What Is White Privilege?

Recently I finished reading Phoebe Robinson’s awesome book, You Can’t Touch My Hair. While a great deal of the content and the attention the book has received has mainly focused on Robinson’s struggles with her black hair throughout her life, I was particularly interested in two parts of the book that specifically revolve around instances of white privilege. To be even more specific, white privilege in the LGBT community. One issue is regarding the story of the white lesbian couple that didn’t want a biracial child and the other is a sad tale of the white lesbian fetishizing a black female slave.

I discussed this book with one of my friends, Melissa, a very outspoken black lesbian who has had negative experiences with some white LGBT folks, and I wanted to get her thoughts on the book. After talking to her, we came to the same conclusion about this racial identity issue in the LGBT community.

Just a quick refresher, a couple of years ago a white lesbian couple in Ohio used a sperm bank to get pregnant. The bank gave the couple sperm from a black donor instead of a white donor they requested. After giving birth to the child, they then proceeded to sue the sperm bank for the mistake. Mind you, the couple had every right to sue the sperm bank, but they seem to be doing more damage to their child’s life through the lawsuit and the media frenzy that ensued at the time.

I remember when this story first happened. One of the mothers was on TV complaining about the “emotional distress” of living in a conservative, bigoted, lily-white community in Ohio with a biracial child and the punishment of dealing with their child’s natural hair.

The first thing to come to my mind was that the conservative, bigoted, lily-white community in Ohio hated the biracial child, but was okay with being neighbors with a lesbian couple.

Okay, girl…

“The couple sees themselves as white before gay,” Melissa said. “They live in literal white privilege in Ohio and thought as long as they are white, they could pass and be seen as equals in their white community. Having the black child disrupted their white privilege status. Instead of them saying ‘Hey, let’s move to a community that is more diverse, and inclusive, and welcoming of our family,’ they are basically saying ‘Hey, this black kid with the nappy hair is messing up our white privilege lifestyle, and reminding the community that we are not really white because of our dyke status.'”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Regarding the other issue, Robinson recalls in her book when she took a writing class at Pace, and a white lesbian classmate wrote a story about the relationship between a black female slave and her slave master’s daughter. Yeah, this actually happened…

From an NPR interview Robinson did last year:

…This one girl in my class, she’s very sweet but she just recently discovered that she was a lesbian — which I was like: Yes, it’s amazing that you found yourself. So, she wrote this play that … I think it was coming from a good place, it really was, but she wrote this play about slavery. …

Basically, the slave had the chance to get her freedom, but she turned it down to stay being a slave at that plantation or whatever because her and the slave master’s daughter were like having an affair. …

I kind of had to speak up and be like, you know, I don’t think any slave would be like: “Hard pass on freedom, I’m going to keep picking cotton so I can hook up with this chick twice a week.” …

…If you want to write a story about slavery, by all means, do it. But it has to come from a place that’s respecting the past and respecting the people in it…

There is so much wrong with this story. This again proves my point about the problem of sanitizing the history of slavery. People are graduating from schools today who don’t have any clue about the harsh realities of slavery, and this incident is a result of the lack of proper education on the subject. When you have people going around saying that slaves were “migrant workers” and Sally Hemmings was a “mistress,” then you can’t be surprised that this classmate would write such an inappropriate story.

Again, Melissa and I agreed that this not only showcases white privilege in the LGBT community, but it also fetishizing black bodies.

“This reminded of this time I briefly dated a white girl in grad school who had a hard time understanding why the black gay community might not have the same life priorities and concerns as white gays,” Melissa said. “I used to tell her that gay black people deal with the same problems straight black people deal with – racism and discrimination – living while black stuff, right. We are out here struggling with housing, poverty, healthcare, and cops beating us up. She was all about marriage equality is the priority.  I’m discriminated more for being black than for being gay in my everyday life because it is easier discriminate against skin color than sexuality because it is obvious. Most black people are obviously black and it is easier to discriminate against that. Whereas, most gay people are not obviously gay, unless they say so. Gay whites have the privilege to pass when they need to in most cases.”

Interesting! And this is why they dated briefly.

“We had been dating for a few weeks and stuff was starting to get sexual between us, and she texted me out of the blue that she had this sexual fantasy of me being a criminal breaking into her apartment to rape her with a big, black, veiny dildo,” Melissa said. “I didn’t even know what to say. The whole black criminal thing really had my head go back. I was like this girl is really sick in her racist mind and wanted me to live out her warped black, rapist, lesbian BBD fantasy. The fact that she would even text that to me and not think twice before pressing send says a lot. I texted her back and told her to never contact me again and I blocked her. Blocked her! Never saw her again. I don’t really mess with white women anymore.  I mostly date my own kind now.”

Well, alright then… I wasn’t expecting Melissa to say all that…

I don’t really know how to appropriately end this post after writing that. Just go read the book!

Don’t Be A Sucker in 2017

This video could have been made today because it is still so relevant.

This short film was made in 1947 by the U.S. War Department.  It was an effort to educate Americans that they would lose their country if they let fanaticism and hatred turn them into “suckers.”

“Let’s forget about ‘we’ and ‘they’ — let’s think about us!”

How is this any different from how Trump is running the country right now?

If you are a sucker in 2017, you’ll become Paris Dennard.

Microagressions, Explained

Questions concept

Last week I went to a workshop on race and identity in the workplace, and the topic of microaggressions came up.  Bias inside and outside the workplace is a very real thing today.  However, most of these acts will not be direct and in your face, like someone saying a racial slur.  Microaggressions are unintentional but continuously indirect remarks and acts against people of color.

