Bull Ring Continuation of a discussion from another thread.

320 Years of History

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Nov 1, 2015
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Washington, D.C.
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This thread is created only because the line of conversation is one I'm willing to participate in, but as it isn't really the topic of the OP in the thread in which it began, I'm moving the conversation here so as not to drive the other thread off topic. This is less a debate and more a discussion between two people. I don't think either participant is striving to be right or wrong. It's more about discovery, thought and information sharing.

Continued from the prior thread....

how much influence does the unconscious white privilege have on the choices of black Americans
I'm not sure I understand the question -- or more precisely what scope of choices you would like me to address -- but don't you think that question is best asked of someone who's in a position to speak for black Americans or who has studied them enough to do so? I'm certainly not.

I've had conversations about white privilege with a handful of black peers -- social and professional. As best as I can tell, their perception that whites have a degree of privilege not enjoyed by non-whites leads them occasionally to hold thoughts about events they have observed, but not to commit acts based on those thoughts. Without exception, they think the matter of white privilege comes into play at socioeconomic levels well below theirs. At their level they think it manifests itself in terms of things like gaining admittance to certain organizations, but as they have gained that admittance or become members of comparable organizations, they don't sweat it much. Thus, it comes down to their recognizing "the lay of the land," say, for example, that there's little point in expecting to join a city or country club; therefore they make no effort to do so.

I didn't sense those folks were "stressed" over such things, but they are aware of the reality that were they white, they'd likely have long ago joined. In the world in which we live, a world where who you know can be as important as what you know and what you can do, it's something one cannot ignore even if one doesn't "flip out" over it. Just to give a few examples:
  • Daughters of the American Revolution -- Surely you know of Marian Anderson?
  • Sons of the American Revolution
  • Colonial Dames of America
  • Institutions that are now members of Ten Schools Admissions Organization -- The schools themselves don't outwardly appear to espouse the idea of white privilege, and they certainly these days do admit minorities, but try getting your kids admitted to one or look at the student bodies at them.

    Based only on my anecdotal observations, I suspect that about at least half, maybe as much as 80%+ of the student bodies at those schools consists of "legacy" kids or referrals from alumni. I'm not saying it's wrong for the schools to do that re: their admissions -- they are private schools that can do what they feel is best for the student body -- but that they do necessarily means that the privilege of attending is contained largely within the white community.

    (You may find this article interesting. One thing: "many people" black, white, or otherwise, don't send their kids to schools like Hotchkiss or Deerfield because the student bodies at those schools just isn't big enough for that to be so, although many people on the Social Register do send their kids to such schools.)
  • Augusta National Golf Club
  • Chevy Chase Club
  • Sulgrave Club
  • The Junior League

From what I can tell, the matter of white privilege seems to inspire behaviors among blacks that are hard to see as accruing from much other than their buying into the idea that adopting white traits, as much as one can when one is not white, will make them more acceptable in white America or by white Americans. Some examples that come to mind:
  • Black women straightening their hair so that it looks non-Negroid in texture and style. The fact is that "black hair" just doesn't do that "bouncing and behaving" lay flat thing that Caucasian and Asian hair generally does. Of course there are exceptions on both sides, although often folks having them have genetic causes for that.
  • I don't know if it's still in play, but certainly the "paper bag test" is a choice blacks made that was driven by a perception that "closer to white" was a "better" state of blackness. That is something that I learned about as a kid from the women who worked in my parents home. One of them was dark brown skinned and her sister (who didn't work for my folks) was light brown. The woman whom I knew well went to a D.C. school called Armstrong and her sister went to Dunbar. The only reason was the tone of brown in their skins. (African Americans and Gentrification in Washington, D.C.) I have only her word for it, but I think she wasn't mistaken as the matter has been addressed in scholarly writings.
The next things aren't choices I can cite as having been made by blacks, but rather they highlight cultural attitudes about blacks.
  • As a watch collector I've come across a surprising quantity folks who expressed having an issue with certain watches because of their perceptions about the folks who endorse them.

    For example, a very fine watch was promoted by Lebron James and quite a few folks have derided the watch as being "ghetto" largely because he's the person the maker chose to promote it. I have a hard time thinking that "ghetto" attribution comes from anything other than Mr. James' blackness because the man is clearly not "ghetto." I suspect instead that he might be able to "buy and sell" several actual ghettos.

