White Privilege and the Popularity of Bernie Sanders

10 03 2016

For most people that believe in the policies of Bernie Sanders, I would be willing to argue that many of them understand the unfair nature of white privilege in our society.  Bernie himself touts language of how hard it is for white people to understand the plight of the poor black community.  Although he at times uses terms like “ghetto” to describe impoverished black communities, which is not the appropriate or politically correct word to use to describe such, and can irk this group, his overall point is mostly well taken by African Americans.  For white people appropriately exposed to Bernie, it seems as if it would make sense that his message and defense of the middle and working class would extend to minority communities even more!  Issues like people working full time deserving to earn a livable wage, going after the capitalist structure of what oppresses communities and milks poorer people for all their worth, making college and healthcare free and accessible, getting corporations out of buying politics that govern for the few instead of the many, etc.  How could that message not be received?  And obviously maybe the message plainly is not seen as mainstream media is definitely Democratic establishment (Hillary) favored.  Regardless, it is pretty obvious to a white man as myself what that message means as someone who is suffering from finding livable wage work.  However, so far in this campaign, large populations of black communities in southern states have overwhelmingly voted against Sanders in favor of Clinton.  There is more there and white privilege definitely comes into play for why someone as myself would think this of black voters.

 

In 2009 I moved into a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco’s mission district.  The district was largely a minority community, being Latin, and I was a white man moving into a hip, cool part of town.  The apartment was a mini, one bedroom and I’ll emphasize on the mini aspect.  It was a totally run down apartment, you could poke holes in the walls with your fingers at certain spots, and the appliances in the place were straight from earlier in the 1900s.  My 90-year-old grandpa visited once and commented how my place reminded him of a place he used to live in when he was younger as he informed me of how my apartment contained an old ice box structure that I was now using a cupboard.  I threw my bed in the closet and the living room basically held a table, tv, and couch.  It was a comfy little spot with no storage for anything on the 4th floor of a unit with no elevator.  It was a bitch to move into.

 

I was paying the exorbitant price of $1280 in rent per month for the place.  As a teacher, I was barely able to afford it.  The place was the highest I could possibly pay for my own place in a cool part of town.  A lot of my friends, who were also white and of the same social class, were moving into the neighborhood.  It was generally an accepted thing that we all were participating in gentrification of the neighborhood, displacing other minority/Latin members of the community who had paid less in rent for years in order for us to pay higher prices to live next to bars and restaurants and parks.  Somehow it was rationalized in our minds.  We stood up and voiced the concerns for the people we displaced.  Our curriculums created for our students at school and our actions within the community were all in favor of helping these people.  But as far as living goes, what were we going to do about this conundrum?  Not move into cool parts of town that were made available to us?  It is still a very hard issue to figure out and I largely support affordable housing in all communities.  However, at this point in my life, time went on, rents continued to creep up, the community in the mission district in San Francisco was dramatically kept changing year after year.

 

By 2015 I still had my apartment but rents in the area for the same unit I was renting had gone up over 100% to about $3000 a month (I moved out shortly into 2015).  My friends were getting kicked out of their places, or moving away as San Francisco was too expensive.  Middle class people like me were either priced out of moving into the area or were trapped in their homes unable to move due to having rent controlled rentals.  The stereotype of those moving into the area were Ivy League tech industry people who were being paid by Google and various tech companies anywhere from five thousand dollars a month on up.  The need for these people was such in demand that San Francisco was completely catering to them and rents were massively raising to take advantage of these younger people who had affluent wages and money to spend on rent, while living the lavish going out lifestyle in San Francisco.  It was the first time I had experienced this sort of thing.  It angered me to know that my favorite city in the world was catering to this soulless bullshit.  Who were these people moving in?  Animosity reigned supreme in me for this group.  As of right now, rents seem to be still going up.  The problem has worsened.  It’s one of the big reasons I moved away from San Francisco.  I am a result of gentrification in the same way I brought it upon others.

