White Privilege, the Dems, and the Rhetoric of “Care”

To read some of the exchanges over the last week in the blogosphere, apparently “white privilege” means that one doesn’t attend to race and class issues at home, but instead privileges “foreign policy” and “national security” issues. This implies that there is privilege in worrying about the bodies and violations to foreign nationals over the bodies of brown and black Americans. Ok, let me grant that assumption for a second.  Still, I wonder why issues such as warrantless wiretapping, surveillance, unlawful (and supposedly “lawful,” warrantless) detention of US Muslim men of South Asian and Middle Eastern backgrounds, the nullification of judicial review, the assassination of not just 1, but multiple, US citizens, the incarceration of U.S. citizens (black and brown), should be deprioritized by American voters. Are these not issues that should be of concern especially to folks who are unencumbered by an excess of “white privilege”?

Still granting the assumption that worrying about foreign issues involves undue privilege: I wonder, after considering some of the policies that the present Administration has supported and backed (from NDAA 2012, Expansion and Renewal of FISA, Expansion of prisons, expansion of DHS deportations of migrants; expansion of detention centers), in which ways have U.S people of color and poor  people benefited under the present Democratic Administration? There may be some, such as college loans forgiveness, and the absence of a concerted attack on reproductive rights. But there are certainly anti-choice Dems, such as Harry Reid, who have managed to stifle somewhat. I would hardly call Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ decision to revoke access to OTC contraception a big win for pro-choice folks.

According to a number of progressive economists, the top 20% has remained pretty unaffected by the present Democratic Administration, and I’m betting that includes some of the folks lobbing around the “white privilege” accusation.  Could it not be the case that one is exemplifying white privilege by deciding that one should be loyal to the Administration and the Democratic Party in the face of a range of demonstrable discriminations against certain kinds of minority populations? In the face of violations to certain kinds of brown and black bodies? Does such a loyalty not imply that those who are in a position to make choices are simply refusing to see the world that they themselves have made, by insisting on a repeated loyalty to the Democratic Party, despite the years of abusive behavior on the part of the Dems? Charles Mills calls this “the epistemology of ignorance,” namely that state of the world in which whites refuse to see the world that they themselves have made.

According to a report by the Pew Research Center, “Median wealth fell by 66% among Hispanic households and by 53% among black households during the financial crisis, compared with a fall of just 16% among white households.”

Presumably, the President so cared about the devastating impact to US populations of color that he was going to support California Attorney General Kamala Harris to get as much from the banks as she could, right? POTUS’ response was to pressure Harris to accept a ridiculous settlement with the 5 BIG BANKS of $25 billion dollars, which cashes out either to $750 or $840—yes, you read that right– per household for families who lost their houses due to subprime mortgages.

Again, according to the Pew report:

“A disproportionate share of Hispanics live in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona, which were in the vanguard of the housing real estate market bubble of the 1990s and early 2000s but that have since been among the states experiencing the steepest declines in housing values.”

Take a look at those quotes again. This is not a “white privilege” issue. It affects U.S. minorities more so than whites. Clearly, the Big Banks must have “cared” about those homeowners, too, right? They must just have been broke, to pay so little. Right. According to today’s Bloomberg, “Even as U.S. unemployment has remained above 8 percent for 43 months, the country’s biggest banks are making almost as much as they ever have.” Namely, a combined $63 billion in profits.  The original rescue was signed by Bush, but what exactly did O require in terms of accountability from the banks? Anyone?

As I mentioned in my last post, the privilege of deciding that the lives of others are easy to sacrifice, the privilege of deciding that certain civil rights are more important than human rights violations will backfire—This is nationalist privilege—American privilege, to be exact. And it has already backfired.  We are seeing the backlash in all kinds of cases—cases like that of Dr. Shakir Hamoodi, Sami Al-Arian, and hundreds of others.

Ultimately, I don’t care who Democrats vote for because I accept the argument that “the structure is broken.”  If it’s broken, voting for the Democrats yet again isn’t going to fix it. Instead, it’s going to amplify the message that Democratic voters have sent for the last 20 years: Please, screw us again. Abandon your constituents for yet another 4 years. And we’ll reward you as you move even further to the right after every term—we’ll send you the message that “we like it, we love it, and we want more of it.” It’s a state-of-emergency politics: It’s an emergency, so we have to vote for the “lesser evil” of 2 states. And the cycle will continue.

If voting for the incumbent accords with your conscience, then by all means do so. If you, like me–despise the Democratic record on wars, drones, murders, assassinations, detention, torture, solitary confinement of foreign nationals without charges (and that includes migrants of various nationalities—since solitary confinement is used more and more widely), but still feel that this vote matters, voting for POTUS is a better option to other options, do what you need to do.

But don’t bake me a dungpie and tell me it’s my birthday. Just tell the truth. Tell the truth about the Democrats’ record on civil liberties issues, on NDAA 2012, on H.R. 347, on S.Comm, on detention policies, on migration policies, on deportation policies. Don’t tell me that the Democrats “care” more, or that “Obama’s heart is in the right place,” or “he would have done more if we didn’t have a GOP-led Congress (um—again, how did that stop the Dems from getting things done in the first two years under Obama?), or that he’s pro-union, or that innocent civilians aren’t getting killed, or that the Affordable Care Act involved actual health care reform, or that Obama’s not interested in cutting Social Security, or that the Dems “care” about civil liberties or human rights violations.

