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Xiphias Gladius

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By the way, I DO divide the world into "good guys" and "bad guys". [Aug. 19th, 2010|05:52 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Just so you know: if you're against the building of an Islamic community center in Downtown Manhattan, you're one of the bad guys.

If you are saying, "well, sure, they have the LEGAL right to do it, but by putting it there, they're just being provocative," then you may not be particularly evil yourself, but you're intimidated by the evil people into being one of their henchmen. People doing completely normal things like building community centers aren't being provocative. The people who you are afraid they will provoke? Those are the bad guys. And if you are saying that they should modify their behaviors to do what the bad guys want, then you are saying that you support the bad guys.

And that means that you're one of the bad guys.

And THAT means that I find you a danger to me, personally. I'm Jewish. Right now, Jews are mostly considered more or less white. But that could change. And the second it does, people will start saying things like, "Well, sure, they COULD build a synagogue there, but wouldn't that just be asking for trouble?"

Everything that people are saying about the downtown Manhattan community center, I just automatically hear people saying that about something that I might want to do someday. If you're against them, then you're against me, and you're also against justice, freedom, and every ideal that this country stands for.

Just so we're clear on that.

[User Picture]From: dancing_kiralee
2010-08-20 06:05 pm (UTC)
Although I also understand xiphias I'm not sure I'm happy about it... to me using a term that denotes skin color (eg white) to denote any other sort of categorization of people (eg those who are not persecuted) is a dangerous conflation of concepts. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say the association is racist, or a form of stereotyping, but it seems to lean in that direction.

I am, in fact, white, in as much as that's how I fill out forms asking about ethnicity; I'm not safe from prosecution. I therefore don't want people to presume that I don't need to be protected from prosecution simply because I'm white.

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[User Picture]From: holzman
2010-08-20 07:44 pm (UTC)
xiphias is using the term "white" correctly, and conflating nothing. "White" does not denote skin color, it denotes race -- a legal classification with no actual connection to any genotypical or phenotypical phenomenon. There is no skin-tone so light that someone with an ancestor of color would have been categorized as "white."

Before 1950 or so, the statement, "Jesus wasn't a Jew, he was a White Man" wasn't incoherent. At that time, light-skinned Jews were not white. Around the time of the '50s, Jews became sufficiently assimilated into mainstream American culture that they became white, after which "Jesus wasn't a Jew, he was a White Man" became an incoherent statement.

Your being white does not mean that you are immune to persecution. It does mean that you are immune to racist persecution[1]. That's what white privilege is.

[1] You might be persecuted on racial grounds, but racial persecution is only racism when it is backed by institutional power. Apologies in advance if this is a distinction you're already aware of.
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[User Picture]From: dancing_kiralee
2010-08-20 08:41 pm (UTC)
In the early 1980s, I went to school in a black high school with white honors students, a largely black administration, and a fairly racially mixed teaching staff of highly varying quality (where quality did not vary on racial lines - I had some very good black teachers and some very bad white ones, and vice versa).

By some standards it was a good school. We regularly sent about 5% - 10% of each class to top colleges like the ivy league and MIT; but everyone who went to the good schools were honors students and all the honors students were white (OK, not all - there was one hispanic* girl in one of my math classes - but she is the only exception I remember).

I was a white honors student but poor and therefore vulnerable. I managed to be weird and freaky enough to scare people away from physically or sexually assaulting me, but at the cost of being a social pariah.

I couldn't tell you how much of the social persecution I suffered was the result of my being poor, or weird, and how much of it was the result of my being white; nor could I tell you how much of it was or was not backed by an administration that looked the other way because it's concern was focused on helping black students - nor whether that would count as 'backed by institutional power'. And finally I'll grant that I only suffered social persecution and not academic discrimination (despite being thrown out of the honors track in history, which is one reason I know so much about how varied the school truly was).

So I can't prove that I've suffered racist persecution... but I do not believe it is trivially obvious that I haven't, just because I'm white.


*there is, I think, some confusion about hispanics being a race; most people treat it that way, but technically it's an ethnicity.
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[User Picture]From: holzman
2010-08-20 09:50 pm (UTC)
There's every possibility some amount of what you suffered in high school was the result of racial prejudice. It is impossible that you've suffered racist persecution, because we do not live in a society in which racist persecution of white people is possible.

Even if we consider the case arguendo where all of your suffering in high school stemmed from racial prejudice, what you suffered is not racism. Yes, the school you were in was a majority people of color. Then you went home, living in a country with a white majority. Then you graduated and exited this majority-white environment. The fact that there is that exit is a difference between what you went through and what a racist system is. This takes nothing away from the reality of whatever it is you suffered -- it is simply that it is qualitatively different from racism.

