Crunk Feminist Collective blogger Brittney Cooper examines the now iconic face-off between President Barack Obama and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer in five parts. Like most people, she maintains that it was disrespectful and that white privilege conditions white people not to see white rage.
1.) He is the President. She is being disrespectful. As hell. Period. Point Blank. End of Discussion.
2.) White privilege conditions white people not to see white rage. However, it makes them hyper-aware of Black threat. Newt Gingrich is white rage personified. And for it, he gets loads of applause. So is Jan Brewer, but usually we think of white rage in masculine terms. Gender stereotypes condition us not to see white women as being capable of this kind of dangerous emotional output. We reserve our notions of female anger for Black women. Such hidden race-gender logics allow Brewer to assert that she “felt threatened,” even though she was trying to handle the situation “with grace.” Now look back at the picture: who is threatening whom? Couple white rage with white women’s access to the protections that have been afforded to their gender, and you have something that looks ironically like white female privilege. Yes (yes, yes), the discourse of protection is based upon problematic and sexist stereotypes of white women as dainty and unable to care for themselves, and yes, these stereotypes have caused white women to be oppressed by white men. But remember, gender does not exist in a racial vacuum. It is performed in highly racialized contexts, and history proves that what constitutes oppression for white women in relation to white men, dually constitutes privilege for white women in relation to Black men. (I’m not spoiling for a fight today, so anybody who feels uncomfortable with such assertions should probably go read some Patricia Hill Collins, Black Sexual Politics and then try again.) What I know is this: 100 years ago (less than, actually) a Black man even standing that close to a white woman would’ve gotten him lynched. (Seriously, I just discovered that even accommodationist Booker T. Washington was beaten in New York in 1911 for talking to a white woman.) And I know that if a Black woman had wagged her finger at Bush II or even Bill Clinton, we would have seen her faced down, handcuffed, with Secret Service swarming. When your race and gender grant you opportunities to be treated with dignities that others don’t have or conversely, to heap indignities on those people, that is what we call privilege. Deal with it.
Read Brittney Cooper’s entire blog entry at Crunk Feminist Collective.