Tim Wise : Palin, Obama and the Reality of White Privilege

White privilege: Levi Johnston , Bristol Palin’s boyfriend — who calls himself a ‘fuckin’ redneck — is considered an ‘all-American’ boy.

This is Your Nation on White Privilege
By Tim Wise / September 13, 2008

For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are constantly looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.

White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because “every family has challenges,” even as black and Latino families with similar “challenges” are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

White privilege is when you can call yourself a “fuckin’ redneck,” like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you’ll “kick their fuckin’ ass,” and talk about how you like to “shoot shit” for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.

White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.

White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you’re “untested.”

White privilege is being able to say that you support the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance because “if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me,” and not be immediately disqualified from holding office–since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the “under God” part wasn’t added until the 1950s–while believing that reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because, ya know, the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), is a dangerous and silly idea only supported by mushy liberals.

White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you.

White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto was “Alaska first,” and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you’re black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she’s being disrespectful.

White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do–like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor–and people think you’re being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college–you’re somehow being mean, or even sexist.

White privilege is being able to convince white women who don’t even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a “second look.”

White privilege is being able to fire people who didn’t support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.

White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God’s punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you’re just a good church-going Christian, but if you’re black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you’re an extremist who probably hates America.

White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a “trick question,” while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O’Reilly means you’re dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.

White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism is, as Sarah Palin has referred to it a “light” burden.

And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren’t sure about that whole “change” thing. Ya know, it’s just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain…

White privilege is, in short, the problem.

Tim Wise is the author of White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, and Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White. He has contributed essays to seventeen books, and is one of several persons featured in White Men Challenging Racism: Thirty-Five Personal Stories, from Duke University Press. A collection of his essays, Speaking Treason Fluently: Anti-Racist Reflections From an Angry White Male, will be released in fall 2008.

Source / Red Room

Thanks to David Hamilton / The Rag Blog

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25 Responses to Tim Wise : Palin, Obama and the Reality of White Privilege

  1. Oh now this was down right EXCEPTIONAL!!!!!

    Thank you so much!!!!

    From a ‘white person’ who appreciates what the PROBLEMS of the people of color endure……

  2. A note: I linked to the site, and have passed on the original post as well – again, THANK YOU from me; from my friend Jerome (who is black) – from Frank (who was black and died in 1984), and from Lessie (who is black and very much alive). From Jackie – my ‘black neighbor’…

    From Rovina – my black friend.

    From the bottom of my heart and on behalf of my wonderful black and ‘people of color’ friends and relatives, it did my heart GOOD to read this – the truth!

    As they say, you can have your opinion, but you can’t have ‘your facts’…facts are what they are………..

  3. kiki says:

    Well said! I got here because my friend linked to your blog from Facebook, and now I plan to pass this truth along….

  4. Billy says:

    White privilege is being one of the “Keating Five,” responsible for the savings and loan criminal debacle of the 1980s, and being forgiven for it and still being able to run for president.

    White privilege is stealing prescription drugs from a charity you are heading, and incurring sympathy instead of condemnation.

  5. lynn says:

    white privilege is knowing that even though all of the above character deficits, ethical “lapses” and crimes against others are TRUE, you can still snag a significant number of votes from racists and boneheads.

    i’ll forward this to my friends of many colors.


  6. Bryan says:

    Ok. There are good points here. That thing about the pledge is ridiculous. But to play this as a race thing to make a political point, while true to a lot of degrees, focuses more on gaining political advantage than on addressing the real issue of “race”. If you can stomach an evangelical’s perspective on this (and yes, a black one’s), then check out http://sgm.edgeboss.net/download/sgm/events/t4g08/t4g08-session2.mp3. It is thoughtful, provoking, and well…smart. The premise? There is no such thing as race. You have to listen and think to get it. But that is precisely what we need: thinking–especially in the era of soundbites. And, to the chagrin of some, it may be that Christianity has the only workable answer to solving the race problem. William Wilberforce and MLK Jr. certainly gained ground from that perspective.

  7. JE says:

    you, my friend…are a genius.
    a genius not afraid to stand for what he believes in…even if it means the (presumable) majority of his race will disagree with him. that commitment is encouraging in these times…or any times for that matter. God Bless…

