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White progress

December 5, 2014

It’s pretty hard to find solace in the Eric Garner situation, but since I have been thinking almost exclusively about this stuff, and since by nature I don’t like to be consistently hopeless (it’s too exhausting), I have come up with some positive thinking around it.

Namely, basically what Chris Rock has been saying: it’s exposing white progress, and it’s been a long time coming. The number of Facebook friends I have, who are very comfortably upper middle class and white, and who are outspoken, ashamed, and disgraced by the Eric Garner decision is meaningful. The protests are widespread and are multiracial. It is not a black person’s problem anymore.

In my Occupy group, which meets weekly on Sunday afternoons, we’ve been talking a lot about white privilege, and whether that phrase is appropriate, and whether we can come up with a better one. Because for the most part, “white privilege” really refers to the rights white people have, which everyone should have, but which not everyone has.

For example, it is my white privilege not to worry about my three sons getting shot by the police. But that’s not a privilege, it’s a right. I’m entitled to that security. Everyone is, but not everyone gets to have it. Maybe we should call it “white entitlement.”

[There’s a problem with that name too, of course, which is that the Republicans stole the word “entitlement” away from us and made it a dirty word. So, Social Security is an “entitlement”, for example, which we should maybe be ashamed of. But not really, since we pay for it. So we should take that word back anyway, so let’s just kill two birds with one stone.]

But every now and then “privilege” is exactly appropriate, and no better examples exist than what we are now seeing on Twitter under the hashtag #crimingwhilewhite, which was also covered in the Times. Examples:

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 7.41.26 AM

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 7.42.18 AM

So yeah, white progress. I’m looking for a way to be proud to live in this country, and white progress might be the way I can do it.

Categories: #OWS, white privilege
  1. December 5, 2014 at 8:26 am

    I’m not as optimistic about the progress as you are. Following the November election many of my friends who identify themselves as progressives shared a version of this picture:

    Having spent years fuming about the treatment of Wall St following the crisis, I found it distressing how many white (self identified) progressives pointed to the performance of the stock market to say that things are going well.

    I’m sure that there stock market levels are of no concern to the people protesting these grand jury decisions. But the Daily Kos pic from above makes me feel that if you are an upper middle class white person – “good times” and “good stock market” are pretty close to the same thing.


    • December 5, 2014 at 11:27 am

      Maybe they were Grubered. Hard for some to understand that the Unemployment number really means people receiving weekly benefits, and not people who cannot get jobs or people taking multiple part-time minimum wage jobs whereas they were previously employed full time in good jobs.


      • Michael L
        December 5, 2014 at 12:10 pm

        If you’re saying that unemployment is measured by the number of people receiving unemployment benefits, that’s not correct. The reason is that a lot of unemployed people don’t meet the eligibility requirements for receiving unemployment benefits. Unemployment is measured based on responses to a population survey but you’re right that there are problems related to how not being able to get a job is determined, how part-time employment is treated, etc. The “gory” details are here:



        • December 5, 2014 at 12:36 pm

          Thank you. I love learning new things and having my misperceptions corrected.


    • Auros
      December 8, 2014 at 11:31 pm

      I agree those are mostly silly numbers to look at, but if you don’t think the economy has been picking up, I’m not sure what evidence would convince you. The net job creation numbers have been fantastic the last few months.

      There are other issues — the new jobs tend to be crappier (lower paid, worse benefits, less control over schedule) than the jobs that were destroyed in the recession. But still, more people employed is better than less people employed, other things being equal, and our economic policy makers are effectively trying to work while being nibbled to death by ducks. (And I’m sure the new Congress will do everything in its power to steer the economy back into a ditch, in the interest of blaming Obama when they run for president in 2016.)


      • December 9, 2014 at 8:08 am

        I’m old enough to remember Reagan overcoming a difficult Congress. That’s what leadership is all about. The question is whether Obama will display that kind of leadership in the next two years. It’s never too late.


        • Auros
          December 12, 2014 at 2:46 am

          Reagan wasn’t facing a Congress that was committed to his personal destruction. There was no equivalent in the ’80s to McConnell’s dedication to ensuring the president’s failure, even at the expense of hurting the economy or American citizens. If the current Congress was still populated with people like Bob Dole, or Pete McCloskey (who’s something of a folk hero to folks in SF Bay Area political circles who miss having sane elected Republicans to talk to), things would be different.

