Casting the Last Straw

Imagine you’re driving along the road and someone cuts you up. I suspect you at least thought about swearing. Maybe thought about leaning on the horn. Did you think about writing a letter to the newspaper asking people to drive more carefully?

Now, imagine you arrive at work and find a parking space, but just as you are lining up someone takes the space. I suspect more of you now think you’d swear, lean on the horn. Maybe even get out and confront the driver. How many of you genuinely think you would forgive that person?

Now, imagine when you get into work your manager announces the board have approved your idea, only the announcement calls it your manager’s idea. Some of you are potentially still calm and polite but I suspect most of you aren’t.

Now imagine it happening every day for the rest of your life.

And your children’s life.

Angry yet?

And then they put up statues to the white guy who cut you up, the white guy who stole your space, and the white guy you stole your idea. And when you and all the other people they did the same to complain society tells you the statues commemorate significant people in the area, so you’re all overreacting.

Destruction of a statue isn’t the most perfect moral act in existence. But I understand why it happened.

And generations of institutional racism are inarguably not moral in the slightest.

7 thoughts on “Casting the Last Straw

  1. “cuts you up” is that a britishism? We say getting cut off.

    I’ve heard it said that although most white folks are not racist and often feel that they must pay for the sins of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers going back generations that yes, we must pay, though we personally have done nothing wrong. Why? Because we continue to enjoy the fallout of institutional racism and until all races are truly treated equal: healthcare, education, opportunity, etc. that we will continue to pay for our hidden endowment.

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    1. There’s a subtle difference, at least in my dialect of English, between “cut off” and “cut up”: “cut off” has an implication of getting in front of someone to stop them, e.g. the sheriff cut the bandits off at the pass; whereas, “cut up” implies forcing in front, e.g. I was just pulling away from the traffic light when a motorcycle cut me up.

      As you say, there’s a difference between being prejudiced and benefiting from the impact of prejudice. Which is why a major obstacle to resolving the question whether or not white people are racist is terminological inexactitude. Racism can be divided into personal racism (a specific person believing one race is better/worse than others) and institutional racism (a social system that applies advantage/disadvantage based on race). The benefit gained by an individual for gaining advantage (or avoiding disadvantage) due to institutional racism (or any other bias) is privilege. So, a nuanced description of the United Kingdom might be “The United Kingdom is institutionally racist. The majority of residents are not personally racist but are privileged.”

      However, not everyone states these differentiations (especially in heated situations or when they have limited time/space). While it is understandable that someone driven to passion by chronic imbalance and acute injustice might not have terminological precision as their primary consideration, it can result in privileged people becoming angry they are accused of the racism of their forebears.

      You are spot on about the responsibility not being due to personal fault. I view correcting the injustice of past society in the same way I view paying for schools: I don’t have children so don’t directly benefit from there being schools, but an ethical/moral/stable society is based on everyone contributing to supply the needs of the whole.

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      1. “Privilege” descended from overt historical and ongoing institutional racism.
        We need an alien attack to threaten our species (zombies would work too), in order to raise the division bar where us is us and them is definitely not human.

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        1. White privilege is definitely a product of racism; however, I think it’s useful to use a label that doesn’t contain the word “racism” to avoid the kneejerk reaction to being insulted that is wired deep in the human psyche; otherwise, we risk losing the average white people to the simplistic lies of supremacists about how black people want to make being white a bad thing.

          Not sure if an external enemy is the answer: leaving aside the fact that building a foundation on a common enemy is still building a society on the basis of prejudice, much of the problem is caused by the super-rich/political class who are likely to be able to ride out many catastrophe situations better than most people then emerge even more powerful.

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          1. I like your thinking regarding “privilege.”

            I was being facetious re: aliens. Everyone knows they don’t exist. (half serious grin). But I agree,

            Corporations are the scourge of the Earth. They are the facilitators of the elite class.

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  2. In the United States for the past fifty years or so discrimination has been mandated by law. Quota systems in employment, education, and even publication require that non-whites be given preference over whites and that females be given preference over males. There are opportunities–scholarships, internships, mentoring–that are available to non-whites and females that are not available to whites and males.

    So I don’t have to imagine your scenario, I’ve lived it every day of my adult life.

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