 

The Bernie Sanders campaign is a result of mostly white, middle/working class people feeling the crunch of non-livable wages and gentrification that a larger percentage of non-whites have experienced forever.  Now that it’s happening to white people, people are noticing.  Whites are raised to feel empowered and entitled to certain things so they are standing up for this cause through organizing for Bernie.  America notices a lot more when whites are not getting jobs or being displaced or don’t have enough money to live on.  I can’t help but feel that black sentiment is unsympathetic to this recent development and the situation that a lot of black communities feel isn’t anything more or less than what they’ve experienced before.  Maybe unsympathetic is the wrong word.  Maybe it’s not noticed because it is a lot more normalized within many of their communities.  Granted it has probably gotten worse as the momentum of inequality reverberates throughout the country to all people, but overall, that inequality was and still is heavily there.  Not a lot has changed.  The Bernie campaign isn’t big news to non-whites in the same way that it is to middle/working class whites who are fresh to these new experiences of income inequality and have had more opportunities at various levels of equality before.  As a result, it is politics as usual and Bernie doesn’t come across as anything special and what’s the difference between a white old guy in Sanders vs Hillary?  At least they are familiar with Clinton and can point to some things that her namesake has done for their community in the past.  ‘Check’ Clinton.  “Oh what, this white dude is trying to inform me of inequality within our society?  Been there, done that.  You guys are just late to the party.”  Moving on…

 

The whole situation obviously isn’t as easily summed up as it is here.  The black vote is often taken for granted by the liberal left and that’s a huge mistake.  With Barack Obama not running for re-election voting numbers are tremendously down as well within these populations.  Excitement is not what it once was.  Most black communities have little choice but to vote for anything but a Democrat.  Voting Republican mostly goes against their interests, especially when that interest is having the right to vote.  Siding with a party in the Republicans, who commonly restrict voting as much as possible, especially to minorities, doesn’t make sense.  When we do move forward to a more equal society the black vote won’t necessarily be on the left side.  Many in their communities are socially conservative and unfortunately they don’t have a choice with needing to think of first being socially liberal.  Without the right to vote, one has nothing.  The DNC has a hostage grip on the voting bloc of African Americans and right now that unenthusiastic bloc is siding with Hillary as they are largely unmoved by the recent developments of inequality experienced by white people and the cause of Bernie.  It could be the thing that breaks the back of the Bernie campaign, and as this movement continues to advance in years to come real investment in the well-being of these communities will have to be the focus in order to get real heart and mind support from these people.  It has to come from an authentic place and having it come as a result of the same thing finally happening to whites that has always happened to non-whites is not a legitimate reason to get that historically oppressed community to join your short term, “revolutionary” cause.  The communities that have always felt that pain need to see that they are legitimately spoken for and included to fully embrace joining, and this movement hasn’t been on the national stage long enough for trust and respect and connection to ensue.

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4 responses

10 03 2016
Tom

Ryan,

So I have a huge problem with a lot of your “white privilege” rhetoric. The term itself sickens me and I believe it is the root of the problem with this country. First off calling someone “white.” Are you describing my skin color? My ethnicity? Oh you must mean german, irish, Russian, Italian etc? Just a mere 125 years ago the irish, Italians, Germans all faced hardships in the United States based solely on their ethnicity and socioeconomic standing yet however this is now the same group you lump into a category as white privilege. You talk about African Americans, another way to categorize a class of people based on their skin color when in fact they could be Kenyan, Ryan go to Kenya and call someone African and see how they respond. In fact I’ve worked with Jamaicans, Haitians all of which are offended when they are considered African American. But please let’s be politically correct and call them African Americans. Forgive me because I digress…a little.

You talk about inequality and the squeezing of the working class and hallelujah we now found something that we can agree on, this among many other reasons is why I am a sanders supporter. I mention because I think at the root we share the same overall ideals Equal opportunity for all.

In regards to your idea of everything being equal for everyone is a wonderful idea but not feasible. I could not disagree more. Life is not fair. Some people are born into abusive households, some have disabilities, some are inherently smarter, stronger, tougher. Ofcourse some are born privileged. Hey if you’re born in America you are already privileged when compared to 98% of the worlds population. I will agree there is a large socioeconomic divide and their is a racial aspect too it. There are plenty of “whites” well below the poverty line.

