Wednesday, March 2, 2011

False Equivalence of the Week: The Whites-Only College Scholarship

It was bound to happen sooner or later.  We all should have known that in this so-called post-racial age of Obama it was only a matter of time before somebody stepped up to make the argument that White is the new Black.  After all, we have a Black President now.  Clearly, that alone signifies to experts in race relations like Dr. Laura that the dog days of racism are over for Black people.  Not only are they over for Blacks, but they are just getting started for Whites.  Before you know it, there will be "Blacks Only" drinking fountains and "Blacks Only" lunch counters.  And if you believe any of that, I have some land to sell you in Florida.

From the Daily Beast:

Texas State communications and broadcasting major Colby Bohannan, the 28-year-old president of the Former Majority Association for Equality, spent much of Monday conducting press interviews while shuttling between appearances on CNN and Austin’s Fox affiliate. On Tuesday, he’s been booked to appear on MSNBC.
“I’m not claiming that it’s a disadvantage to be a white male; I’m just recognizing that there is a subset of white and male that cannot afford the money for school,” says Bohannan, who describes himself as a twice-deployed Iraq War veteran who was honorably discharged from the Army last year after shattering his elbow during a football game in a combat zone. “We’re trying to help those people better their own lives. We’re not making any political claims. We’re just trying to help people.”
On CNN, Bohannan insisted: “We do not promote any kind of racial bigotry or white supremacy, and we don’t take money from people who do. If you’re part of a white supremacist group… keep your money. We don’t want your money.”
Not surprisingly, such reassuring noises are getting a cold reception from some quarters in the civil-rights community.
“It looks to me like a simple provocation,” says Mark Potok, who monitors hate groups for the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center. “These people have fallen directly into the ever more popular myth of white oppression in America. The reality is that whites, to this day, have enormous privileges in landing scholarships and have real advantages in finding places at good schools.”
Potok says he isn’t impressed by the Former Majority Association for Equality’s avowed benign intentions, pointing out that professional racist David Duke, of the European-American Rights Organization, has used similar anodyne arguments while making a big show of sending money to poor whites in Appalachia. Potok also cited one of Duke’s favorite tracts, racial theorist Wilmot Robertson’s influential and wildly popular 1972 book, The Dispossessed Majority, which argued that the relative population decline of the United States’ white founding stock, compared to rise of non-Caucasians and immigrants, was allowing the nation to fall under the pernicious influence of foreign interests and Jews.

When I hear stories like this one, I'm reminded of a conversation I once had with a co-worker when I was a busboy back in high school.  My fellow co-worker, a young White male college student, came into work one day visibly upset and proceeded to preach to everybody about how unfair it was that minorities got "all" of the financial aid.  I tried to tell him that wasn't true, but he insisted that only minorities get financial aid money, and that White guys such as himself were left out in the cold when it came to funding for college.  He even went so far as to say "I wish I could be a minority so I could get all the scholarship money you guys get."  And I'll never forget the comical, yet poignant, response from the older Black janitor who chimed in at that moment with "OK well let's trade: from now on you get all of the scholarship money, and we get to tell you if you'll be employed or not. Deal?"

The funny thing about privilege is that it often proves difficult, if not imposible, for those in the privileged group to recognize their own privilege.  Men commonly enjoy privileges in the work place that do not exist for women, non-handicapped people enjoy daily privileges walking down the street that handicapped people do not, and yes, even in 2011, Whites enjoy certain privileges in employment and education that, as a whole, Blacks do not.  The linchpin of Mr. Bohannan's argument here is predicated on a common misunderstanding of this fact.

A few years back, a White author by the name of Peggy McIntosh published an extensive list of White privileges that she regularly observed in her own life and in the lives of other fellow Whites.  Among them were a few items that one might easily overlook, such as:

  • I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  • I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  • I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
  • I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
  • I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my race.
  • If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.
  • I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.
  • If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn't a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.
  • I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
  • I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
  • I can chose blemish cover or bandages in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin.
  • I will feel welcomed and "normal" in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.
For some reason, I get the sense that Mr. Bohannan would not agree that any of these things exist.

Nevertheless, let's be clear. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't bother me in the least if you want to give scholarship money to any group of students on any basis that floats your boat. If you want to raise scholarship money for 6 foot female students with green hair and pink nails, knock yourself out.  But understand that when you make things like a "Whites-Only" scholarship, it is not the equivalent of a "Blacks-Only" scholarship because the reality in America, like it or not, is that Blacks are in the minority and Whites are in the majority.  This theme permeates every facet of our lives from the classroom to the board room.  Accordingly, Whites are already in a position of privilege (see list above) that Blacks are, by and large, hoping to reach someday.  Therefore, when I hear about a self-proclaimed downtrodden White college student who feels shut out of opportunities in a society which is 70% comprised of people just like him, I have to admit that it's kind of hard to feel sorry for the guy.

Is there a need for Whites-Only scholarship?
What does this say about the state of race relations in America?
Does White Privilege still exist in 2011?
Is comparing Blacks to Whites an Apples to Apples comparison in America?  If so, then why don't we have a White Entertainment Television channel or a White History Month?
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