Discussion: CBS' King Presses Northam: 'Did You Not Know You Were Born Into White Privilege?'

What have you learned that you didn’t know before?” King asked.

“Well several things,” he responded. “Starting with I was born in white privilege and that has implications to it. It is much different the way a white person such as myself is — is treated in this country versus–”

“Did you not know that you were born into white privilege?” King said.

I knew I was, Ms. King, but I didn’t realize really the powerful implications of that,” he said. “And again talking to a lot of friends that has come crystal clear to me this week. I have also learned why the use of blackface is so offensive, and yes I knew it in the past. But reality has really set in.”

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Let us be clear: Northam ran for Governor in 2018 in the Commonwealth of Virginia: a state steeped in the maelstrom of
race relations throughout its entire history. He gained the overwhelming support of Blacks in that state after countless interactions and conversations with African-American individuals and groups over the course of his campaign, and it only occurred him over the past weekend that his white privilege is real, and that racial insensitivity is a dangerously unacceptable thing? Come on, now!

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Cut this guy some slack. We all did dumb shit as kids. The crowd I ran with in high school did what at the time was sort of innocuous in our minds, just the usual hijinks while pursuing some thrills and a good time. Yet a couple kids pulling the some stunts today would lead the damned nightly local news. Today’s scandals were just boys being boys in the 60s and 70s.

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“I went to a desegregated school” is not nearly the same thing as having black friends. I hope the broader interview doesn’t let that pass. I mean, I went to a school with oth girls and boys, but it would be a huge stretch to call the relationships I had with almost all females (especially during the ages he’s talking about) as “friendship.” Mostly they were a puzzle.

Desegregation especially in Virginia during that time frame was a very contentious issue. The kids were most definitely not “well I guess we’re in school together now, let’s hang out, hey sorry about that whole “separate but equal” nonsense.”

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Northam was voted into office by a majority of Virginians. What happened 35 years ago wasn’t criminal. It’s up to the citizens of VA only to decide his fate. Apparently he has decent support in polls. Time to move on, IMO.

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As awkward and painful as this is, I do think this process could end up being a better result for the country. Believe it or not there are a lot of white folks who don’t get it on race, not because of malice but because they’re just oblivious. When you’re in the majority, you don’t have to care about minority rights because they’re not a part of your picture. This is true in every country. This is what the ‘what’s in his/her heart’ defense comes from. People think of being labeled as racist is among the worst, shameful character judgments one can make of another person. For a lot of white folks, they recoil at it, which is why our media struggle to call Trump a racist.

But this exercise makes it easier for some white folks to admit they don’t get it, and that it’s ok to grow and learn from it. The answer to these conundrums is not to recoil in a fit of Trumpian denialist rage, but to accept that these are learning experiences. We went through this in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Many embraced the moment and many recoiled but the end result is that things did get better for minorities under the law and society did grow up a bit on race. We’re going through another such phase now.

If you take the country’s evolution on gay rights as an example, it becomes easier to see. If you grew up in the 60s, 70s and 80s, you grew up in a deeply homophobic culture that a majority of us eventually saw through and shed. That took time. It took recognition. It took dialogue. It took reflection. It required evolution. Same thing on race.

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I’m regularly disappointed by people who don’t understand the value of white privilege.

I’ve been acutely aware of it. Lots of international travel around Europe, and as a white male of European descent, I’ve never been pulled aside or asked tons of questions. Usually just a quick ‘how long are you staying’, if they don’t just stamp the passport.

Been on trains going through borders, watching border patrols walk past me and check the passports of the, well, less-white people.

Walked quietly through a police line in near-riot conditions (European Soccer, gotta love it!) to get out of the crowd, no problems, just smile and wave through.

Been pulled over once for speeding in Ohio, friendly and smiles, and took a bit off the ticket.

etc. etc.

But a lot of white people don’t seem to notice that we get a different level of treatment and deference from the police and other authority figures.

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Northam would come off a lot better if he could manage to say something that didn’t sound canned. Josh nailed it a couple of days ago, citing unnamed others:

Ralph Northam is the first Virginia governor in a generation who grew up in Virginia.

