Thursday, April 18, 2013

Understanding the Power of White Maleness

Tim Wise, a white man whose author tagline touts him as "one of the most prominent anti-racist writers and educators in the United States," shares his thoughts on the Boston Marathon bombing:
"It is a lesson about race, about whiteness, and specifically, about white privilege.

I know you don’t want to hear it. But I don’t much care. So here goes.

White privilege is knowing that even if the Boston Marathon bomber turns out to be white, his or her identity will not result in persons like yourself being singled out for suspicion by law enforcement, or the TSA, or the FBI.

White privilege is knowing that even if the bomber turns out to be white, no one will call for your group to be profiled as terrorists as a result, subjected to special screening, or threatened with deportation."
He then proceeds to list 49 white people who have engaged in terrorism, 44 of whom are men.

It is true that both white men and white women benefit from white privilege. I agree with Wise there. However, I think that white men and women, in many ways, are privileged differently in different contexts.

Wise's piece itself, unintentionally, seems teach us another lesson.

Namely, that whiteness and maleness intersect to create a rather unique privilege, one in which even if the bomber in this particular incident turns out to be yet another white man, his identity as a white man will not result in white men being singled out for suspicion, profiled, or subjected to special screenings even though it is white men when, compared to white women, who disproportionately commit this type of violence.

His gender, like his race, will not be put forth as an explanation for his actions, rendering these aspects of his identity and the socialization people undergo based on these characteristics, invisible. If a person is the Default Person, after all, people look for Other Explanations for his behavior. If the bomber turns out to be a woman, though, I think that many people would begin looking for gendered explanations for why she committed the crime.

Last year, Melissa McEwan wrote a piece in response to the Newton shooting, noting:
"There is one other subject that is off the discussion menu—and that is the fact that mass killings are committed by men almost exclusively. Of the 62 mass murders carried out with firearms across the US since 1982, 61 of them were committed by men. Forty-four of the killers were white men.
Every one of the men who picked up a gun—or multiple guns—and started shooting people was socialized in a patriarchal culture that encourages an aggressive masculinity one of the key expressions of which is meant to be violence.

That is not incidental. And you can bet your ass that if there was an epidemic of mass slaughters committed by women, their gender would be mentioned. How we raise girls would be examined. It would be talked about. Womanhood would be on the discussion menu."
And here we are.

If this particular incident was committed by a white man or white boy, it looks as though his white maleness won't be enough to warrant acknowledging, even by some progressives who are among the "most prominent" writers and educators about identity in the US.

That's a problem if we actually care about understanding violence.

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