  8. MKE says:

    I was with you for most of these points. Actually, I was with you for almost all of them, but I don’t agree that all of them have to do with white privilege. I think a lot of them have to do with ignorance, a lack of education, and a mean spiritedness of many Americans. I went from a resounding YEAH! through the first number of points, to failing to see the exact racial connection on some of the later points. I mean, how is deciding Obama is overly intellectual when answering Bill O’Reilly a symptom of racism? Granted, it’s typical hypocrisy of the right wing, but honestly, they ridicule anyone from the left that goes on O’Reilly. That’s their whole gig. I’ve never heard racists claim black people were too intellectual. And I know at least half the country was shaking their heads at Sarah Palin’s interview. I’m also feeling a little sad and dismissed at the last point about “white voters”, which seems to boil the whole McCain vs. Obama race down to a white vs. black thing, which to me, seems to miss the whole point of Obama’s appeal. Can we interject “SOME” “IGNORANT” white voters? Because here I have been swept up in the positive energy of a campaign that seems to be a true melange of people and the promise of a new breed of American that doesn’t have this racism. What a buzzkill. What defines the McCain supporters to me is no longer the color of their skin, but their ignorance and narrowmindedness. I don’t like that the only defining characteristic you give them is that which thousands of others who support Barack Obama also have: whiteness. This campaign is less about black vs. white to me than old, tired, cynical ideas vs. a new multicultural, forward-thinking guard. The old-school middle-America folks WANT you to boil every point down to racism, because it keeps you enmeshed with an old way of thinking and keeps you tethered to their same-old storyline. Don’t get me wrong: racism exists in those people. And yes, if Bristol Palin’s boyfriend was black and NOT on the Republican side (in which case he’d probably be trotted around as evidence of their incredible tolerance), they would be singing a different tune. But this battle to the White House is about so much more. You take as a given that “America” thinks the way you’ve described. But there are millions of us that think the Palins are the hillbilly trash and Obama an example of dignity and class. Let’s stop giving their world view ALL the weight and putting energy into that antiquated notion. All it does is fire them up. They are not defining ME any more. I became swept up in this movement because of Obama’s incredible hope, positivity, and absolute negation of that old-guard thinking. I have no patience or energy anymore to spend convincing others about how unfalteringly racist this country is. Because I choose to see that it is NOT so anymore through the others that support this campaign. We are forgetting what got us this far. We are being distracted from our momentum. The Democratic Convention was a chorus of cheers and the Republican Convention characterized by boos. Which sound do we want to take us forward?

  9. Anonymous says:

    No one is saying that the majority of white Americans are racist. What we are saying is that they were raised in a racist society and that there are politicians out there who will use those subconscious fears to trick ignorant Americans into voting for the devil incarnate.

  10. lynn says:

    Thanks to “anonymous” for succinctly summarizing the thread of this conversation.

    Since we all responded to this well-written, emotional, account of “white privilege”, I think it is safe to assume that we all agree that racism is mean-spirited.

    We seem to differ mostly in the finer points of our approach toward solving the problem; i.e., share our concern with each other, give the problem up to God, or dismiss racism as a problem.

    I personally believe that in order to solve a problem one needs to recognize, first, that the problem exists. Then, generally, I share the problem with friends, trust that God will help me work toward the right solution, then get to work. Again, it seems we are mostly in agreement, except perhaps for the sequencing of our actions–and however you go about trying to end racism is just fine by me, as long as that’s the goal.

    Which reminds me… I’d better get back to work. Thanks for sharing!


  11. Anonymous says:

    “…By the same token, people who like McCain like how his record stands on telling Republicans and Democrats to go f’ themselves. But this isn’t a black/white campaign nor election nor world. …”

    He may like to blow off steam, but his record proves he still toes the Bush line. To portray himself as a Maverick is just that, an act. And that, pure and simple, is the reason he should not be the next president. Palin? Palin’s a pawn pulled into the game for one grand, blustery move to keep everyone’s mind off the real game. I’m more saddened by the fact that she fed into the hubris that devised the plan. I wish she could have stepped back to see how she, too, was being used.

  12. s_love says:


    I think that you missed the point of the article. It’s not that these issues with Palin – her daughter, her college hopping, etc should be issues, it’s the idea that if she was a black candidate they would be viewed differently. Unfortunately because of our country’s history with race, pregnant black teenagers are viewed differently than white ones (of course class also plays into this), a black man with a gun is portrayed as scary, a black’s education and intelligence is often questioned (even Obama’s Harvard education has been challenged – was it because of Affirmative Action?)

    Finally, in regards to Palin, as a feminist, I would hate to see her be the first female Vice President. You say cutting off your nose to spite your face, but I do not see her as advancing any feminist agendas so why would I want her to represent me. There is also the idea that she was put on the ticket strictly because she is a woman and not because of her credentials. I guess you can say that we should just be happy for what we can get, but that is not progress.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Some nice stretches here, but one could easily come up with a similar list that is pro-palin, anti-obama. It’s sad, however, that you have to compare a presidential candidate to a vice-presidential candidate. Focus on the issues people, not the bigotry of this nation.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Why so many right-wing troll comments? An LOOOONG winded to boot. I think Tim Wise is right on about racism in the U.S.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Ok, Racism is still alive in this country, and yes Tim Wise is entitled to see it wherever he wants to.,,,, But choosing Obama and Palin to demonstrate it is asinine. Obama comes from privilege and has been afforded all the breaks that you complain of and Palin has not. Poor examples. this article is really about politics not race.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I just HAVE to address this “mawtino” fool. you are an ignorant ass if it ever was one. keepin it real.
    first off: the blog is REALITY asshole.
    second off: what better time to bring things to the surface than when one of the biggest mistakes in our nations history is about to be made?
    thirdly: you are a minority your damn self and you don’t feel the effects of that? or are you a passing one? you probably are.

    get over it. Tim is 200% right at hitting the nail on the head. your horns are showing darling. put em away.