And by the way, how does one know whether Obama or the Dems “care”? Just because they say so? If POTUS is willing to lie about not wanting the U.S. government to be able to kill Americans (thanks, Sen. Carl Levin), then why wouldn’t he lie about whether he “cares” for you, me, or black and brown folk?

Why don’t the same folks who insist that we must vote for the Dems believe that the Republicans “care” just as much? Because of their track record, I hear. Ok, that’s my standard for the Democrats, too. For those who insist that POTUS/Dems cares about poor black and brown folks, I’ve explored the track record on “care” all over this site. For some examples, see here and here and here.

A friend whose political insights I respect tremendously suggested that she was voting for the incumbent precisely because there are racists who will vote against him because he’s black. I can respect that.  Others suggest that they’re voting Dem to “prevent GOP access to power.” Okay, I can live with that—but I don’t buy that this will increase the likelihood that poor folks, folks of color in the US and internationally will be less vulnerable to having social safety nets or economic structures decimated by Democrats.

Just do what you need to do, but stop insisting that folks who reject the false dichotomy between the lives of U.S. folks of color, black and brown, and the lives of international folks of color are “conservatives,” or libertarians.

And the day after the election, for those of you who feel like you had to vote for the Democrats as the least crappy option among crappy options, please, let’s start pursuing the viability of a third party. We need to change the conversation, we need to hold the Democrats accountable for abandoning voters, poor folks, black and brown folks—in the US and elsewhere. Only the threat of not being re-elected, of losing “winnable votes” will bring them around.

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7 thoughts on “White Privilege, the Dems, and the Rhetoric of “Care”

  1. “To read some of the exchanges over the last week in the blogosphere, apparently “white privilege” means that one doesn’t attend to race and class issues at home, but instead privileges “foreign policy” and “national security” issues.”

    See I was thinking white privilege means “no onions.” Like when you order a hamburger. Of course I suscribe to the Humpty Dumpty school of linguistics too,

    “‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.
    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘
    ‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.
    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'”

  2. First all I found your blog through a link from Glenn Greenwald. I went back and probably read about 90 per cent of your blog. I did not watch the debate but did follow some progressives on line who at least had the honesty to say that Obama did not do well. I would not expect that from conservatives if Romney had not done well.

    We are kind of left with a lesser of two evils vote here. I think Obama has done some good things. But as you and others like Greenwald have written Obama has been terrible on civil liberties and has followed much of Bush Cheney policies.

    I do disagree with you about trying to start a viable third party. That has never worked. I am not sure how Theodore Roosevelt did but I am guessing that Ross Perot was probably the most successful third party candidate. First off all it is difficult to get on the ballot in all 50 states. Raising money is almost impossible. And third party candidates will not be able to get in on the debates. Thom Hartman mentioned three of the third party candidates and said it would have been great if they would have been on the debate tonight. If anything the public would have gotten a different view point. I think they will be having a debate about the economy. I would like to see some one like Professor Richard Wolf or Paul Krugman moderate that debate. For those of you who just read and don’t reply, Professor Wolf has a radio show on WBAI on Saturday at noon eastern time. You can listen to the show later on his site, or download it from ITunes. The show is called Economic Update. It is very informative.

    • Perhaps it would be more effective to support better candidates in the primaries of the state democratic races.

      When I read the above though there are so many unanswered questions posed and so many issues mentioned (race, ses, US citizenship, civil liberties, banking policy), it is less than clear what “better” is since not everyone is going to agree on all of these and the position of the author is not actually defined.

  3. Tonight I watched the debate with 12000 others – not the same numbers MSNBC or FOX but a start – the point I make is – a choice exists – not a great one but a start. We then have to stand firm and say No to a whole number of things that we suffer today – the word we need to get into currency is “claw-back” – we need to slowly seek more power using popular grass roots movements based around perhaps small local issues and as Gandhi exhibited civil disobedience – all this can only happen if we stop being afraid & worrying about NeoCons and a Romney Court – remember & perhaps keep our fingers crossed that every action has an equal & opposite reaction which if capitalized upon we could perhaps see some change. A start – or the beginnings of a conversation we as a society need to have & I am optimistic “constructive long-term strategies” will come up but suffering endlessly under the “2 right wings” as Gore Vidal called our system throws up no answers at all.

  4. This was the conversation last night – my brother’s number plate is OBAMA 08 – the plate not a bumper sticker and I think he’s going to go back to his “abuser/s” as he feels terrified by Romney. I believe – there comes a time when we should overcome fear as fear feeds on itself – yes I’ll vote but …………..& then this morning Real News posted Chris Hedges repeating my stand

    As regards black & brown folk – I’m afraid no matter who’s in the Captain’s Chair we will not get much improvement – we may have been making progress in our past but we’ve gone back & then some. Sorry ! I hate sounding so negative.

    • Angud, I agree–no improvement between either candidate. But that’s a true statement, which allows us to start thinking about constructive long-term strategies. That’s all I ask.

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