The Flipside of White Privilege: Black Entitlement
A List of 50 Things Black People Have the Luxury of Taking for Granted
by Alexander Zubatov
Are you getting a bit fed up with our current style of ad hominem argumentation, in which in any discussion implicating issues of identity politics — and with all the metastasizing identities out there to choose amongst, virtually every discussion somehow manages to stray into that much-contested domain these days — a person “of color” will inevitably play the “white privilege” or “white fragility” card to compensate for the fact that they have never been taught the delicate art of respectfully taking issue with the actual merits of a position with which they disagree? If so, you have a choice:
a. You can be an enabler and let them silence you. Pusillanimous as this approach seems, it’s the one being adopted by weak-kneed university presidents and administrators and all those whimpering white liberals who bow their heads in shame, issue apologies and resign their posts when it’s the minority aggressors who should be doing the apologizing. (You can read about how this kind of thing played out at Yale, where, after that notorious incident of the nutso minority student screaming at and cursing out a Yale professor trying to defend free speech, rather than the student being expelled as she should have been, it’s the professor and his wife who issued apologies and eventually resigned their posts.)
b. You can take the high road, turn the other cheek, ignore the blatantly racist attempt to shut you up because of what you look like and keep plugging away, trying to reason with shouters and shriekers who refuse to be reasoned with. This is a noble approach to be sure, and I have often adopted it both in discussions on Medium and elsewhere, but ultimately, if they’re screaming epithets while you’re talking, who do you think is the one getting heard?
c. You can respond in kind. Show them that, inane as this game is, it’s not one they will benefit from playing. This is a short-term strategy, not a long-term solution. The goal is to get the aggressors to understand that if they want to change the rules from a debate to a food fight, they won’t escape without a whole lot of egg on their face. In deploying these kinds of tactics, you must make clear that the high road is always open if they ever want to return to it, but for the moment, your intention should be to do your best to duel them to a draw until they drop the rapier in exhaustion. If they want to rumble in the jungle, you can deploy your own version of the late great Muhammad Ali’s strategy against George Foreman: after you’ve played rope-a-dope and zipped in a few zingers while they’ve gotten weak and winded misfiring on all their big punches, you go in for the knockout by returning to the realm of reasoned argument (approach b. above), which they’ve already shown you they can’t handle.
Assuming you’re in agreement that approach c. is temporarily necessary, the question becomes, if someone plays the “white privilege” or “white fragility” card, how do you respond in kind? It’s simple, really, and just like “white privilege,” it comes packaged in a two-word phrase: black entitlement.
What exactly is black entitlement? Broadly speaking, it’s the flipside of white privilege. It’s all the things white people have to struggle with that black people simply take for granted and grow up expecting in return for being who they are. You want a list? Here you go:
Ranging from the seemingly serious to the seriously silly, black entitlement is all these things:
- Believing that your racial identity is a badge of honor.
- Feeling like white America owes you something for the sins of history, even if you didn’t live through any of that history and virtually none of the white Americans in your midst had anything to do with it. (I discuss this in more depth here: https://medium.com/@Zoobahtov/enslaved-by-history-parasite-privilege-and-the-silenced-majority-98eeea6b6151.)
- Believing that no matter what kinds of crazily racist things you say or do, you can’t possibly be guilty of racism because racism = prejudice + power, and black people don’t have power in this country, so they can’t be racist. (I’ve rebutted this nonsense here: https://medium.com/@Zoobahtov/racism-prejudice-power-reverse-racism-racism-bdf3f4bb4da6.)
- Feeling like, no matter how empirically unsupported or obviously ludicrous something is, if you say it and believe it, no one can question it because it is the truth as you experience it. (This, by the way, is how an empirically unsupported myth of an epidemic of anti-black police brutality got going: https://medium.com/@Zoobahtov/this-is-how-the-media-invents-racism-237688fd4232.)
- If you are a cop dealing with a suspect of another race, not feeling like you have to second-guess everything you do for fear that a single misstep will get you labeled a racist. (Yes, this is a real thing: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/true-crime/wp/2016/04/27/this-study-found-race-matters-in-police-shootings-but-the-results-may-surprise-you/.)
- Not having to get much higher grades and SAT scores hundreds of points higher than people of another race to get into a competitive university.
- Believing that after having affirmative-acted you in, universities and other institutions have an additional obligation of creating a comfortable environment for you and making you feel at home.
- Believing that you can laze away the days and party away the nights, and if you’re not successful, racism and white supremacy are to blame.
- Believing that your bad grades = racism.
- Believing that anything bad that happens to you when a white person is involved or remotely in the vicinity = racism.
