& More on the Fr. Pfleger post! Someone wrote to me & said:
I am Catholic as well, 1st generation Irish-American, I was poor, faced prejudice – and feel I owe nothing to Father Pfleger’s constituency. I feel I worked myself out of the bottom and I don’t feel anyone owes me anything either. But if this race-baiting (as I see it) continues then I might have to argue that I was discriminated against as well—if not here in the USA then maybe in Ireland/England.
But then when does it end? When does victimization end? It has gone on a long time in the USA and it hasn’t improved. I don’t think victimization helps improve people’s lives. It never helped me. I worked my way out of it (and people don’t understand the work that I did unless they did it themselves).
But when Father Pfleger says we owe some of or 401k’s to black people because we had ‘white privilege’, I have difficulty understanding it because I don’t feel I had equal opportunity and yet I don’t resent it. I accept it–It is life and I don’t think it will ever change.
Which is all perfectly logical & makes sense to me; I think it’s the nut of why poor and working-class white people sometimes object to Affirmative Action programs.
Except that the reality, in the US, is that we have inherited a system where some people are oppressed because of their race and only because of their race. It is not the only way people are oppressed, and plenty of us (white folks) did not have family here when slavery was operable. But the system that came out of race-based slavery was, in turn, racist.
So while poor white people didn’t benefit from equal treatment – because we didn’t – we didn’t have to deal with being poor AND black. We were privileged in one aspect – being white – and oppressed in another – by class. Catholics and Jews and other “white” immigrant groups were often also oppressed due to their religion or recent immigration status. Often these groups are referred to as “white ethnic” – meaning ‘white but not WASP.’ It’s what I consider myself. For an excellent book on the subject, specifically the way whiteness was sold as privilege to unionized white workers – check out The Wages of Whiteness, or on White Ethnic groups, check out White Ethnics.
Being able to look at the ways we are each privileged and the ways we are oppressed is what we call Intersectionality in Gender Studies.
But more importantly, let me say this: the idea here isn’t about victimization. It’s about understanding one’s individual story in context. It’s not about sitting around & saying “woe is me” or anything like it. It’s just about knowing which aspects of your own experience and others works against you, & them; it’s a way of explaining why some women are more privileged than others, and why, say, a white, rich, professional gay man might have a hard time understanding why a black poor lesbian can’t get a decent start in life despite them both being LGBT.
So: no whining. Just acknowledgment in the ways we exist, as individuals, within the larger culture and its institutions, and the ways those institutions, in turn, shape us. (Of course that doesn’t mean there aren’t people who would prefer to blame everyone & anyone for why they suck, but that’s an entirely different issue entirely.)