White Liberal Checks Privileges by Bicycle

Two friends shared a link to a blog by Michigan preacher and blogger JDowsett, who hit the Facebook lottery with a blog last week, "What My Bike Has Taught Me about White Privilege".   It is well written.

Liberal white privilege college students 1981
It has been one of those months when a lot of social and racial soul-searching is going on in the USA.  The mysterious shooting of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri...  Without going into a lot about that case here, I'll just put this link to Cracked.com "7 Important Details that No One Mentions about Ferguson" (my Facebook status for much of the week).  The language is salty, but I think Cracked has definitely evolved from a Mad Magazine rip-off in the 1970s to some of the best editorial writing on the web today.  Here's a shot of my status, including a snippet of the article.
Dudes... Cracked.com has grown into something, like... way different from "Mimic MAD". I've actually considered quitting to go work for Cracked, it's today's editorial.
Robin Ingenthron BTW It's a longer article than usual in Cracked and the language is quite quite salty. But there are some great points made, e.g.: "Aside from protesters throwing rocks and things at police, you've probably heard reports that LOOTERS and RIOTERS were at the protests, and that is true, .... There were people at these protests who got out of hand (some from out of town, some not), and the community paid for it. But small groups of drunken youths do not a riot make, especially when it's surrounded by much larger groups of completely peaceful protesters. Most of them are just like any average citizen in America. If you have to, just imagine that all of these protesters also happen to be white. Hope that helps."

Note the distinction the author Cody Johnston makes about how a mass protest gets labelled as a "riot" less easily in our minds if we "just imagine that all these protesters also happen to be white".   It's much the same point I make ad nauseum about TV repair... people perceive an African TV repairman as a little more dangerous, a little more criminal.  #HurricaneJoeBenson did not get six bullets like Mike Brown, but the time they took to defame him and prosecute him was a slow motion train wreck.

Hey Yah...Teach me lies...

Even as UN reports surfaced showing 91% reuse, and the original source of the "ewaste hoax" statistic ("80% dumping?") mumbled away a denial of ever having stated otherwise, the prosecution of Joseph Benson and BJ Electronics plodded away, taking a note of none of it.  It's harder to assess, perhaps, a mistaken snap judgement made by a Ferguson MO policeman in seconds.  And Trayvon Martin's killer was acquitted based on the quickness of the killing (and prosecuted in the press for the number of minutes he spent stalking trouble).  Benson was FRAMED over a course of years, and apparently no one ever thought he was worth the time to check that Greenpeace and Basel Action Network were full of @#$*.

Yep, the biggest thorn in Jim's side is indeed a liberal environmentalist, a college chum of Puckett's chums.

Yearbook got us liberal Minnesota PIRGs (leaning left) mixed up with sparse Black Christians in Asia?  

Back to the pastor JDowsett blog.  He defends a term, "Check Your Privileges."  If you haven't heard it yet, it's the modern form of "politically correct".   Minorities and the liberals who defend them from society have established it as a meme for "don't make us take the time to remind you how the entire white society has put minorities into such a situation that it has to be factored in to whatever expectations we're discussing".    CYP says that, quickly.  And by saying it, you declare yourself with the underdog, and kind of let the person on the other end know they'll be up against the wall come the revolution.

The website "KnowYourMeme" has a good definition of the Check Your Privilege expression.
Check Your Privilege” is an online expression used mainly by social justice bloggers to remind others that the body and life they are born into comes with specific privileges that do not apply to all arguments or situations. The phrase also suggests that when considering another person’s plight, one must acknowledge one’s own inherent privileges and put them aside in order to gain a better understanding of his or her situation.
The phrase “Check Your Privilege” was used as early as March 2006 on the social justice blog Shrub.com[1] in an article explaining how to accept one’s inherent privilege and understand situations that members of non-privileged groups are going through.

Social justice bloggers... I never heard the term before.  Kinda like it.  Isn't that what we're doing when we defend the "geeks of color" in emerging markets right here at Good Point Ideas / Retroworks Blog?

Well, as I said previously, JDowsett hit the social justice blog mainline with "what my bike has taught me about white privilege".   It's a about 1800 words.  And against what I think is a growing backlash in some quarters about the "check your privilege" meme (which sounds a little finger-pointy, doesn't it?), Dowsett makes the case that as the white parent of black kids, he needs to understand the social context of justiced and expectations, and that he has found an analogy that works for him.

Imagine you ride a bike to work in a city that isn't bike friendly.  It's not really the fault of the automobile drivers that you're in danger as you move around, they are just travelling in the lines that the city planners developed.  But you can't say its fair, if you use a bike in a city like Lansing Michigan.

