Invisible Privilege

Just in time to piss all over Black History Month, right-wing nutbag and unjust Justice Antonin Scalia has characterized the Voting Rights Act as a “perpetuation of racial entitlement”.  Of course, normal people know that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 sought protections from impediments to voting that resulted in the disenfranchisement of black voters througout much of the country.  By characterizing the right to vote as a “racial entitlement”, Scalia denigrates the legacy of martyrs to the cause of civil rights such as James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.  By characterizing the right to vote as an entitlement, Scalia denigrates the legacy of all of those who fought for the expansion of suffrage.  Here is the text of Scalia’s jaw-dropping statement:

Well, maybe it was making that judgment, Mr. Verrilli. But that’s — that’s a problem that I have. This Court doesn’t like to get involved in — in racial questions such as this one. It’s something that can be left — left to Congress.

The problem here, however, is suggested by the comment I made earlier, that the initial enactment of this legislation in a — in a time when the need for it was so much more abundantly clear was — in the Senate, there — it was double-digits against it. And that was only a 5-year term.

Then, it is reenacted 5 years later, again for a 5-year term. Double-digits against it in the Senate. Then it was reenacted for 7 years. Single digits against it. Then enacted for 25 years, 8 Senate votes against it. And this last enactment, not a single vote in the Senate against it. And the House is pretty much the same. Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.

I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act. And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless — unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution. You have to show, when you are treating different States differently, that there’s a good reason for it.

That’s the — that’s the concern that those of us who — who have some questions about this statute have. It’s — it’s a concern that this is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress. There are certain districts in the House that are black districts by law just about now. And even the Virginia Senators, they have no interest in voting against this. The State government is not their government, and they are going to lose — they are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act.

Even the name of it is wonderful: The Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?


The problem with straight white male male privilege is that it is invisible to its beneficiaries.  Straight white males tend to think of themselves as the “default setting” for humanity.  Because they are largely free from discrimination (it has to be noted that most attacks on white male privilege are conducted by white males from a higher socioeconomic stratum), straight white males often believe that members of minority groups are similarly unaffected by discrimination, which leads the straight white males to view any protections extended to minority groups as “perpetuation of racial entitlement”. 

Tragically, straight white males don’t view minorities in a correct light- minorities serve as the “canaries in the coal mine”- attacks on minorities often presage attacks on other groups.  For instance, the predatory lending practices which largely affected minority lenders soon spiraled out of control and affected white homeowners living in exurban areas.  Similarly, poor treatment of minority employees in the workplace presaged wage stagnation and job insecurity for the majority of Americans.  Sadly, Mr Whitefolks didn’t look at what was going down in black households and see the threat: “Coming to a theater near you.”

A white, male middle class individual may look at Scalia’s characterization of the Voting Rights Act and think, “What’s the big deal?”  After all, nobody’s thinking of disenfranchising white male voters.  Women know better- more than one conservative has verbally attacked women’s suffrage.  While straight white guys don’t see any threats to their franchise, such threats are not inconceivable- after all, the current political climate is one in which proposed legislation could give corporations the right to vote, and the average white male clockpuncher would not fare too well if his corporate paymasters really had their way.

Of course, the real solution to the issue of voting rights would be to make voting a constitutional right, and to explicitly extend the right to all citizens over the age of eighteen, to expand the scope of the Voting Rights Act rather than to drop it.

Scalia being a corporatist (and arguably a fascist, just like his old man), it is not inconceivable that, not being content with attacking the franchise of minorities, Scalia would attack the franchise of the average white working class schmo.  White guys, open your eyes and see that you enjoy a privilege that other groups do not.  Failure to recognize this, and failure to defend the minorities you believe are getting “racial entitlements” could lead to you losing your current privileges.  Those black people in Alabama aren’t leeches sucking to lifeblood out of the Republic, they’re canaries keeling over- ignore them at your peril!

Cross-posted at my eponymous blog.

Posted by Big Bad Bald Bastard on 02/28/13 at 02:32 PM • Permalink

Categories: PoliticsNutters

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The entirety of that quote is even more horrifying and shocking than the brief excerpt I read before. He as much as admits that the “real” voters of Virginia, and/or their white representatives in the Senate, are afraid of black voters and would prefer to disenfranchise them except for, you know, the fact that its politically unpopular. So his conclusion is, somehow, that the court should step in and do it for them and take the burden of fucking over minorities off the shoulders of the Senate?