          But we’ve got a party of Jacobins, loudly saying that they don’t accept the legitimacy of the existing order and want to tear it down. All the while, the pundits and business elites keep assuming they don’t really mean it, and won’t really implement their most extreme policies if they win the presidency and retain the Congress in 2016. One can only hope we don’t test that proposition.


        • December 12, 2014 at 8:57 am

          Actually Reagan was facing an unfriendly Democratic congress just like Obama was/is, but Reagan had the leadership skills to reach out to Tip O’Neill.

          As for the anti-Semitic “folk hero” McCloskey, boy was I happy when Pete Wilson beat him out for the Senate.


        • Auros
          December 14, 2014 at 3:12 pm

          Tip O’Neill’s Dems were not remotely equivalent to the Tea Party, and if you think they are, you’re basically just proving yourself to be unqualified to discuss politics. There are plenty of quantiative metrics on political polarization (such as the DWNominate analysis, or measures of how often people vote with the majority of their party, or frequency of anti-majoritarian blocking actions), and there’s just common sense. (Dixiecrats / Reagan Democrats still existed back then, as did Rockefeller Republicans. Now, they don’t.)

          McCloskey was only anti-Semitic if you believe that any criticism of the policies of the Israeli government or support for the human rights of Palestinians makes you anti-Semitic. In which case, something close to half of Israeli Jews are anti-Semitic. My cousin is a rabbi, who spent years in Jersusalem and married a patriotic Israeli citizen. But I suppose they’re anti-Semitic, for not always agreeing with Bibi?


        • December 14, 2014 at 8:16 pm

          It is very hard to argue with someone who prefaces his opinion with “you are unqualified to discuss politics.” So normally I would leave it at that, but in this case I see that your ignorance precedes you. When Pete Wilson beat McCloskey, it was way before Bibi became PM and even before Bibi was the Israeli ambassador to the UN. So your remarks about McCloskey and Bibi are way off mark and highlight your inability to separate fact from fiction. No, it was your hero McCloskey’s reference to the “so-called Holocaust,” and I seriously doubt that your cousin or “close to half of Israeli Jews” share that sentiment. Please do a better job of reading history before making such comments or calling someone more educated than you “unqualified.”


        • Auros
          December 14, 2014 at 3:19 pm

          Let’s also not forget that Reagan was way to the left of today’s Republicans, to the point that he couldn’t possibly win the GOP primary today — he violated something like 8 of the 10 bullet points on the GOP’s “promise to America” in their 2012 platform. Quite a few Republicans have even acknowledged this — at various times, Bob Dole, Jeb Bush, and even Mike freaking Hucakabee have commented on it.

          I am by no means a Reagan fan, but I’d LOVE it if the GOP were actually still the Party of Reagan, rather than the party of wild-eyed conspiratorial rejection of basic facts.


        • December 14, 2014 at 8:20 pm

          FWIW, I am a Daniel Patrick Moynihan Democrat; a Henry “Scoop” Jackson Democrat. Despite the Democratic Party’s tilt to the left, and the lack of true centrist Democrats, I am still a registered Democrat.


        • Auros
          December 15, 2014 at 1:37 pm

          So, I’m going to concede that a couple of my comments were unnecessarily nasty.

          I’ve researched your quote, and it is not clear to me that the “so-called Holocaust” line can be verified as ever actually having been spoken, as opposed to being attributed to him after the fact. I do agree it’s at least mildly disturbing that McCloskey went to speak to the IHR, since I think that they’re an irredeemable hate group. But to the extent that he was actually challenging their views, it’s not all that different from science educators going and speaking on issues of human biology to groups that hold anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-racial-minority positions.

          You can find, in the Internet Archive, this public letter, in which McCloskey quite explicitly says he knows the camps were real and that atrocities were committed. I also would say that I have never heard of anything in his actual record, either in office or after, that makes me believe he’s ever had any interest in harming the civil rights of Jews, or the security and safety of Israel. His substantive position and arguments, which drew the ire of AIPAC and other even-more-extreme organizations, are not all that different from those of Israelites who see the Palestinians as human beings and neighbors rather than implacable enemies, and want a two-state solution that gives the Palestinians a viable homeland.