And it’s not just the fact that the whole transportation infrastructure is built around the car. It’s the law, which is poorly enforced when cyclists are hit by cars, the fact that gas is subsidized by the government and bike tires aren’t, and just the general mindset of a culture that is in love with cars after a hundred years of propaganda and still thinks that bikes are toys for kids and triathletes.
So when I say the semi driver is privileged, it isn’t a way of calling him a bad person or a man-slaughterer or saying he didn’t really earn his truck, but just way of acknowledging all that–infrastructure, laws, gov’t, culture–and the fact that if he and I get in a collision, I will probably die and he will just have to clean the blood off of his bumper. In the same way, talking about racial privilege isn’t a way of telling white people they are bad people or racists or that they didn’t really earn what they have.
It’s a way of trying to make visible the fact that system is not neutral, it is not a level-playing field, it’s not the same experience for everyone. There are biases and imbalances and injustices built into the warp and woof of our culture. (The recent events in Ferguson, MO should be evidence enough of this–more thoughts on that here). Not because you personally are a racist, but because the system has a history and was built around this category “race” and that’s not going to go away over night (or even in 100 years). To go back to my analogy: Bike lanes are relatively new, and still just kind of an appendage on a system that is inherently car-centric. - JDowsett 2014.08.20 Blog
It's a great defense of social justice blogs' use of the terms "privilege" and "white privilege" specifically.  And I didn't feel bad about the roar of comment-applause via Facebook shares during the Ferguson week.  In eloquently defending use of a "finger-pointy"term, Dowsett gave a good defense for checking others privileges.   By applauding the use of an accusation, Facebookers were showing support for blacks in Ferguson.

My son sent me the CYP-by-Bike blog and asked me to read it carefully, and asked my opinion.  It was lukewarm... I said I much agreed with an early comment by "Taylor".

So when it came back up on Facebook, I'd already read it.  Both times, I open with a compliment, and it is indeed a good job.  But the people applauding need to hear a counterpoint.

I'm all about dialectic.  Liberals back-slapping each other, like nodding Budweiser Clydesdales hauling Kool-Aid, doesn't do the progressive cause more good than Limbaugh's ditto-heads, or cheerleaders for low forheaded word-butting by Sean Hannity.  Logic and discussion, honesty and dialectic, that's how to get to the next level.  So I thought.

Again, with the racial opinionizing, I had to leave a comment on Dowsett's blog (and via FB)

  • Robin Ingenthron My son just shared this with me a couple of days ago. It makes an important point, and many who’d bristle at the “political correctness” no doubt have privileges they don’t acknowledge. But I’ve seen the term (or assumption) tossed at people based purely on their race, which I believe represents the same “thin ice” of any “easy assumption”. How many handicap license plates pass the cyclist on the road? Yes, the person in the wheelchair van travels in an advantaged traffic pattern, and hopes their driver doesn’t cut off or hit a cyclist. And how many “students of color” on the campuses (where this phrase is used) have never had an experience as a minority (e.g. exchange students)? Simplification is intoxicating, and while statistically the people who say “check your priviledge” are going to be frequently on the money, “walk a mile in the other man’s shoes” is a saying which has traveled far with good reason. It cuts both ways, it makes the point of privileges, but seems less prone to sanctimony. The fact a person feels disadvantaged or privileged by society does not offer them a monopoly on dis/advantage, and they do not necessarily share equally in either the disadvantages or advantages of their ethnic group. It’s easy to see if someone’s a cyclist. Not so easy to tell the story of the bus passenger.
    5 hrs · Like

Now, I knew I was on huffy (or Huffington-y) turf with taht post.  I'd see the distainful retorts left by proud progressive social justice commenters to other people's posts which... for lack of a better phrase - defend the resentment of "check your privileges" memes.    )

  • Social Blogger KS - Robin, exactly what a person with white privilege would say. That you might offer the statement of "a monopoly on disadvantage" is an important one, but gets lost in your sanctimony. "You are not Trayvon Martin." That fits perfectly here because I suspect you cannot measure another's experience as it is not yours. I also suspect it speaks to your need not to be a racist to believe that not all "people of color" (can't wait to meet colorless people), experience the adversity of "white privilege". There is corruption in the idea that we can understand what it means to be someone else, and we should not cast dispersions. The power of "white privilege" is that it is so prevalent and long running that it is normal. Which is not to say it is right.

News flash. Check Your Privileges means, among other things, that you are "sanctimonious" if you are privileged and you speak out against the binary oversimplification embedded in CYP.   I'm not Trayvon Martin and if I'm speaking in caution about the "politically correct" use of CYP, it's corrupt by nature and suspicious that I'm using terms like "people of color" (the correct term when I took 'US Black History' class with Dr. Nubie Williams at the University of Arkansas, before "African American" was vogue).

Anyway,  I'm trying not to feel pissed off, but it's also familiar ground.  "Have you stopped beating your wife?"  I apologized too long for trading used computer equipment with Africans, and wish I'd taken a louder stand sooner.  So summoning my politeness and reminding myself that the wounds of Ferguson are still fresh, I responded... 

  • Robin Ingenthron KS, I thought I was careful to describe my concerns over the term without being sanctimonious, but perhaps I failed. Statistically, you may be 100% right about me and your retort maybe "fits perfectly here". It sounds like I may even have offended you in expressing the uneasy feeling I have about the essay. Not sure where I cast dispersion, however. Most of the very disadvantaged people I work with have never experienced being a racial minority, so maybe that's where my tone-deafness comes from.