But I've got to tell you: I went to a white-majority private school, with a small number of students of color. I, too, was a social pariah for most of my time there, and it is not possible that my being white had anything to do with it.
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[User Picture]From: dancing_kiralee
2010-08-24 02:47 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure what it was, but I walked out of high school wondering why I was being discriminated against. In college, when I first thought I was gay I thought I'd found Mecca - finally a group that I could belong to and identify with who would protect me... of course it didn't work out that way, and I realized that whatever the source of discrimination, it couldn't have been an identity I wasn't aware of and didn't act on (In fact, it turns out that I'm bi... but I didn't become actively non-straight until I was 36, or 27 at the earliest, if you count poly as non-straight.)

The best language I've found to describe the way in which I was discriminated against is the language of 'white privilege.' I could not depend on being treated like a human being, with rights that should be respected. Instead, others could make a basic assumption that I was an outsider, required to defend and justify not only my actions but my existence.

Of course I can't use that language, without stirring up a racial fire-storm, because I'm light skinned. So mostly I behave, and sit silently in a corner, still wondering all these years later why I walked out of high school feeling the way I did, and unable to acknowledge that when xiphias talks about the possibility of his losing white privilege (in his case because he's Jewish) it resonates with me; like him, I experience white privilege as something that only applies to me provisionally, and which could, and occasionally has, been taken away from me, and something which I fear, and possibly even expect, to lose, not just on a case by case basis, but as a permanent condition.

And I regret that the language is such that I can not use it; and even more that it implies, simply because of the color of my skin, that I'm in a position of safety that doesn't, factually, exist.

Perhaps, xiphias, when you talk about the state of being treated the way a human being ought to be treated, you could call it something besides white privilege? Maybe cromulent privilege, where cromulent would refer to those who belong to, or are assimilated into, the dominant cultural group / gender; but certainly something that acknowledges that attaining such a state in our culture requires more than just racial assimilation.

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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2010-08-24 02:59 pm (UTC)
"White" doesn't refer to skin color. Caucasians are, more or less, pink-ish. Physical differences which make people non-white include facial features, hair shapes, eye shape, and so forth -- while lightness of skin IS a factor, as it turns out, it's nowhere near as simple as "white/nonwhite skin" -- see, for instance, the "paper bag parties" that existed in the South, in places with historical racial mixing, but still racist -- sometimes, people would hang a paper bag outside the door -- you must be this light or lighter to come in. Our President is almost light enough to pass that test. . .

To me, this ties into a whole mess of things which end up meaning that "whiteness" is a moving target which may have little to do with skin color. A person who gives off the cultural signals for gayness lacks white privilege -- whether or not said person is white (or, for that matter, gay).
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[User Picture]From: holzman
2010-08-24 07:53 pm (UTC)
A person who gives off the cultural signals for gayness lacks white privilege

A white person who gives off the cultural signals for gayness has white privilege. They may have an impacted heterosexual privilege, but heterosexual privilege is not the same thing as white privilege. Heck, white people who are actually gay have white privilege. Heterosexuals of color have heterosexual privilege but not white privilege. LGBTs of color are oppressed both as LGBTs and as people of color.
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[User Picture]From: poeticalpanther
2010-09-15 08:36 pm (UTC)
Wow, weird disconnect. For some reason, I'd always read your comments as coming from a woman. I apologize for the mental misgendering.

I think perhaps I have another friend who has or had the same icon.
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2010-09-15 08:47 pm (UTC)
I certainly don't mind.
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[User Picture]From: holzman
2010-08-24 07:59 pm (UTC)
There may well have been some privilege you lacked that led to your experience in high school, but it wasn't white privilege. There's lots of types of privilege, and the all intersect with one another.

I think there's some confusion because there really was a process by which light-skinned Jews became white, meaning that white privilege was extended to them even though there was (and is) still a degree of anti-Semitism operant in society. Today, I have white privilege because law and society code me as white and I lack Christian privilege because I'm of Jewish descent and am there oppressed by anti-Semitism. Between fifty and a hundred years ago, Jews weren't coded white, but regarded as the "lightest of the black."

There was a time when people would literally say, "Jesus wan't a Jew, he was a white man" as if they were mutually exclusive categories.
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[User Picture]From: dancing_kiralee
2010-08-24 09:14 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure that when xiphias says:

"I'm Jewish. Right now, Jews are mostly considered more or less white. But that could change. And the second it does, people will start saying things like, 'Well, sure, they COULD build a synagogue there, but wouldn't that just be asking for trouble?'"

And in particular when he says, "But that could change," he's not anticipating the lose of white privilege, but an increase in anti-semitism and / or the importance of Christian privilege. And the fact that light-skinned Jews became white somewhere between fifty and a hundred years ago is largely incidental to that.

In which case he *is* conflating things.

It's OK with me if society uses the terms "white privilege" or "white" along purely racial lines; what's not OK is when it starts treating all privilege as white privilege, and using "white" as a short hand either for "part of the privileged group, possessing power by virtue of birth" or for "free from [all] persecution", although I find the latter much more disturbing than the former.

I also think that some term for "free from all persecution" would be useful. I just don't think "white" is a good term to use, because if it were, it would be confused with the purely racial use of the term, which could lead to all sorts of trouble, not just for people in my situation.

