(Denial has many forms and reserves the right to reverse its course. Charles Blow wrote openly about white privilege, after Bill O’Reilly discussed it on his show. I respond with a 1837 conversation between two women rights leaders who observed a still and often used attitude that maintains its privilege as a form of doing good. /wr)
Catherine Beecher (Harriet Beecher Stowe’s sister) wrote to Angelina Grimke to say support for abolition shouldn’t leave people feeling they had done something magnanimous; instead, support should identify with the suffering and painful limits that others faced. She did not want to “cheat the sinner out of his sin” by disguising it as a virtue.
The privilege is far more than material advantage. It is a way of thinking that all things are “given”–freedom, opportunity, even faith and work habits–to one group to another, while denying the psychological and social barriers erected.
The theologian Howard Thurman says the Negro whites know often only exists in their minds. That mental image shifts and changes to protect the balance of power; it is interesting O’Reilly makes the Asian argument while ignoring evidence closer to home: the seven Fortune 500 companies now headed by African-Americans including Xerox, McDonald’s. Merck, and American Express. Republicans are adept at this shift, eliminating the institutional record while claiming to support color-blind opportunity.
They are, in fact, blind to color: they don’t see its success within their own party! Robert Smalls not Strom Thurmond was the founder of SC’s GOP, as was Hiram Revels in MS (are you listening Haley Barbour?), and the list repeats. Those unwilling to recognize the success of the past are likely to maintain oppression in the present–by saying be more like “them”–the idea hidden in O’Reilly’s denial.