We saw exactly the scenario you outlined play out in Florida last election day. In an attempt to curtail the minority vote, the Florida governor and GOP super-majority legislature cut early voting nearly in half, which resulted in lines as long as seven hours. An awful lot of white folks gave up in disgust and went home too, effectively disenfranchised.

and the average white male clockpuncher would not fare too well if his corporate paymasters really had their way.

This is a brilliant observation and key to the whole mindset.  “White male clockpunchers” feel safe because they believe they are part of the club and valued by their overlords.  Everyone of us is a heartbeat away from being marginalized in some way or other.  Hence the hysteria caused by Latino ascendancy . . .

The only cure for all of this stress is humanity . . . equality

Does anyone know any white male clockpunchers (or cockpunchers) who feel safe anymore? Because I don’t think they exist. The Fox news viewer is either retired or hysterical with fear that he will lose his job/benefits.  I am “securely” in the upper middle class and I am pretty sure that Mr. Aimai and I are just a few paychecks from disaster. Unless you are in the top one percent and living off of rents (and even then) you are at the mercy of the ownership class. I remember about 15 years ago there was a boom/crack noise when one of the country’s biggest lawfirms dissolved itself and reformed itself in order to get rid of the “dead wood” of some of partners. People were astonished—what had been an upper class sinecure was dissapeared in the blink of an eye.

When people vote for these white racist upper class bootlickers its not because they identify with them—its because they fear the rising tide of the poor dragging them down. They are praying for someone to tell them that at least the color line will be reinsitituted and they will find themselves on the right side of their unearned privilige—just the same for being straight or being christian. Its just what happens when you have no security and identity politics as warfare looks like one way out.

@aimai you make very good points but I still think that it’s a matter of degree—“being a few paychecks from disaster means what?”  having to cut back? losing the second car? losing the house?

I just can’t buy a “lack of security” as a rationalization for institutionalized racism.  Okay, maybe the American Dream over-promised, but hell, it’s not disastrous to be living better than 9/10s of the world’s population—it’s a matter of perception, expectation.

I am not arguing that lack of security rationalizes institutionalized racism—as in “makes it the rational choice of white clockpunchers.” But I really think historically that racism rises precisely when anxiety, especially class anxiety, rises.  Its one reason the white supremacists down south always had to work so hard to keep unions out—and to keep whites and blacks from making common cause.

At any rate I don’t agree that middle class whites “side with” their corporate masters because they feel securely part of that world. A) I don’t think any middle aged white male feels secure, or has for a very long time. B) I don’t think the corporate masters are particularly racist—they prefer cheap labor whatever the color and, in fact, have both outsourced jobs and brought in foreign/non white labor that has substantially eroded the class position of educated white males.

To the extent that white males (and females) remain wedded to either institutional racism or ingrained ignorance of the institutional racism that is a constituent part of American society I think they are 1) highly anxious 2) extremely in denial about the real role racism plays and has always played in preventing the working and lower classes from rebelling against privilige.**

As for my point about being only a “few paychecks” away from disaster—my point wasn’t that my potential disaster was anything like as bad as real people’s regular lives/third world despair. But it is more to say that anxiety is free floating in this society but also perfectly rational. We are the first American Generation to do less well than our parents and we look to the fate of our children and see them doing less well than we have done. That’s true almost across the board for the middle class and everyone lower. That’s depressing and anxiety inducing—whether you take it out in racism or you take it out in maalox.

@aimai Your reply is characteristically intelligent, rational and very honestly touches my heart.  I suspect that you are of my son’s generation, or thereabouts, because I hear some of these same concerns coming from him.

I was glib about “white clockpunchers siding with their masters” because that is closer to my personal experience—my generation of white clockpunchers were famously sycophants which is all the more disgusting given our little rebellions of the 60s.  We glimpsed life on the outside of the American Dream, then ran for shelter and sucked up with a vengeance.

You’re probably too young to remember when AT&T was broken up.  That was my generation’s first clue that American business had sold the American Dream because it served their purpose, at the time—and the “good times” were over.

The important thing that I learned, then, was to dream my own dream and set my own standards. 

You said:

We are the first American Generation to do less well than our parents and we look to the fate of our children and see them doing less well than we have done. That’s true almost across the board for the middle class and everyone lower. That’s depressing and anxiety inducing . . .

and my point is, it doesn’t have to be that way.  There is so much more to life than measuring up to some imaginary yardstick for achievement and happiness. 