He’s really part of some version of the Southern cultural continuum. It’s hard for us outsiders to intuit what’s behind it all.

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When he was a kid they were still teaching the “indentured servants liked it” version of slavery. And then he had a white-privilege career from college through medical school through the rest of being a doctor. So of course I blame him, but there’s a small chance he could actually learn and change. And help others do so.

Think of it as a “Nixon goes to China” moment…

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Traveling.

Met a black dude from Richmond yesterday in our mutual overnight RV camp. About age 50.

We talked extensively about the Virginia and Northam situation.

He voted for him, and would again.

He stressed that Northam was dressed as Michael Jackson for a dance contest, and doesn’t view this as a denigrating black face incident but more of a specific costume and that Northam was honoring Jackson.

Appreciates the “teachable moment” opportunity.

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You watch policemen murder Blacks in broad daylight with impunity and you don’t get it? You see photos of dogs attacking Black protesters and you don’t get it? You see Blacks thrown in prison after being falsely accused, or for simple drug offenses and you don’t get it? Emmet Till reveals nothing? John Henry? Trayvon Martin? Lack of slavery reparations. Higher unemployment rates. Attacks against affirmative action. Segregated schools.

I could go on for a very long time. Not buying it that racists don’t get it. No way! !

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  • Northam: "… I was born in white privilege and that has implications to it. It is much different the way a white person such as myself is — is treated in this country versus–
  • King: “Did you not know that you were born into white privilege?”

Most people discover this sort of wider cultural context over time. There’s no particular reason would have been aware of his status until he got out in the wide, wide world. I wonder at what point Ms. King realized that she enjoys a kind of privilege only a few attain; wealth and power?

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The only white folks that say the don’t know about white privilege or how powerful it is are either lying or really dumb. Especially interesting after watching Green Book this weekend. Things definately aren’t as overt as then, but all us white folks know it’s still there. Especially interesting watching it with my 16 year old daughter and her boyfriend who I believe both went to elementary and middle schools that were probably at or close to 1/3 white, 1/3 black, and 1/3 latino. Didn’t ask them a lot about it, but I imagine though they have learned about segregation, seeing it at that level must have been a shock to see how common and accepted it was.

Northam: “I was born a poor black child.” (H/T: Steve Martin, “The Jerk”, 1979)

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The failure on the part of media to report what are obvious facts is part of the problem with the attitudes people continue to hold.There are at least a dozen pejorative adjectives that can be accurately attached to Trump via citations of his words and actions, yet the media won’t go there. Misogynist, narcissist, liar, xenophobe to tally just a few.
For example, for days he has been saying El Paso used to be one one of the most crime infested, dangerous cities in the nation. Have we seen a single major news organization declare “Donald Trump is lying about El Paso and crime”??? Has one major news anchor watched by millions looked the camera in the eye and said “Donald Trump is baldly lying to America about El Paso’s record on crime”?

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Probably because “racist” as a label is black-and-white (pardon the pun, couldn’t resist).

Racism, to me, appears to be that same spectrum thing that applies to most things in life, running from the basic passive racism of assumptions about a different group of people than one’s own all the way through klan membership.

With only one term to use, should be a legitimate point about where on that spectrum one has the label applied.

Personally I think claiming you are not a racist is akin to claiming you are a virgin. You either are, or you are not.

“I’ll have dinner with a black person, or work with one, but I sure as hell don’t want my daughter marrying one, or have one living next door to me!”

Is that person a racist? Or, as you term it, kinda lower on the spectrum, and just a little bit of a racist?

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That one I’d put on the racist list.

But let’s go more subtle. I live in a large metropolitan area. There are certain areas which are “no-go” for me as a white person, particularly at night. Dropping my friend off at her home after a concert one evening, she advised me that I was safe in the car, but probably shouldn’t walk her to her door.

Am I racist for taking that advice?

Given the same advice about staying in the JEEP while on safari, or risk getting attacked by a lion, I don’t think staying put means you personally distrust the lions.
She knows the neighborhood. It’s not your judgment guiding your behavior, it’s hers.

Plus even if she’s an alarmist you just know if you walk her to the door someone is going to try and bum some money or a cigarette off of you. That’s the way those people are.