    Most importantly, however, the sentiments expressed by those "haters" quite overtly denies the idea that one's having come from nothing and yet having "made it big" while being black seems not to engender the same degree of respect as it does when a white person does the same thing.
  • In the area of demonstrated business acumen, when we look at black folks who come to rule massive drug empires or illegal weapons empires, one of the things few folks note is the mastery of marketing, business operations management, logistics and distribution, etc. that the folks who "own" and run those illicit empires demonstrate. Those folks clearly have the requisite business skills that could well be used to manage any number of legitimate operations, and in many cases those folks had and developed their skills absent any formal training. Yet would they have been given a chance to do so by any legitimate business owner/manager had they gone to them? I doubt it. I wouldn't have given them a chance, largely because of their lack of formal education in business, yet there's clear proof that they could have done an excellent job, and being in a legal context, there's no reason to think they'd have implemented violent solutions to do so.

    [I don't think the above makes a racially driven point, but I think it makes a valid point about how we perceive folks and it speaks to opportunity -- the opportunity to get a quality education -- differences between whites and blacks.]
  • The difference between the national reaction to today's heroin "epidemic" and that of the 1950s and 1960s is another illustration of what seems to derive unconsciously from race. The 20th century heroin "epidemic" was largely a black thing and it was treated as a criminal justice problem. Today's "epidemic" is no different in substance and manifestation, but it's largely a white occurrence and it's being addressed as a public health problem. Ditto the prescription drug "epidemic." Of course that's not to say there were no whites using in the '50s and '60s, or that there are no blacks using today. The point is the difference in the public face of the people suffering the consequences of abusing/using heroin or prescription drugs.

    We experienced similar incongruities with the sentencing guidelines set forth for powder cocaine users/traffickers and rock cocaine traffickers/users, dissimilarities that remained until 2010 or so. There again, while the drug was literally the same drug, powder cocaine was preferred by whites, and especially by glamorous white folks who would "do a bump" and then ebulliently stroll the "red carpet" or dance the night away in "velvet rope" nightclubs, and blacks, having neither the money nor fame to do that, preferred to chill at home doing rock cocaine and getting more "bang for the buck," even though the effect is the same.

is whatever number you or whatever scholarly paper you can find regarding, reflective of the disparities between whites and blacks.
Can you try to restate that question, please? Here I have no idea what you are asking of me.

shouldnt disparities of the lack of that privilege reflect the same or at least somewhat close in every other minority outside of black? Or even when comparing African immigrants to native African Americans? Shouldn't there be the same disparities between Cambodians/Laotians, as Chinese/southeast Asian?
Yes and no. The extent depends on how the folks who have privilege project their negative attitudes on others. If you're seeking some sort of rational explanation for why and how the privileged class justify their being less biased against some groups and more against others, you won't find it. There's nothing rational about the bias in the first place.

Having said that, I don't know that the disparities are or are not the same. I know that I worked on a project about a decade ago wherein an Chinese client expressly said to me that they were surprised at how good a consultant a black member of my team was. They stated they initially had trepidations about him because of what they'd heard and read about American blacks in American press outlets and publications.

I realize that's just one person, in fact that person is the only one who's ever said such things to me. But I also know that that one person cannot possibly be alone in having had no experience interacting with blacks and having to rely only one what they come by in the popular press. I know too that no black person had a damn thing to do with creating that impression and that it was one promoted by blacks.

Imagine the position I was in. There I was having to accept praise for my black colleague and having to explain to a Chinaman that what they've heard about black Americans is best discarded unless they are very confident in the rigor given to presenting the information because the popular press cannot always be relied upon to present a complete picture of people and life in America, particularly, but not limited to, minorities and matters of race.

Do you know what response I got? "Oh, America's popular press is a like China's." I could only reply with any integrity that the answer has to be, "Yes, except that the government doesn't own the press in the U.S., but that doesn't stop the same sort of slanted reporting from happening and it doesn't stop some Americans from believing it."

[W]hat nation has taken in larger amounts of different ethnicities and cultures, and has had as much success blending them as America? I I'm asking this question to add more context in this conversation
I don't know the answer to your question, but I would guess none. What I do know is that how many folks of differing ethnicities, cultures and races a nation takes in is irrelevant. Whether the U.S. treats its minorities better or worse than other countries do isn't even relevant, unless one is among the folks seeking a place to which to immigrate. What matters is how the nation treats them once they arrive, and for all intents and purposes, most American blacks and their ancestors arrived well before the Civil War; some even fought in the Revolutionary War.

The quantity of blacks who are American citizens is moreover irrelevant because the overwhelming majority of black Americans have ancestries in the U.S. that predate that of every other immigrant group except those who contributed to the importation of blacks prior to the Civil War. When the various European groups immigrated to the U.S. the mass importation of slaves had stopped and blacks were not entering the U.S. in anywhere near the proportions that Europeans were after 1865. I'm just speculating about what follows...I suspect, seeing as blacks aren't the largest minority group in the U.S., that the arrival of blacks never again rose to the level of that of any subsequent groups of immigrants.

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