Ok let me get to the point. Calling people “white” or “black” or “Latino” creates a divide. Lending to one particular skin tone as being privileged is presumptive and lends to resentment. I believe resentment is close cousins with hate and this country needs less divides and hatred. I brought up Italians, Irish, Asians that immigrated to this country and faced discrimination that collectively persevered and became varying degrees of successful and not in this country. This country in my opinion reds to thicken its skin, stop complaining and get back to working hard.

Forgive my grammar because I am writing this from my phone in my car. Im sorry I have to wrap this up because I’m late to class for work. That is filled with firefighters from the Bay Area who are their to fine tune their craft for their commitment to protect and serve their prospective communities. Some are men, women, black, white, Asian, Latino, have a college education, grew up in a home on welfare. Is that ethnic or gender breakdown equal? No, but that doesn’t matter to anyone in the room and it shouldn’t.

10 03 2016
ryanjkeating

Tom, these are great concerns and questions and comments. Talking about race issues is a hard thing and the first part of moving forward is having people express themselves. We get into trouble when we don’t come to the table and shut off the world around us and believe we are just right in whatever it is we are thinking.

The term “white privilege” sickens me too. And to be more accurate it should just be called “privilege”, however, the most dominate, empowered culture within our society is white and male. So given the nature of who has power in our society we will most likely see “privilege” mindsets and egos and personalities happening from whites and from men.

Having taken and attended training seminars in how to discuss and move forward from something like white privilege it addresses your concern in what “white” actually is. People have an ethnicity identity and a cultural identity. With whites that is mostly the same thing. In modern times, nobody really notices with any practical consequences or rewards if you are Russian, English, Irish, German, etc. And culturally we are Americans which is most commonly seen as being related to being white skinned. With being a minority (we’ll just use the example of Black/African Americans from your example) it is a much different story and people are judged instantly about who they are. Ethnically and culturally they are seen as “the other.” You can’t change your ethnicity and in that way they are either Nigerian, from Chad, Sudanese, (add whatever African country here). Agreed that we lump all these people into the term “African” as that has been used for a long time. Not saying it’s right but it’s what has come about and the color of your skin being black dictates that you are more likely to at least to have ethnic roots coming from Africa, or rather stolen from Africa. Many Black people prefer the term African American to honor this heritage and the story of what it means to be Black in America. However, many do not and would rather relate to their cultural identity being American to mean more rather than their ethnic identity which they can’t control. In this sense, the term “Black” defines the cultural connection to who they are. Being a black person in America means something. It means something completely different than being a white person and there is definite identity in that. A lot of these people prefer to be called Black Americans. And in attending my various workshops on privilege and whatnot I come to realize that largely these people like to be called either “African Americans” or “Black Americans” so those are the terms I use most often. Obviously as you can see there is no one size fits all and a conversation needs to ensue when referring to anyone and how they relate to who they are within the society they live in. And in this sense, going to Kenyan and calling somebody African is not what one should do and doesn’t make any sense. That would fall in line with forcing your own cultural norms onto another part of the world. And as to your point about how whites are also well below the poverty line. That is recognized and noticed as well as an obvious point. When referring to all of this ‘privilege’ talk there are just many layers involved. Poor whites represent an oppressed minority as well from a socio-econmic status but not from a cultural or visual status. Adding being black to a already poor person makes their situation worse. Whereas white men are at the top of the social, privilege status black lesbian women are pretty much a group that’s represented as being at the bottom and suffers the most when it comes to almost every category related to the battle for equality in our culture.

I’m not saying that everything needs to be equal or that it’s even possible but I do believe it is something that should be acknowledged and vehemently striven for. Obviously we both have talked about what goes on in the fire department with affirmative action and many of those policies are lazy and ineffective solutions to try and remedy a very difficult problem of inequality. It isn’t that easy to just hire the people and create the mirage that your department is statistically equal. You and I largely both agree that those type of hiring practices are ineffective for many reasons and something else is deeply needed. Those solutions revolve around the branches of the problem rather than the core.