For example, many white people always want to touch my hair or ask where I am really from.  No, you can touch my fair and, yes, I was born and raised in the United States.

Instead of me explaining what this is, this video does a better job of doing it.

Ota Benga, Race and Human Zoos

Ota BengaI recently read Pamela Newkirk’s latest book, Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga, which chronicles the story of the young Congolese man who was (captured and?) brought to the United States over a century ago to be “exhibited” at the St. Louis World’s Fair and then in an even more controversial “exhibit” in the monkey house at the Bronx Zoo with an orangutan.  The book is so fascinating because it seems SO insane and unreal that a human being would be put on display like… an animal in a zoo.

Benga was brought to America by wannabe explorer and literally insane person Samuel Verner, who originally came to the Congo as a missionary, but then evolved into an opportunist who exploited Benga.  What’s even crazier is the fact that almost all the actual scientists, anthropologists and ethnographers mentioned in the book who have college degrees in their fields allowed their own racial bias over actual science to support the madness that happened to Benga.

It was quite common at the time to display people mostly from “less civilized” countries in human zoos or “ethnological exhibits” to showcase the “hierarchy of races,” with white people at the top and everyone else following below.  Racial biases at the time correlated with evolution theory, which is better known as scientific racism.

Ota Benga and sharpened teethHuman zoos were most popular from the late 19th century and up until the beginning of World War II throughout Europe, especially in Germany, and in the United States.  These displays were also the only way for most people to “experience” other cultures, as commercial travel by sea was limited to the wealthy few.  At the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, Ota Benga and other Congolese pygmies were put on display in a “native village”.  Benga was the highlight of his “village” because of his sharpened teeth.  Verner started the rumor that Benga’s teeth looked that way because he was a cannibal.  However, according to Newkirk’s book, other anthropologists of that era had documented that Benga’s teeth were pointy because it was culturally acceptable and actually considered attractive within his tribe.

There were other native villages representing other ethnic groups.  The United States had recently acquired Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines as territories, so natives from those faraway places were brought to the fair to be displayed, along with members from the Alaskan Tlingit and Apache tribes, including Apache chief Geronimo.  Coincidentally and in a weird twist, an “intelligent” horse called Beautiful Jim Key that could allegedly read and write was also on display.


Following the fair, some of the exhibited people didn’t go back to their countries of origin.  Some of them died because of exposure to climate or illness.  Anticipating these deaths, some American scientists took the corpses for “further examination” – you know, science.

Benga went back to the Congo briefly with Verner after the fair, but came back (recaptured?) to the United States in September 1906 to be displayed at the Bronx Zoo.

According to scientific racism, blacks were usually right above apes, which was most likely why Benga was put into the monkey house.  The exhibit became an instant hit.  Thousands of New Yorkers came to see Benga in his cage.  Sometimes he was allowed to roam the zoo on his own, but then he was chased, heckled and physically taunted by spectators.

Of course there was outrage from the local black community, especially from black clergymen like Rev. James H. Gordon.

“Our race, we think, is depressed enough, without exhibiting one of us with the apes,” Gordon said.  “We think we are worthy of being considered human beings, with souls.”

The mounting protest forced the zoo to take Benga out of the exhibit, and place him under Gordon’s custody.  But by then, the damage was already done.  Benga lived in Gordon’s orphanage for a while, and then moved to Virginia to get formal training and work in a factory.  His mood went downhill soon after in what we consider today as post-traumatic stress disorder.  Around this time commercial ship travel ended abruptly due to the onset of World War I, making it impossible for Benga to move back to the Congo.  At the age of 32 and alone without any family and few friends, Benga committed suicide.  At no time in Benga’s short life, except while living in Congo, was he ever free either mentally or physically.

While this all happened a century ago and human zoos in theory are a thing of the past, this doesn’t mean that certain racial stereotypes and perceptions from that era don’t exist today. In today’s society black males are still treated like animals that should be caged or killed.

The high number of unarmed black males who are shot dead in American streets like wild animals in the jungle by the police these days should be noted. This “shoot first, ask questions later” is a form of scientific racism that is translated differently in 2015.

There was more outrage for the killing of Cecil (Rhodes) the Lion than there has been for the recent rash of police brutality.  Of course, protection of endangered animals is important, but it shows how little black lives matter today.  Heck, if you want to be outraged about something bad happening in Zimbabwe, why not call out the human rights abuses against black Zimbabweans by the Mugabe regime?  People are literally starving to death there because Robert Mugabe has politicized food.  I would be remiss to not say that black lives also matter if the perpetrator is black. whether it’s in Zimbabwe, the United States or anywhere else.  Black-on-black violence is also a serious problem.

But getting back to my point, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and blacks and Hispanics make up nearly 60 percent of the total prison population.  Blacks are also more likely than whites to be arrested for non-violent drug offenses.  There are more black males in jail or have had some type of interaction with the criminal justice system today than were enslaved at the height of slavery.

A new study from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows that imprisoned black and Hispanic males are more likely to be put into solitary confinement and treated poorly than their white counterparts.

kaliefbrowderThen there was Kalief Browder, a young man who spent two years in solitary confinement at Rikers Island without ever standing trial or found guilty of any crime.  He was accused of stealing a bag.  Browder was released from jail, and he was putting his life back on track by going back to school.  But, like Benga, he was never able to recover from his prison experience and committed suicide earlier this summer.

Prison is the new mental illness and human zoo.