It seems that ever since Obama’s election, affluent white hetero Christians – by far the most economically and politically powerful bloc in the country, far beyond their real numbers – have suddenly been waking up in the middle of the night, screaming “Holy shit, I’m not nearly as privileged as I used to be!” Their hysterics are prima facie absurd, in that their money and influence is still enough to, for instance, block necessary health reform and hate crimes legislation. If, as Bill O’Reilly says, the white Christian power structure is under serious attack, it seems to be fairly shrugging off the blows.
At the same time, though, these charges are pretty dangerous. Let’s leave aside the fact that (to use the above example) if health care isn’t reformed, millions will remain uninsured and suffer serious health consequences. I mean that conservative demagoguery can seriously fucking kill you. If puns really are the lowest form of humor, I’ll dub this list
Right-Wing Assholes’ Greatest Hits!
- The vicious and unsubstantiated charges leveled at Dr. George Tiller by Bill O’Reilly and other anti-choice fanatics created the hateful atmosphere that led to his assassination.
- A 22-year old white supremacist’s shooting of three Pittsburgh police officers came after an extended stroking of his paranoiac love gun by Glenn Beck, who waxed rhapsodic about FEMA concentration camps.
- Jim Adkisson’s shooting of a Unitarian church in Tennessee was prompted by his hatred of liberals and Democrats. His desired targets included the 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America listed by Bernard Goldberg.
These are not fringe incidents. The direct perpetrators may not be considered part of the mainstream, but they share a significant and critical affinity with the vanguard of the social conservative movement: namely, the belief that they are defending a traditional, god-given social order from dangerous outsiders.
This worldview is insanely intolerant, absolutely unwilling to accept difference – not to mention utterly presumptuous, as if this fantasy version of a 50s sitcom is the bottom line in human morality. What’s exceptionally scary is how this unexamined privilege has firmly embedded itself in the news cycle in just the last month:
- Sonia Sotomayor’s hearings have been nothing but a sustained Othering of an accomplished Latina woman, with the none-too-subtle goal of maintaining white supremacy. The bizarre, nonsensical Vulcan Standard to which she’s being asked to adhere to reflects a perception that Latina women aren’t human beings – even when her words and actions are almost identical to those of her white colleagues. For this, we are forced to witness the mind-boggling sight of Sen. Jeff Sessions – whose judicial appointment was derailed on account of the fact that he’s a huge fucking racist – admonishing her not to consider race in her decisions.
- The arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., one of the most prominent African-American professors in the country, sparked a debate on racial profiling and law enforcement – that is, unless you’ve paid attention to conservative media. That Gates was doing nothing wrong, and in his own home, simply hasn’t factored into the nonstop finger-wagging from Rush Limbaugh et. al., who accuse Gates of “playing the race card” and displaying improper deference to police authority. President Obama’s remarks, while clearly an attempt at a measured take on the incident, were interpreted as “an attack on law enforcement” (read: white people) and evidence of anti-white racism in his administration. This despite the fact that Gates’ arrest was – not just by any decent standard of justice, but in stark legal terms – obviously wrong.
- And, speaking of Obama, the “birther” conspiracy theories challenging his eligibility to the Presidency, advanced by Lou Dobbs and a disturbing number of Congressional Republicans, are a pretty obvious attempt to paint him as an alien creature, a seditious element, something short of an American ideal – in other words, non-white. It’s no coincidence that these easily-debunked rumors are held as gospel truth by both (a) James Von Brunn, the white supremacist terrorist who murdered a security guard at the Holocaust Museum, and (b) de facto Republican leader Rush Limbaugh.
You might ask: why are Republicans being such racist assholes right now? It’s a trick question – Republicans have been practicing racism as a strategy since, oh, 1876, and have gotten particularly adept at employing it since Nixon. The Bush years encoded a shocking degree of racism under the terms “terrorist” and “illegal immigrant”; these targets were ‘acceptable’ in the mainstream, in that they referred to condemned actions rather than condemned races (*cough cough*).
What’s changed now is that, with an African-American President and a Democratic Congress, there is a miniscule possibility that white supremacy, Christian exceptionalism, hetero dominance, and corporate hegemony might be inconvenienced. Ignore the fact that the President is a moderate, and Congress can’t get its shit together in between massive corporate lobbying efforts – any threat to privilege is un-American, damn it!
These sweaty exertions to keep the underprivileged in check are obviously antithetical to American society, as well as any society that gives two shits about substantive justice. As such, I’d like to start the (semi-regular) series Privilege Watch, to call attention to privileged assholes trying to write others outside of the bounds of humanity.
Obviously, this will focus to a large degree on the aforementioned conservative pricks. However, I’m hopeful that this series can help us at Brandeis become aware of our own privileges. You heard me right – even we latte-sipping Obama voters are complicit in racism, sexism, classism, and myriad other forms of oppression. Hopefully, we can move from ridiculing Fox News hosts for their unfounded assumptions to seeing how we ourselves enable these attitudes – and from there, working to dismantle oppressive hierarchies.
I appreciate and welcome all comments which direct me to instances of privilege, including my own; as a white hetero male myself, I’m not by any means alert to all of them. While many examples will be from society at large, this will hopefully/unfortunately include examples from personal life and the Brandeis community.
(If it seems these pushbacks for privilege that I’m focusing on are media-centric, it’s mostly because the mass media is extremely visible (duh) and the main lens through which political reality is manufactured. For that reason, it’s useful to consider this right-wing backlash in terms of the propaganda model of media proposed by Noam Chomsky. In particular, there are two critical ‘filters’ for what is considered newsworthy, and therefore real. ‘News’ needs to be acceptable to (1) the dominant economic and political institutions, which govern resources and access, and (2) to the “flak machine” which produces negative feedback against unacceptable/unpatriotic/unbalanced media. Through these filters the privileged classes easily control the surface of the American mind, and thus public opinion. For more information, Chomsky’s book Manufacturing Consent is a great introduction, as well as a great read.)