And I’ll mention honestly here that a white man saying things like “we need tougher skin” and “what we need is to just work harder” comes across as insensitive and not really reflective of what is actually happening in society. To use your own words, ‘that is a wonderful idea but not really feasible.’ If we apply that tougher skin and working harder mentality it leaves us with dramatic inequalities where the privilege class keeps experiencing empowerment while the minority class has to work many times harder to get to an equal footing. For every 4 black people, 1 white person is jailed. For the same drug crimes, blacks are given harsher sentences. The inequalities go on and on in a vast array of different research categories comparing how different races are treated. Blacks are just not more likely to be criminals. People that say that are absurd and really just contributing to the problem.

I do agree that calling people white or black or whatever leads to divides initially. However, we have to acknowledge each other and realize that we are not all the same and those differences are what needs to be celebrated. Resentment doesn’t come from recognizing some other group is privileged it comes from learning some other group is privileged and actually that they are perpetuating the problem by doing nothing about it. You and I doing nothing about the problems associated with white privilege is very convenient for us because we already live in an empowered world. Nothing changes for us. However, for people not living in that world it keeps them living in that unempowered world. Unfortunately, it is going to take even more action on the side of the communities of privilege in order to bring about a more equal world and that is where the divide comes from. How dare it be that the privilege communities are the ones that need to actually put in more of the effort to create more equality. This is where the privilege community gets defensive and disengages because they don’t feel it is their responsibility. However, we won’t live in a better world until we all take responsibility and hold space and opportunity for those less fortunate. Not doing so perpetuates the divide and makes us operate more within our own little worlds. And the people who will be most likely to enact that change will be the people in more powerful positions (white males on down).

Your ethnic/cultural breakdown in your classroom sounds great on paper here but once again there is a fine line between privilege building upon privilege and un-empowered building upon on un-empowered. It’s a lot like economics in this regard. Most often than not, it takes money to make money in our society. Money is not really the most reliable indicator of a successful or good person or a person’s worth in general. If you don’t pay attention to the differences in how we were raised and the barriers and privilege we were exposed to because of this then we are missing out in our society on learning and building a solid foundation with each other and more inequality will occur.

It is a complicated topic and I think what needs to happen is more discussion overall about this sort of thing like is happening here! Differences need to be noticed and paid attention to. If we live in a society that shows the kind of research and info related to massive inequalities, the solution isn’t in bucking up and working harder. No matter how hard you work as an under privileged person there is a glass ceiling and that needs to change to allow people to actually projectile themselves ahead based on hard work and results (which is something I know you believe in!) and not be held back because of barriers related to systemic/institutionalized/passive racism. It can very easily start happening to you and then all of sudden you’ll feel the crunch (not as likely as we are at the top of the privilege chain) . My story I wrote about was about just that. I didn’t notice it until it happened to me and then now I see the world I had a hand in creating through no fault of my own. Unfortunately, now it takes effort on my part to make the situation and world a better place. If I don’t then the system wins and the privilege stays privilege through, more often than not, little effort of their own.

Thanks for the great conversation. I am down to keep continuing it most definitely. These are the types of conversations that lead to becoming better people and I’m thankful that you’re into Bernie and overall for Bernie as he is a uniter of these important causes. With him being president and the movement he is inspiring continuing we are more likely to live in a world where these types of things are discussed and considered and real solutions thought up. Old paradigms of the past are losing their grip. I am so fortunate that the times are what they are and the sense of empowerment that seems to be spreading and taken hold. In the words of MLK, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor: it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Exciting times…:)

11 03 2016
Tom

I want to keep this dialogue going, but please forgive me because I am at work most of the time and typing/reading from my iPhone is a painful.

You make so many points with which some I agree….acknowledging racism and working on the divide. In lieu of a long reply I’m going to talk about the biggest issue I have with “white privilege.” It’s broad, unfair and dangerous to those viewed as white.

Let’s stick to black people in America. I agree their is a correlation with race, poverty, education etc. Using my experiences in Oakland I know first hand the number of uneducated and down right ignorant (for lack of a better word) people that are in parts of oakland. Ignorance is the breeding ground for stereotypes, violence and an almost primal existence which I think had been taught/learned over generations sometimes out of necessity for survival. A child is born like many into this unfortunate situation and they learn of “white privilege” not in the way you so eloquently put, but in a way that is primal, angry and short sided…I believe it brings anger and resentment. I’ve been called racist for so many inexplicable reasons because I am white as a first responder. There is too much hate and ignorance this time on both sides I think using such a blunt term as “white privilege” is irresponsible.