What happened to me in high school is not at all straightforward. To your way of thinking, the experience wasn't universal enough to count as a loss of racial privilege (technically, in some ways, it would have been a lack of black privilege, not a lack of white privilege, since this was an environment and power structure that favored blacks; but I could hardly blame my fellow students for protesting their very real, and concurrent, lack of white privilege in society at large, not even when they took it out on me).

It's not clear to me how universal something has to be to count. As a teenager I lived in an environment, at least the majority of the time, where the dynamics of white privilege were not the same as in the rest of American society; but you're right, in pointing out, that - despite my inability to escape it - it was encapsulated in a society where white privilege was the standard. And that mattered. The question, to me, is how much it mattered.

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[User Picture]From: holzman
2010-08-24 10:19 pm (UTC)
I think that if you used the language of privilege, rather than white privilege, you will not run into the difficulties you fear.

xiphias and I do stand in danger of losing our white privilege, because it's entirely possible that Jews will at some time again be defined as "not-white." Syrians are another example of people who have been white sometimes not white others -- seriously, the Supreme COurt ruled on the question three times in 20 years around the turn of the century.
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[User Picture]From: dancing_kiralee
2010-08-25 12:29 am (UTC)
My problem is that I can't use the language of privilege, as you would use it, because it requires specificity, and I don't know the source of the privilege I lack. As far as I know, there is no universal term, no adjective such that privilege means "free of all persecution;" if there were I could say I lack privilege, but since there isn't, I'm pretty much shut out of the conversation (i.e. silenced).

As for your and xiphias's situation... I'm not arguing that you don't stand in danger of losing white privilege.

I'm arguing that in xiphias's post, above, when he talks about losing accepted-religion privilege, instead of using the correct terminology he calls it white privilege, thus conflating the two.

Why do you think, when he's comparing the (potential) response to a synagogue with the (actual) response to an Islamic center that he is talking about race and not religion?


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[User Picture]From: holzman
2010-08-25 06:22 pm (UTC)
My experience is that if you flag that you don't have a word for the source of privilege you lack, that's sufficient specificity.

I think the reason there's no term for "free of all persecution" is that so very few people are free of all persecution. Class, race, skin, sex, sexual orientation, cis-or-trans status, body type, ethnicity, neurotypicality, and ability are only a partial list of the axes along which some people receive privilege at the expense of others.

As for xiphias, I think he's talking about both race and religion because there's an intersection of race and religion going on with regards to which religions get demonized for their violent extremist minorities. No one objects to building Catholic Churches near IRA bombing sites or playgrounds. No one's calling for a "No protestant Church zone" around Dr. Tiller's home. No one's on a mission to find out which Americans funded the IRA and prosecute them. And so on. The fact that the broadly dominant image of "a Muslim" is a person of color has alot to do with that.
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[User Picture]From: dancing_kiralee
2010-08-24 05:49 pm (UTC)
Then, xiphias, you're not claiming that I have white privilege; but holzman is. This is exactly the problem that I have with your semantics.

It would be best if everyone in the world was treated with respect - what in your language would be referred to as everyone having white privilege; but since that isn't the case, it's necessary for those people in the world who aren't treated with respect to be able to say "Hey, this is wrong," whether that's based on skin color, facial features, cultural cues, or the ability to maintain a decent wardrobe (don't laugh; very likely this is a major part of the discrimination I've faced).

I don't mind holzman's use of white privilege to apply only to racist persecution, as long as it isn't conflated with immunity to other forms of persecution, as your definitions / explanations of "whiteness" suggest, and for that matter, as the narrative of "Jews" being assimilated into "whites" sometime in the 1950s suggests.

I don't mind the ideas that you've presented when you provide your definitions / explanations of what "whiteness" and "white privilege" mean to you. They are, in fact, extremely useful ideas, and I would like to have a way to talk about them that doesn't put me in danger of social censorship. It's useful to be able to talk about 'belonging to the group that isn't discriminated against;' about what assimilation into that group means; and about circumstances that make assimilation or inclusiveness in that group provisional.

But I want language *I* can use. I don't want to be told, if I claim not to have white privilege, that of course this is bullshit, because that person, like most people, thinks I'm white. I don't belong to an ethnic group with a recent history of assimilation and a long history of persecution to use as evidence or explanation of my position.

dichroic talks about online discussions where "it's clear that .... 'white' means 'part of the privileged group, possssing power by virtue of birth.'" Conflating this meaning of white with a more specifically racial one bothers me less; and so I haven't spoken out. However, when you talk about "white" being used "as shorthand for 'safe from persecution'," as I think dichrioc correctly points out you are doing in this instance, that rings my alarm bells and pushes my buttons.

I don't want to be told, by someone like holzman (although I seriously doubt that holzman himself would do this), that I have white privilege, in a discussion, such as might happen in your journal, xiphias, where white and white privilege are being used to mean "free from persecution" rather than "free from racial persecution."

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