Category Archives: Ethnicity

An Internal Monologue of Reading this Article by Someone My Alma Mater has Clearly Failed to Teach the True Meaning of Privilege

[full text of the article in question]

Intro paragraph: Unnecessary cheap shot at Obama…pointless reference most of your audience won’t get that you threw in there just to sound ‘Princetonian’…oh lawd, we haven’t even finished the first paragraph and you’re equating checking one’s privilege to being apologetic. I’m not sure I can get all the way through this.

…And the second paragraph starts right off with a casual reference to reverse racism, as if that were a thing.

I do not accuse those who “check” me and my perspective of overt racism, although the phrase, which assumes that simply because I belong to a certain ethnic group I should be judged collectively with it, toes that line. But I do condemn them for diminishing everything I have personally accomplished, all the hard work I have done in my life, and for ascribing all the fruit I reap not to the seeds I sow but to some invisible patron saint of white maleness who places it out for me before I even arrive. Furthermore, I condemn them for casting the equal protection clause, indeed the very idea of a meritocracy, as a myth, and for declaring that we are all governed by invisible forces (some would call them “stigmas” or “societal norms”), that our nation runs on racist and sexist conspiracies. Forget “you didn’t build that;” check your privilege and realize that nothing you have accomplished is real.

 

*Hint: racism is a system of power, and as such marginalized persons cannot, by definition, be racists.* Lol none of your accomplishments are purely personal. Literally no one’s accomplishments are purely personal. “The seeds you sow” are planted in a field your family has been cultivating for years, and I’m guessing they had some help somewhere along the way, if from nothing else than an economic system that wasn’t built upon their unpaid labor and a social system that wasn’t built upon their fundamental exclusion from public spaces and public assistance. But of course you won’t recognize those things, because you’re laughing off the “very idea” that “our nation runs on racist and sexist conspiracies.”

…I can’t tell if this 3rd paragraph is a glimmer of hope or if the sarcasm just isn’t coming through as well as it could on paper. *continues reading with extremely cautious optimism*

…I put too much faith in strangers on the internet.

Because I am in a hotel room in Stony Creek, Virginia and have literally nothing else to be doing right now, I’m going to take the time to break this down for this person, because these are the things I spent my time at our shared University learning to understand.

The word “privileged” does not mean that no hardships have ever befallen you or your kin. It doesn’t mean that you’ve never been the victim of violence for some inherent characteristic about you, be it your race, your religion, your sexual orientation, or whatever. Privileges exist along literally every social characteristic that a person possesses, so the vast majority of human beings in this world are privileged in some ways and disadvantaged in others. Being told to “check your privilege” in regards to a certain statement you’ve made does not entail that the person who told you to do so thinks that you and all your ancestors have floated down on a fluffy cloud of privilege through history. Rather, being told to “check your privilege” is simply today’s shorthand for telling you that there are alternative perspectives than your own that your previous statement(s) or action(s) suggest an unjust level of disregard concerning.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, I would like to take a moment to recognize the significance of the atrocities your grandparents faced during the Holocaust, as well as the struggle they endured after emigrating to the United States. Those are real and valid and should not be glossed over…

…but they don’t erase your privilege. See, the thing about privilege is it’s rooted in those “invisible forces” you called “stigmas” and “societal norms” complete with the scare quotes. You are certainly correct in saying that coming from a family whose history includes physically and psychologically violent religious persecution is not a privilege. But that’s about the last place I can agree with you, because your personal history then continues:

“Perhaps my privilege is that those two resilient individuals came to America with no money and no English, obtained citizenship, learned the language and met each other…”

Pause. My Spidey sense is tingling. Fun fact: emigrating to the United states and being able to obtain US citizenship—and then exercise your rights as a US citizen—were, in fact, privileges that only people of certain racial categories had access to in the 1930s.

“Maybe my privilege is that they worked hard enough to raise four children, and to send them to Jewish day school and eventually City College.”

A more radical version of me might call “Jewish day school” a privilege in and of itself in the same country that literally beat my ancestors’ ethnic heritage out of their systems, but I digress on that point. Rather, I will note that emigrating to the United States guaranteed your grandparents the safety and protection of the US government after the atrocities in Nazi Germany, while the grandparents of people who look like me were being purposefully injected with syphilis courtesy of the US Public Health Service’s experiments at the Tuskegee Institute. Also, I’m glad you mentioned that your father and aunts and uncles were all able to attend City College, a university that didn’t have an open admissions policy aimed at racial and ethnic integration until 1970; while your father and his siblings were able to attend City College, my father would have been turned away simply due to the color of his skin. That is the definition of systemic privilege—an ability one person has over another person due to some inherent and unalterable characteristic around which society as a whole or some particular social institution, such as higher education, is constructed.