          I’d also say that regardless of anything else, the guy is a product of his time, and that on balance he has an excellent record. The Kennedys, and LBJ, all seem to have had some anti-Semitic and racist biases, but still generally were good on policy. Nixon was RABIDLY anti-semitic, and nuts, but still did some good things. I’d be delighted to see anyone in the GOP claiming Nixon’s accomplishments on environmental policy as part of their legacy, and looking to put some “conservation” back in “conservatism”. Nixon also was an early advocate for the kind of managed private care model that we’re now finally implementing; it’s a shame Ted Kennedy didn’t work with him back in the ’70s to just do it then, and a bigger shame that there doesn’t seem to be a single Republican in Congress today who wants to coöperate with the Dems on making course corrections or fixing drafting errors in the ACA.

          I still think your impression that the Democrats have “tilted to the left” is unsupportable, with perhaps the exception of civil rights for gays (though the victories on that issue are rotted in Andrew Sullivan’s conservative argument). Obama’s policies are those of an Eisenhower Republican. The great liberal accomplishment of this century is a health plan that literally originated at the Heritage Foundation. There are a handful of radical House Dems, such as Kucinich or Berkeley’s Barbara Lee; they have no power whatsoever. Bernie Sanders is a European-style advocate of Democratic Socialism. Even in a Dem-dominated state like California, the power structure can barely be thought of as liberal — certainly it’s far to the right of where a liberal from the ’60s of any stripe (labor, civil rights, green) would’ve expected, if they heard the liberal party had a supermajority.


        • December 16, 2014 at 4:49 pm

          Youth has its advantages. So does age. Your knowledge is derived from the books you’ve read, Mine is derived from books AND experience. You’ve seen JFK in pictures and perhaps in movies. I’ve seen him live on TV and also in person. Same with Ronald Reagan. I have been fortunate to have caught a glimpse of both during their respective campaigns (one in NY and the other in California) and relate to them both as “current events” and as history. You are of course entitled to your perspective. I will not engage you on your tangential debate about Israel, but it does say more about you than about McCloskey or Israel. I do appreciate your reference to Israelites, you know those pesky Hebrews from Old Testament days. Their descendants who live in modern Israel are referred to as Israelis.

          I understand why Bill Cosby’s wife defends him despite all the mounting evidence. But why would you mimic an ostrich in trying to defend McCloskey, the Holocaust denier? Why is it so personal to you?


        • December 16, 2014 at 5:11 pm

          I am pretty sure you guys would like each other if you met IRL.


  2. Brad Davis
    December 5, 2014 at 10:14 am

    I’m not optimistic either. Instead of upper middle class white people being ashamed / outspoken / disgraced on Facebook, they should go out, join the protests and ‘die in’s supporting the black community. Until that happens, it’s all window dressing. If a smallish number of well educated, connected, upper middle class white folks went out and joined these protests it would get a lot more attention and traction.

    I’m not saying it’s right, or that I agree with it, but it’s a case of #otherPeoplesProblems and #whiteFolksDontCare.


  3. December 5, 2014 at 11:23 am

    As a mathematician you should be wary of generalizing from outliers. I can assure you that my “white” daughter got a ticket and paid a fine for an outdated inspection sticker. Maybe some day I’ll get some “white privilege.” Really looking forward to it.


  4. December 5, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Much like LBGT issues and gay marriage, there seems to be a lot of generational progress on race issues. Which makes sense – People like Giuliani and Peter King aren’t trying to appeal to people under 25 – they’re targeting people who still talk about how bad things were – before anyone under 25 was born: Ending stop & frisk will bring back the bad old days, Al Sharpton’s involvement with Tawana Brawley, David Dinkins, race riots, etc. Their main pitch is fear, and there are a lot of scared, older (mostly suburban?) white people the message appeals to. But my anecdotal observations are that these fear tactics don’t have the same resonance with younger people.


    • December 5, 2014 at 11:56 am

      Which is the same reason that soldiers are conscripted at 18 rather than 48. The 18 year olds have no fear (BTDT) so the message of their elders does not resonate.


  5. cat
    December 5, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    If you contrast #CrimingWhileWhite with #AliveWhileBlack you’ll see #CrimingWhileWhite veers into #humblebrags more then actually being that helpful to the conversation or bringing the unengaged into the conversation IMO.


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