  17. Voting for Obama says:

    I agree there is still racism in this country and that white privilege does exist, however I do not agree that these examples are a result of white privilege.

    You could easily replace “White privilege is” with “Being pro-Republican is” or “Being anti-Democrat is”. The polarizing effect and unwavering candidate allegiance of our elections makes people ignore the imperfections of our

  18. Susan Perkins says:

    Mawtino, I honestly would like to know why you’re the ONLY minority who disagrees with what Mr. Tim has to say? I am white and I honestly agrees with what he says. As me being raised with some members of my family and fellow peers teaching and believing that our nationality are only entitled to having the better careers, luxury items and things, it has caused so much racial tension in blacks and

  19. Angela says:

    Tim, you are a genius!! Not only do I applaud you for standing up for your beliefs, but also being one of the powerful voices that speaks out for the black race. Kudos to you!!

    And Mawtino, you are an asshole for even having the nerve to post your dumb-ass comments.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Sorry Mawtino, unless you can tell me you’re an African American, you have NO CLUE about racism–the experience. It runs rampant in this country, and permeates everything in America society, including this presidental race. How much black history did you get in school? Do you know the contributions of ALL of the African Americans in America. I do, but that’s because I had to BUY a book–didn’t

  21. Anonymous says:

    Ahh. I see now. A little jealousy of African Americans? Hence the negative and contemptuous anti-Obama comments? There’s a big, no HUGH, difference between sneaking into America and voluntarily working for low wages, than being forced on a ship for a 2-month voyage, chained to other kidnapped Africans, not even being allowed the simple human dignity of using the bathroom, while being brought to America to work for free, and watching your family members being sold off or killed. It’s more than 200 years of slavery.

    In addition, let’s not make excuses. Have your Mexican citizens enter the country legally, then demand the same wages or at least minimum wage. The Indians(from India)do.

    And no, Obama didn’t say it was okay for Rev. Wright or his grandmother to be biggots. He accepted them because they were part of his family. It’s a nonissue.

    Our main concern should be change for this country, and that is what the Democrats are offering. Republicans could give a rat’s ass about, and, in fact encourages, your “average wetback” to work for very low wages; more money to fatten their selfish pockets.

    Fact: Racism exists.
    Fact: Multicultural people are treated and seen as less important than white people. The 1960’s and Jim Crow (separate but not equal drinking fountains, separate but not equal schools, having to sit at the back of bus, and/or having to give up your seat to a white person)was not that long ago–that’s the point of this blog. Society has not really changed that much; in “their” minds, white continues to deserve privilege.

  22. Anonymous says:

    White girl quit your whining! The fact that you are able to get hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans says it all–White Privilege. Ask an “average joe” minority person how many thousands of dollars of loans they have, and are able to get. As usual, white people have tons of excuses for their or other white folks’ behavior that conveniently explain away things–White Privilege.

    Go ahead and vote for your Republican ticket because I’m sure it makes more sense to you to have people in the White House that look like you–regardless of their background. I’ve never had anyone in the White House that looked like me because somehow African Americans just aren’t qualified enough. Community Organizer–not good enough. Senator–not good enough either. Harvard graduate–still not good enough. White people when will be black people be qualified enough?

  23. Anonymous says:

    No, you need to open your eyes, and get a life!

  24. Anonymous says:

    The lie in this list is that NOONE treated the Palins as anything less than human. In truth, rich white people everywhere dismissed the Palins as white trash, underscoring that America is a place of class privilege first and foremost. Yes, these intersect, but not as consistently as jokers like Tim Wise like to pretend.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I have to laugh at this. Mostly, because of the hypocrisy and absolute lack of rational and logical thoughts or ideas. What YOU are spouting is racism. And also a clear and shameful lack of understanding as to what “white privilege” actually means. Get a dictionary. Do you know what creates and heightens existing race tensions? People like you who are ignorant of facts and unwilling to offer solutions, but instead throw out asinine claims and taglines which are NEVER backed up with actual or situational evidence. Didn’t ever occur to you, and all you commentators who champion this trash, that it is YOUR perceptions, attitudes, and actions that are the problem? Racism surely exists, and it is something everyone needs to be conscious of and actively work toward eliminating, but you, you all actively engage and perpetuate. Shame on you. And for the record, boy am I tired of you idiots.

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