Wednesday, May 12, 2004

It's not who you are, it's what you bring 

Professor Dick Andzenge continues to write compelling monthly columns for the local newspaper. This month's covered both mandatory diversity training and a community meeting organized by a local group called Great River Interfaith Partnership. Along with racial profiling and living wages, the group carried out a discussion of "white privilege". Dick writes:
The doctrine of white privilege is the belief that white people have special advantages by the mere fact that they are white, and that nonwhites, by the mere fact that they are nonwhite, suffer from disadvantages.

This doctrine bothers me because it has the tendency to create the same racism it is supposed to help prevent. By telling struggling white people that their race gives them special advantages they must renounce to relate to nonwhite people, it is sure to cause resentment.

I was at a meeting where the white administrator was told she would only hold the audience if she admitted being a beneficiary of white privilege. When she surrendered, she lost the ability to demand accountability from the audience. Some minorities in her audience claimed the accountability demands she was attempting to impose did not apply to them.

Most white people I know grew up in homes where they were taught that they had to work hard to succeed. All successful minorities I know grew up with the same type of upbringing.

It's this unwillingness to understand the meaning of culture, of what you bring from your ancestry, that maddens Dick and me. As Thomas Sowell explains in this interview from PBS in 1996, it's nobody's fault.
DAVID GERGEN: Right. And what you're saying is, is they shouldn't either blame society or, you know, they shouldn't consider themselves victims.

THOMAS SOWELL: That's right. The whole notion of blaming the victim, and I think is one of the great distracting phrases, because there's not a question of blame. People can't--people were not responsible for where their ancestors developed--geographically, historically, or whatever. But neither is the society responsible. I mean, in the United States, virtually every and perhaps every major beer company in this country was created by people of German ancestry. ... You know, the Germans created the--they were the biggest brewers of beer in Buenos Aires. I've been to a German brewery in Australia. You know, so it's not--it's not the society. It's what the people brought with them. But they brought more than skills because the Chinese and the Japanese often left with no particular skills. They started off as plantation laborers in many parts of the world, including the Western Hemisphere, but they had this tenacity, they also had the saving tendencies, and so, therefore, even when they were on the plantation, they had these what are called starvation wages, they saved out of them. There was a saying in the Philippines that the average Chinese makes $16 a month out of which he saves $18.

Prof. Andzenge continues:
Learning to be accountable for our successes and failures defines our character and guarantees our success. I feel insulted to continue to be told that my race denies me the privileges of success. The doctrine of white privilege is a very damaging doctrine to white and to minority young people.

The delusion that being white is a special privilege creates young people who own to that belief and develop a sense of superiority and bigotry. If they do not develop the sense of superiority, then they might find themselves boxed into a sense of guilt that might damage their self-worth.

Rather than aspiring for success through hard work and the application of values that have produced success and progress in all human societies, the doctrine of white privilege perpetuates a sense of inferiority and a rejection of values that continue to be considered belonging to the despised privileged class.

The best way to address social inequalities and bigotry is to emphasize how much we have in common and the fact that success is not a product of what or who we are but rather of what we do. We must work harder to extend opportunities to each other and the culture of acceptance of those opportunities.