Having privilege doesn’t mean no one in your family worked a day in his life. It doesn’t mean that you’ve never had to make sacrifices. It doesn’t mean that your achievements “aren’t real.” It means that those little invisible social forces gave you and yours a helping hand somewhere along the way, sometimes in really obvious ways like racially discriminatory admissions policies. Sometimes, though, this helping hand is more covert: for instance, I assume that this wicker-basket making business that your grandfather ran was run out of some sort of storefront, no? In that case, I would call it a privilege that he didn’t have to fight to hold that space in something like Harlem’s Real Estate Race War, and that it wasn’t looted and burned down because a man like him had more wealth and prestige than the men who were used to being in power, like happened to Black entrepreneurs in Greenwood, a neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The means of successful entrepreneurship in this country have always been linked to having been born on the right side of a racist society. For a second example, check out Princeton professor Devah Pager’s book Marked, which details how business owners, who are overwhelmingly white males due to the history we just discussed, are more likely to hire whites with a criminal record than people of other races with a clean background; chances are, the color of your father’s skin helped him get that good job he’s been working hard at for the past 25 years.

Thus, I find your summarizing argument that

“That’s the problem with calling someone out for the “privilege” which you assume has defined their narrative. You don’t know what their struggles have been, what they may have gone through to be where they are. Assuming [the people you call privileged have] benefitted from “power systems” or other conspiratorial imaginary institutions denies them credit for all they’ve done, things of which you may not even conceive. You don’t know whose father died defending your freedom. You don’t know whose mother escaped oppression. You don’t know who conquered their demons, or may still conquering them now.”

to be fundamentally flawed. One should never assume one understand the details of another’s narrative, true, but I think you’re missing the point of the multifaceted structure that is social privilege. I don’t need to know your whole family history to know that there are ways in which the social institutions that determine quality of life in this country have favored people whose identity categories align with many of yours. And when I, or anyone else, asks you to check your privilege, we aren’t asking for an apology. The simplest way I can explain this to you is that we’re asking you to recognize that everything that happens in your life is influenced by what happened in the lives of your parents, your parents’ parents, and your peers’ parents, and their parents’ parents, which means that, historically speaking, the ability to work hard and have that hard work turn into sustainable capital gains that increase your family’s quality of life and educational opportunity is, in and of itself, a privilege.

Advertisements

Latin women often play the role of the seductress, like Roselyn Sanchez in Rush Hour II and Marisa Tomei (an Italian-American actress from Brooklyn) in The Perez Family. The seductive, sexy Latinas entice men. This stereotype often crosses into dangerous territory when high school-aged Latinas are showcased with the same promiscuity, such as Naya Rivera’s Santana Lopez or Francia Raisa’s Adrian Lee. Jack Thomas, a writer for Tu Vez, wrote “When white women are prostitutes, they are usually the “hooker with a heart of gold” like in Pretty Woman. When a Latina is a whore, she’s just a slut.” The “La Virgen y La Puta” stereotype is especially idiotic when Hollywood tries to convince its viewers that Latinas happen to be both fiery and uncontrollable while also fitting to be a nanny or maid.

In the second trope we’ll examine, the “La Virgen/the Virgin,” the poor little Latina is trapped in the submissive role of a housekeeper or nanny and is usually rescued by a kind-hearted white man. For an example, look at Jennifer Lopez in Maid in Manhattan or Maria from America’s favorite musical West Side Story. Maria is the innocent yet submissive Puerto Rican girl who is swept off her feet by a charming white man. The story writes itself. Yet, with regards to the “La Puta/the Whore” part of the paradox, do a quick Google search of the words “Latin woman” and you’ll find yourself amidst hundreds of links taking you to kinky, exotic porn or dating sites to find the perfectly enticing Latin woman for you.

Currently Hollywood only has two roles for Latinas: the slut and the maid.

–Alicia Perez, Latina Women On Screen: A Realistic Portrayal?

