My big takeaway from Tim Rice’s White Like Me is that the ultimate sense of white privilege is not being defined as a category. It is like when I was a child, I thought that vanilla had no flavor — just sugary deliciousness. This isn’t to say that this is all that white privilege is. Given my anti-authoritarian tendencies and the way I’ve lived my life, had I been born black, I would probably be doing 20 to life in some prison somewhere. I would not be able to refer wryly to my “colorful” past. But I think it is much more fundamental to know that anything I do — go or bad — reflects on me alone and is not “typical of those people” or “the exception that proves the rule about those people.”
This occurs to me all the time. Whenever there is murder, I hope it is a white guy. It’s not that I care about the individual case. But when it is anyone but a white guy, it becomes categorized. The issue is not the explicit bigots — they already “know” whatever it is they know. But for the rest of us, it pushes buttons that have been created by living in a racist society our entire lives. In fact, it is doubtless deeper than that — with evolutionary and pattern recognition aspects of biology.
It is in this context that I came upon Max Fisher’s fantastic article, Stop Asking Muslims to Condemn Terrorism. It’s Bigoted and Islamophobic. With a headline that great, you hardly need to read the article. I feel like getting it tattooed to my forehead. The truth is, it is everywhere in the United States (and the west, as Fisher discussed). It is more blatantly bigoted than anything Paula Deen ever said. Yet it is not only allowed on television — it is celebrated.
Imagine if the same thing were applied to African Americans. Imagine that every time a black man committed a murder, the NAACP had to issue a statement, “The African American community does not condone murder…” As racist a society as we are, no one thinks that would be reasonable because we all know that the act of one black man does not reflect the arbitrary category we place him in — at least when we manage to think about it explicitly. But somehow, requiring the same from Muslims seems just peachy. Fisher noted, “Otherwise, we wouldn’t expect Muslims to condemn [Sydney cafe gunman] Haron Monis — who is clearly a crazy person who has no affiliations with formal religious groups — any more than we would expect Christians to condemn Timothy McVeigh.”
But there’s a kicker. Every event where a Muslim does something terrible causes every mainstream Muslim group to issues statements designed to pacify the non-Muslim community, who are at that point quite dangerous. But they get no credit for it. Throughout the media, there will still be pundits calling for such statements. On conservative media, there is a genre: the Muslim Lament, “Why don’t regular Muslims stand up against horrific acts?!” Of course, they do. They just never get noticed by these people.
I know the standard reply to all of this, “But Muslims are unique in their use of terror!” I have much to say about this, because it shows a real disconnect where high-tech killing is somehow okay but low-tech killing is not. But let me leave all that aside. Muslims are not unique in their use of terror. And regardless, when the IRA bombed some place, no one went around whining that the Catholic Church didn’t stand up against those terrorists.
Fisher said what ought to be obvious, but isn’t, and bears repeating:
This really isn’t asking very much.