It could very well be that, some day in the future, you will look back on this period of “free-floating anxiety” and realize that it was the liberating moment when the shredded “American Dream” was exposed for the fraud that it always has been, allowing you and your children to move on to something real and far more fulfilling than any shiny objects the American Dream would have coughed up.

Please forgive me if this sounds preachy, I have found that it is nearly impossible to share insight across the generation gap.  We seem to be designed that way. But know that I truly do care and would love to share some of the realizations that have delivered me from a place of “free-floating anxiety.”

Love your life, love your children and give them something more than a tired out marketing ploy to keep them in line.  It’s pretty clear that you have what it takes to do that.

You know, what Bette is describing here is what I think actually exists in Canada, at least amongst the Canucks I am friends with.  It is a lot easier to go with the flow and not worry about the achievement/Jones yardstick when your job isn’t your only (and tenuous) link to healthcare/health insurance. 

One of my Canadian buddies is an MD with a speciality; he even practiced in the US before we went back home (hated the for-profit aspect here).  In the US, he made more money.  In Canada, every 5 years he gets a 6 month sabbatical; he finds this to be much more valuable to him than a higher salary. My other buddies up north range from high level corporate types to full-time ski guides; none of them display the “I-could-lose-everything-by-getting-sick” fear that seems woven into our culture now. 

How that is expressed within a culture is obvious and palpable; Canadians don’t have to worry if, say, they decided to start a company (one friend did exactly this) that they won’t be able to afford health insurance for themselves and their employees.  One of my US budies just shut down his engineering firm because (1) no infrastructure spending, and (2) he could no longer afford to maintain the health insurance policy for himself and the 4 remaining employees; as a strong liberal, the whole thing was heart-rending for him.

@SoaS: LOL, during the ACA fight, while the usual suspects were all screaming “ARGLE BACKDOOR FOR SINGLE PAYER!” I kept thinking to myself, man, I wish we really were that sneaky.

I’m not suffering from free floating anxiety, Bette, its more a polite way of identifying something that I think is real and exists in American society and is a motivating force for the incohate rages and griefs of the 27per centers. I agree that our positions on whether these “white clockpunchers” exist and who they are is probably very much determined by our generational cohort. As I said—I think the kinds of people you are describing are quite likely to be retired. I’m heading into my mid fifties. The adults I know, working or not, in that generation are not secure and don’t identify with corporate hierarchy, corporate interests, or business interests at all—they (and the 40-30 year olds below us) are a generation that saw lifetime employment end, that saw the erosion or the theft of their parent’s pensions, etc..etc..etc…

This is true, I think, whether you are looking at the right or the left side of the spectrum: no one feels secure. To the extent that right wingers talk about the dangers of the underclass and the welfare queens and the young bucks I also think that the valence of their whining has shifted from a perspective of considering themselves in the overclass (securely) to believing that the end times have come and the “bottom rail is on the top” and nothing can really be done about it. At this point I really think they are simply fighting a rearguard spite action where they are satisfied to imagine that their representatives (tea party members in congress) can inflict some damage on the enemy. They don’t even really think that the world can be brought back from the brink. If they did think that they might be amenable to compromise and they hate compromise.

Kay over at Balloon Juice today had a fascinating comment below the line about the tea partiers who she has spoken to and how they see/understand the idea of legislation and passing legislation. They really have a very truncated, literalist view of the political realm in which the House “passes” legislation and then the Senate and the President must accept it or block it. There are no negotiations and there is nothing between winning and capitulation and they didn’t come to the hill to capitulate. So they wear the ineptness of their reps as a badge of honor. They “passed” their legislation and the Senate and the PResident didn’t “pass” theirs.

What I’m trying to say in that lengthy diversion is that I don’t even think we can fully comprehend the sources and meaning of the anguish on the white right because they speak a different language and they see a different world. But its a dark one, for sure. And the darker it gets the more they feel that anything goes.

What I’m trying to say in that lengthy diversion is that I don’t even think we can fully comprehend the sources and meaning of the anguish on the white right because they speak a different language and they see a different world. But its a dark one, for sure. And the darker it gets the more they feel that anything goes.

Amen to that, @aimai and thanks for taking the time to really explain your position.  In our brave, new 140-character world real striving for understanding is rare.  You’ve opened my eyes to some subtleties that are out there, that I need to explore and understand better.  Thanks for that.

This is what makes this blog the best - small enough to feel like home, friendly enough to have an actual discussion, and open enough to gain some new insights from the comments of others.

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