(via Reclaiming the Latina tag)

Dominican identity is like sancocho, a flavorful stew comprised of tubers, vegetables, spices, and meats. Sancocho is one of the national dishes of the Dominican Republic and has been able to bring the most dysfunctional of families together to embrace a food created out of need during the country’s enslaved past. Most Dominican families, including my own, showcase the spectrum that is Dominican identity with the variation of skin tones, hair textures, eye colors, and facial features – all while sharing the same parents. This adds to the sancocho because no matter what you add or how you mix it, the overall taste remains the same. It is only when you take bites of individual pieces that a completely different experience is created.

The label AfroDominicana operates like the sancocho because it works as an adhesive, bringing different ancestries together. It binds and accounts for the variation in identities that encompass the Dominican Republic. To be AfroDominican is not to discredit the mixture, but to bring all of the ancestries together while giving credit to the ancestry that dominates phenotypically. In the Dominican Republic and in the United States, Dominicans who have accepted this label have received a great deal of backlash, ranging from ridicule to violence.

–Dianna Tejada, What It Means to Be AfroDominican

(via the dopest ethiopienne)

Let me be clear. Anti-Asian racism is real and life threatening. White supremacy has never fully accepted the presence of Asians in America. The history of exclusion and internment, the objectification and trafficking of Asian women, and current experiences of post-9/11 policing and hate crimes by Muslim, Arab, and South Asian Americans, have proven this. Moreover, the structures of poverty and criminalization, while designed to exploit and diminish the lives of black people, affect us. Incarceration and deportation remove loved ones from our communities, and racial discrimination traps Asian Americans in low-wage jobs and unemployment.

The point isn’t that Asian Americans don’t experience racism, or that it’s somehow less important, or that there isn’t resistance. It’s that Asian American race politics are contested, and blackness is at the crux of the question. And Asian American anti-black racism holds special political potency.

–Soya Jung, On Asian American Privilege

(via the dopest ethiopienne)

As a sociologist, I think it is best to turn to the evidence: Do Asians face discrimination? The labor market is one of the best places to take this question because this is where many people believe Asians have reached parity with white Americans.

Asian Americans have among the highest earnings in the United States. In 2013, Asians’ median weekly earnings were $973, as compared to $799 for whites, $634 for blacks, and $572 for Latinos. It seems as if Asians do not experience discrimination. However, these aggregate numbers hide many disparities.

First of all, Asian men earned, on average, 40 percent more than Asian women. The gender gap between Asian men and women is the highest of any racial group. Secondly, these numbers hide the diversity within the Asian community: the 2000 U.S. Census reports Hmong women had an average weekly earnings of just $389 per week – putting them far below average. Whereas Chinese and Indian men earn more on average than white men, the opposite is true for Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Hmong men. In sum, some Asians earn more than whites, yet this is the case for only some nationalities – those that have, on average, higher levels of education.

Chinese and Indian Americans have higher educational attainment than their white male counterparts. This helps explain some of the earnings disparities.

Studies that take into account educational achievements find that Asian men earn less than their white male counterparts. Sociologists ChangHwan Kim and Arthur Sakamoto found that if you compare white men to Asian men with similar characteristics, the white men often earn more. In other words, if an Asian American man and a white man both live in New York, both went to selective universities, and both studied engineering, we could expect that the Asian American man would earn, on average, 8 percent less than the white man.

The fact that Asian Americans do not earn as much as white men with the same qualifications points to the fact that Asian Americans face labor market discrimination. In other words, there is a real monetary cost to being Asian American. Over the course of one’s career, this disparity can amount to significant amounts of money.

Labor market discrimination against Asians is not unique to the United States. A study conducted in Australia also uncovered labor market discrimination against Asians. Alison Booth and her colleagues conducted an audit study where they sent 4,000 fictitious job applications out for entry-level jobs, where they varied only the last name of the applicant – thereby signaling ethnicity.

The results were that the average callback rate for Anglo-Saxons was 35 percent. Applications with an Italian-sounding name received responses 32 percent of the time – with only a small statistically significant difference. The differences were starker for the other groups: indigenous applicants obtained an interview 26 percent of the time, Chinese applicants 21 percent of the time, and Middle Easterners 22 percent of the time. According to these findings, Anglo-Saxons would have to submit three job applications to have a decent shot at getting a callback whereas Chinese applicants can expect to submit five.

“Hashtag Sparks Discussion About Asian American Discrimination”Racism Review, 12/17/13

(via Racialicious)

I’m struggling as a woman. I’m struggling as a Puerto Rican woman. I’m struggling as a Muslim Puerto Rican woman. I’m struggling with Hispanic people not accepting me. I’m struggling with men not accepting me. I’m struggling with Muslims not accepting me. I look in the mirror and I see a person who is tired. I see a person who could do better. I see a fighter. I see the aftermath of a survivor surviving.