Note, I said "Most of the disadvantaged people I workd with have never experienced being a racial miniority".   By that I mean people in Africa, Asia, Mideast and Latin America.   Sure there are religious and secular minorities, and South America is not exactly color blind.  But people suffer injustice outside of the automobile-centric whiteburbia.

KS keeps it going...

Ok, he's politely asked me to explain how I have a right to an opinion on the matter, stating I've placed myself as an "exemplar".  The glove has dropped.

First, I have to take myself out of the dynamic.  Let's say KS is right about me, on the money.

Still, in the same way that JDowsett explains that automobile drivers can't really experience life as a bicycler, can't really understand the way the system looks at from their point of view, I have to point out that Dowsett hasn't addressed the wheelchair van, or the handicapped person, or the people walking on foot.

Could I ever really know discrimination?  I remember when I was a "hippy", with long hair in the early 80s, an African-American friend reminded me... Yes, I'd be discriminated against in Arkansas, looking the way I did.  Yes, I could get a peek into social injustice, by being judged for my looks rather than my character.  But for me, it would only be a choice.  If things ever got bad, I would always know, I could cut my hair.  He could not wash the black off.

As I explain in the last response, my final post, "Check Your Privilege" is an ad hominem attack.  It is a logical tactic called "poison the well".  If racists would share my opinion about Dowsett's blog, how can I respond?

By reminding Americans that the USA is a small place, and our history of racial integration is a work in progress.  It has lessons for places like Europe.  It also has almost nothing to do with Africa or Asia.  Privilege and injustice exists outside of the USA's cultural traffic jam.  But most of the dark skinned people in the world live their entire lives surrounded by people who look more or less like they do, and have little experience with being "a minority".

As serious as I am about posting Cracked.com's damning, searing attack on Ferguson Missouri police, I'm also serious that liberals must "do no harm" in promoting their solutions.   I think "Check your privilege" is lazy.  It simplifies the world and equates people who may have some experience in common, but maybe not.  Disenfranchising women is not a western invention, it's an invention of poverty which is cured by industrialization.  It's cured slowly, agonizingly slowly, with setbacks, but trade in my opinion is the great equalizer.

Robin Ingenthron KS - I honestly believe in dialectic. Really. You may be 'on the money' that "no monopoly on disadvantage" is "exactly what a person with white privilege would say", but that's an ad hominem argument. Given that many "wrong" (non-Trayvon) persons would share my opinion is not a logical counterpoint, no matter how many disagreeable strawmen you imagine to share it. As it happens the examples I had in mind are non-whites who are a) disadvantaged, and b) not minority. The Biyas, Gaddafis, Mubaraks and Mugabes tell whites to "check our privilege", invoking "colonial history" as an excuse for their political purges on Malalas, Ken Saro Iwa, Isaac Boro, etc. My Privilege does not keep me from recognizing a poor excuse for tribalism, graft, or sexism (Europeans did not bring "sexual inequality" to the global south, did they?) , yet it's used all the time by bullies to keep criticism off balance. Many are suffering in Lagos, Jakarta, or Lima, savagely taxed by locally privileged people they know perfectly well. Yet they've never been "a minority". Why is that notion important to me? Mugabe could say that "a racist would agree with me", which pinpoints the flaw with CYP - Correlation /= Causation. My analogy that dis-ambulatory people are not on bicycles was a fair critique against telling all "autoists" to 'check their privileges', and injecting my alleged "sanctimony" demonstrates my concern. "Privilege" and lack thereof is complex, it isn't binary, and as the OP states well, the haves often don't appreciate it. But as oblivious as the cyclist imagines them, the cyclist can indeed be oblivious to his ambulatory privileges, and the point is that attacking the privilege of the reasonable opponent is not a good method of dialectic. No matter how racist I may or may not be, insinuating that I lack the moral bearings to acknowledge my white privilege triggers deflection of blame, which is a distraction from a valid debate. See Aristotle's ad hominem attack or "poisoning the well"http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Poisoning_the_well "Check your privilege" comes across that way to me, it appears to be used to intimidate and raise questions about one's zen. I don't think your response disproves my caution.

Poisoning the well is a rhetorical technique and logical fallacy that uses the a...S

We want Palestinians and Jews to trade, we want Tutsi and Hutu to exchange, we want to let our kids jam out to other peoples music.    We don't want dictators chasing away Western democracy with guilt trips of colonization.

We want Japanese Romeos to marry Chinese Juliettes, we want to jail assholes who chop up women and journalists without regard to how many people look like them.   Assholes come in many flavors.  We want people to feel good about becoming a police officer,  we don't want it to be identified as a "politically incorrect" career.  We want to be honest about sustainability.

I'm considered crazy left by some of my family in the South.

What I learned is that to truly, truly make a difference about the cause, you must approach it like a doctor.   Use scientific method, logic, and economics.  Like Socrates, learn to thank others who argued against you, happy to be found wrong.   And treat your colleagues the same.

"Check your privilege" is shorthand.  It's worth saying maybe once.  When it becomes a "meme", it jumps the shark and can do more harm than good.  Liberals make just as lousy bullies as conservatives.

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