Quickly you say that you want the “white” people to acknowledge their “privilege.” Calling somebody who is blue collar and worked hard their entire life coming from below the poverty line and just so happens to be “white” and now must be privileged will be defensive immediately. I understand your mission and agree with most of it. I just think that mass labeling is dangerous and not the right tactic to prove such points.

11 03 2016
ryanjkeating

You are forgiving for your shoddy iphone typing;) No really, you have great things to say and no one would know you were typing all of this on an iphone. It’s good for the soul and humanity to have these conversations and I agree that it’s better to keep these conversations shorter vs longer so as to not get overwhelmed easily. However, it is always hard to keep something like this topic short.

First of all, it’s not that blue collar people need to be labeled as “white privileged” but that they need to understand what that means for them compared to others. Hearing a term and instantly getting defensive and jumping to conclusions usually doesn’t reflect anything accurate going on and that’s how many people react to the term. Real insight and knowledge would be for white people to be able to identify this term in order to understand inequality dynamics within all of society. With understanding and education comes the realization that you have a choice whether you participate in this or not. Commonly, places that react most harshly to this term, ironically,are the kinds of places that are lacking the most education. Studying and being open to talk about the term and being vulnerable with it is in itself a deeply educational experience. Not being able to do so usually means there’s something deep there that needs to be explored (as is the case with most therapy).

You and I have shared similar experiences working in impoverished neighborhoods. With my teaching experience in these areas I can relate directly to what you say. I agree with ignorance leading to racism, stereotypes, primal/tribal thinking and it can most aggressively be seen in such communities and people through which you describe. These people are not by any means altogether innocent in their behavior and should be held accountable for negatively putting their world view onto others. It’s not an excuse to be black and act in whatever way one wants and given a free pass to point fingers at “the other” for their problems. Whoever might think as such are more than likely making the problem worse. However, it gets complicated when we look more deeply at why these people might be displaying ignorant, aggressive acts? Do these people have a right to defend themselves within a system that actually perpetuates and in many cases profits off their demise? What about cops that arrest blacks at a rate of four times that of whites and blacks who actually get punished more harshly for the same crime vs whites. There are epidemics going on in relation to institutional racism that are very obvious to see. Are communities just supposed to bow to the systems that oppress them? If we were black and growing up you know that we would feel it our duty to defend ourselves, our families, our communities against corrupt cops in the same way that cops feel it is their duty to defend their communities against the ignorants on the street creating violence.

We see what ignorance looks like in impoverished communities but what does it look like in non-impoverished communities? In these places it is not aggressive but passive. It involves not talking about problems, not talking about race, believing blindly in the justice system, shutting people out who are asking questions, believing the world is easily organized into right and wrong, believing bad people commit crimes and innocent people have nothing to hide, etc. This same level of ignorance has the same results as impoverished community ignorance, however, it is way more powerful because it is coming from a community that has resources to vote, go to school, get money, look like the dominant culture, get jobs, run for office, have health care, etc. So, even though the impoverished community is far more dangerous to walk through and see as bad, the non-impoverished community has far more dire consequences for the world at large and perpetuating the base of the problems seen in the impoverished community.

The consistency you see in both of these scenarios is that each is pointing the finger at “the other” for either their problems or problems at large even though it’s expressed dramatically differently. How does this get solved? It has to take on the characteristics of realizing what each community is doing to either destroy their own community and/or having an impact to destroy another community. That takes some deep thought and looking within that is not really at the core of how most Americans think or want to think. It’s so much easier to make quick judgments on whatever you see or be complacent in your privileged life. It’s so much easier to just sit at home and have the tv and the news and your family or close circle think for you.

And to bring it back to Bernie, I also think this is why he is great for the real problems America is facing in its racial issues and issues overall. Bernie is pushing for resources like health care, raising minimum wage, free education, reform of the criminal justice system to be put front and center. There will be huge positive impacts on impoverished communities if all these things take hold. That’s part of the obvious solution to all of this. Bernie and people like him simply being in power will promote empathetic discussions like we are having about “white privilege” in general.

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