believe the differences are purged is the unique experience of certain populations in this country. Some individuals, because of their phenotypic construction, chromosomal make-up, sexual orientation, know the true meaning behind the old saying, “You got to laugh to keep from crying.” The pains of being Black in America, a woman in America, a non-white, non-middle class, non-male… to be an “other” in America is painful and sometimes we laugh at and make jokes about instances that cause us pain in the public sphere when we retreat to the private sphere just to make it to the next day. A close friend of mine in our cohort talked to me about why she considers drug use as a mental health and not a criminal justice problem for inner city Blacks, for instance. I think about Ntozake Shange's insightful play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. I think about what does it mean when life becomes such a battle that it forces Sam Cooke to say that “It’s been too hard living but I’m afraid to die, Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky”? I think back to that prolific prophet Malcolm X when he responds to Plato and says, “the examined life is painful.” And who else is under the panoptical gaze of society more than those considered “other”?
This is why it is hard for me to talk about guilt: the private sphere and the public sphere; what is said and where; what is said and why. I appreciate those who attempt to outline the ways in which privilege works to continue the subordination of others but caution us all not to focus on one variable, one component of who were are. It is important that honest, open, and more comprehensive conversations be had.