–Valo Torres

(via Queering the Game of Life)

But it is this current trend in producing colorful ethnicity for the white consumer appetite that it makes it possible for blackness to be commodified in unprecedented ways, and for whites to appropriate black culture without interrogating whiteness of showing concern for the displeasure of blacks. Just as white cultural imperialism informed and affirmed the adventurous journeys of colonizing whites into the countries and cultures of “dark others,” it allows white audiences to applaud representations of black culture, if they are satisfied with the images and habits of being represented.

–bell hooks, Is Paris Burning?

(via Queering the Game of Life)

I visited Borders Books three or four years ago. I went to buy a book of poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, an African American poet. When I couldn’t find it in the poetry section, I went to the help desk and was told that it was in the African American section, five or sex shelves near the front of the store on which all types of literature by Black people had been placed. In another part of the store, in a similar setup, was the Gay and Lesbian section—literature of all kinds written by gay and lesbian folks. (I forgot to check to see where they had shelved James Baldwin, who was both Black and gay.)

[…]First, I realized that my sister, for example, was unlikely to encounter anything written by someone gay or African American unless she purposefully searched for those shelves, so her learning was curtailed by Borders’s marketing approach. Second, by organizing books in this way, I think the store was assuming that a reader would want something specifically by a Black author, as opposed to just reading a good novel that happened to be written by an African American.

Third…the rest of the literature section was not labeled “straight white fiction.” Seriously. So a customer could go to the literature section and look through all the books, never aware that all she or he was seeing was fiction by white authors. The pernicious privilege is: simply don’t include the Other, and then act as though the picture is complete. In a sick way, it is brilliant.

–Frances E. Kendall, Understanding White Privilege

(via The Sexual Intellectual)

This is a Thing About Which I Have Complicated Feelings. I actually got into a major fight with my roommates sophomore year after a trip to Barnes and Noble made me angry because they don’t have their shelves set up like this. I grew up with 2 Borders Books in my hometown, so basically all of my bookstore experience was confined to a setup like this…and as a person who regularly sought out works by Black people and LGBT people, I really appreciated it. I relished in being able to walk over to the “African-American” section, not looking for a specific thing by a specific author, but browsing titles by authors I’d never heard of and easily find something that appealed to me. I was actively working to expand my African-American cultural/vernacular knowledge, and having separated out sections like this made that quite easy.

I went to Barnes and Noble near Princeton for the first time and wandered around for 15 minutes trying to find the African-American section, and couldn’t. I finally asked an employee and she explained that African-American fiction was just in the fiction section, African-American biographies were just in the biographies section, etc. She asked if I was looking for something specific and I said no, because I wasn’t. I wanted something to reach out to me the way it used to when I wandered over the the Af-Am section in a Borders…this being mixed in with everything else thing was too overwhelming for an approach like that. I wound up leaving the store without buying anything.

But at the same time, I totally understand that folks who aren’t actively seeking out books by POC or LGBT folks would just skip right on past these sections if they were separated out in bookstores, which is also bad. But I kind of wish we could have both and. Like, couldn’t there be a specific section AND have books by authors of whatever minority group mixed in with the general population of books? It doesn’t make sense to me to make the people who are looking for those sub-sections work extra hard because maybe some little white girl somewhere might pick up an Alice Walker book by accident if it’s in general fiction. Iono.

I am not African. Africa is in me, but I cannot return.
I am not Taina. Taino is in me, but there is no way back.
I am not European. Europe lives in me, but I have no home there.
I am new. History made me. My first language was Spanglish.
I was born at the crossroads and I am whole.

–Aurora Levins Morales

(via knowledge is black power)

To be an Arab-American in the women’s movement is to be an inferior “Other.” The notion did not originate from within the movement, but it certainly does permeate the movement. It manifests itself in a variety of ways, not the least of which is the fact that the suffering of Arab women, somehow, does not seem worthy of your attention. “What do you mean?” you object. “The women’s movement has dedicated a substantial amount of energy discussing issues like ‘the veil’ and ‘clitoridectomy’.” But that is precisely the point. The white middle-class women’s movement has bestowed upon itself the right to tell us Arab and Arab-American women what are the most serious issues for us—over our own objections.

Azizah Y. al-Hibri, 1983

(via QueerIntersectional)