White Privilege is John McCain Playing a Video Game During a Hearing on Going to War in Syria
Irresponsible. Lazy. Traitor. Bad citizen. Incompetent. Un-American. Disloyal. Not patriotic. Impeachable. Treasonous.
Those are the labels that would be applied to a black congressperson or senator--or perhaps, even one who is a Democrat--caught playing a game of video poker while sitting through a hearing about, what are quite literally life and death matters, if the United States should intervene militarily in Syria.
In order to both survive and remain sane in a country where racism has dominated life chances and life outcomes, black folks have historically been taught by parents, teachers, and other mentors that we had to be at least twice as good as a white person, one with less than comparable skills, to get half as far in the world.
Such advice is true but incomplete--whiteness and white privilege also allows a given white person to be significantly less qualified, and to have moments of incompetence, while still retaining goodwill and an assumption of credibility and trust, that others who are not part of said racial group are not afforded or allowed.
Yes, white privilege is about the "big things" in life. But, white privilege as a social force is perhaps most pernicious in how it manifests in day-to-day ways, such as through unstated assumptions about one's ability, trustworthiness, and authority.
White privilege works through double-standards too. For example, the Right-wing media is attempting to gin up a faux controversy about President Obama because he put his foot, like so many other presidents before him, on the Oval Office desk.
And just imagine how the Right-wing media would respond to a black or brown John McCain playing a video game, and perhaps even gambling, while serious matters of war and peace are being debated by the United States Senate.
Such a moment would be Birth of a Nation revisited on Fox News and Right-wing talk radio.
John McCain suffered in Vietnam as a prisoner in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. One would think his horrible and hellish experience there would make him especially sensitive to the high stakes involved in sending American forces to attack Syria.
It would appear such empathy is not present. Old men declare war; young men and women die and fight in them.
White privilege lowers the bar for his behavior. It also provides insulation for any type of criticism, as being white, male, a veteran, and of a certain age, provides an a priori assumption of one's "Americanness" and "patriotism".
And because whiteness and white privilege are precisely about race and citizenship, such buffers are a type of "money in the bank", both material and psychological, that does not apply equally across the color line.
White folks can be distracted and play video games in Congress while the war drums beat; Barack Obama, the country's first black President, was heckled and harassed while giving the State of the Union Speech.
The lie of post racial America in the Age of Obama reveals itself in many ways both small and large. Some folks by virtue of skin color are given respect. Other folks by virtue of their skin color are denied it...even if they are President of the United States of America.