Anti-racist activist Tim Wise has been thinking about the Tea Party Movement. Specifically, he’s been thinking about what happens if the Tea Party protesters were simply re-colored.
Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters —the black protesters — spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protesters — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans?
He goes on in excruciating detail, bringing in many news items from the period of the Obama presidency, switching the skin colors.
First of all, the piece is brilliant. It needed to be thought of, it needed to be written, and Tim Wise was clearly the man for the job.
Imagine a black political commentator suggesting that the only thing the guy who flew his plane into the Austin, Texas IRS building did wrong was not blowing up Fox News instead. This is, after all, what Anne Coulter said about Tim McVeigh, when she noted that his only mistake was not blowing up the New York Times.
Second of all, it reminded me forcefully of Joanna Russ’s excerpt from the end of The Female Man (1973) which uses the opposite technique to provide the same strength of imagination:
It’s very upsetting to think that women make up only one-tenth of society, but it’s true. For example:
My doctor is male.
My lawyer is male.
My tax-accountant is male.
The grocery-story owner (on the corner) is male.
The janitor in my apartment building is male.
The president of my bank is male.
[and twelve more[
I think most of the people in the country are male.
Now it’s true that waitresses, elementary-school teachers, secretaries, nurses, and nuns are female, but how many nuns do you meet in the course of the usual business day?*
Sometimes we can see certain kinds of things at an angle that we can’t see when we look straight at them.
Which brings me to my third point about Wise’s article. Here at Body Impolitic, one of our missions is “making the invisible visible.” We usually talk about that in physical terms: the proud visibility fat women, people of color, disabled people, trans people, and more. The phrase also applies to “the emperor has no clothes”: finding ways to show up inexcusable (and illegal) behavior for what it is, to illuminate the direction we seem to be going in, to make a point in a way more people can hear.
And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.
If you have people in your life who send you extremist right-wing emails, or cartoons, or polemics; if you have people who support the Tea Party and don’t understand why you don’t; if you have people who listen to Glenn Beck and his ilk and spew their hatred at you, try to get them to read this. It won’t change most minds, of course: minds are hard to change. But it’s the best thing I’ve seen in a long time to open a few eyes, to redirect a little bit of the anger, and (just possibly) to open up some real discussion of what’s happening.
Seen a few places, but Carol was first.
* Googling around to find this excerpt on line, I found a 2006 book discussion group where a woman was asking if Russ was “exaggerating for effect” when she wrote this, because it’s so different now (in some places, anyway). In case anyone reading this is wondering, no, she wasn’t.