- Believing that if anything you think is racist happens to you, you have the moral obligation to be obnoxious about it (and, maybe even believing you should get paid a wage for acting on your moral obligation to be obnoxious about it: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/428768/oberlin-students-protests-paid-for-document).
- Believing that if every white person you know doesn’t take your side when you accuse someone of racism, they’re just part of the problem.
- Taking for granted that, in order to be able to say that they are exhibiting “diversity,” universities, large corporations and governmental institutions will be falling all over themselves to accept or hire you if you’re even remotely qualified.
- Believing that if said universities, large corporations and governmental institutions didn’t accept or hire you, it’s because of racism and not because of you.
- Taking for granted that, once a company hires you, it can’t fire you no matter how lazy and incompetent you are, lest they be called racist.
- Not having to worry about whether or not an inadvertent racially insensitive remark is going to get you ostracized, fired or both.
- Feeling free to act and dress as thuggishly and boorishly as you want without anyone outside your immediate family and Bill Cosby daring to call you on it.
- Feeling like you can be rude to people of a different race because … well … they are of a different race, and you’ve already put up with a lot.
- Feeling like, just because you’re black, “you’ve been through enough shit” that you’ve earned the right to curse all you want in print and in public so people learn about “all the shit you’ve been through.”
- Not giving a second thought to taking up two or three seats on public transportation when others are standing.
- Believing that, just like an explosive metal and a poisonous gas combine to make table salt, your combination of ignorance and arrogance somehow adds up to a virtue.
- Feeling like “your people” have been silenced for so long in this country that now you need to make up for it by having your private conversation be conducted at a volume high enough for all those around you not to be able to hear themselves think.
- Feeling at liberty to blast your music and shout out the lyrics, profanity and vulgarity included, in public.
- Feeling at liberty to ignore or insult anyone white who asks you to turn your music down, as they are just attempting to act on what they think is their racial prerogative.
- Thinking that it’s just normal that “your music” will be played every time you go clubbing.
- Thinking that the way you dance, no matter how vulgar it might be, is inherently cool.
- Feeling like your race gives you the standing to play arbiter of who and what is cool and who or what isn’t.
- Feeling like you bring “cool” with you wherever you go.
- Not having to worry about whether expressing pride in your culture is going to get you accused of racial supremacy and white nationalism.
- Not having to worry about whether saying that your life/lives matters is going to be construed as racism.
- Expecting that politicians will pander to you on the basis of your race and give you a handout if they expect to win your vote.
- Knowing that if you write something describing your experience of life or calling out racism in any form, you have a very good chance of getting it published somewhere respectable due to widespread media bias in your favor.
- Expecting that if you create something artistic, you must be recognized for it, and if you are not, this is the product of entrenched racism.
- Believing that, if made by you or other minorities, vulgar and primitive street art exhibiting utter ignorance of the artistic traditions of millennia of human civilization is vibrant and profound and deserving of instant canonization.
- Believing that the mere fact that you are who you are means you are an interesting person with a rich cultural background that frees you up from having to learn anything that you don’t already know, so that if someone tries to teach you something about another culture, especially Western culture, they are oppressing you.
- Believing that the world as you experience it has the obligation to reflect back to you an aggrandized, beatified version of yourself.
- Believing that being forced to put in lots of hard work to achieve anything is a subtle form of racism because you “are already dealing with a lot” and don’t need to be burdened with more.
- Never needing “diversity training” because, though you are just one person, you are inherently “diverse” and bring “diversity” with you wherever you go.
- Not feeling like you are “walking on eggshells” and have to shut up and hold back every time someone talks to you about race. (You can read more about that here: http://heterodoxacademy.org/2015/11/24/the-yale-problem-begins-in-high-school/.)
- Expecting that a “dialogue” about race, or really, about anything at all consists of you talking and white people listening, nodding obsequiously and never disagreeing with you about anything because they know you’ve got the dreaded race card ever at the ready in your back pocket.
- Feeling like no matter how bad things get, at least you’ll still always be one step above the lowest of the low: those poor pickup-driving Confederate-Flag-waving white racist rednecks who deserve to rot on earth and in hell for their sins and those of their ancestors.
- Not experiencing any sense of shame from letting yourself become grotesquely obese.
- Not experiencing any sense of shame, period.
- Not having your sense of self-confidence and self-worth undermined when someone you are interested in who is white doesn’t return your affections, as they are obviously just motivated by racism and, therefore, don’t deserve you anyway.
- Feeling like you are entitled to make the decision to hook up with/date/marry only people of your own race, while if a white person did the same thing, that would be racist.
- Not feeling like a target in a dangerous neighborhood.
- Not having to give a second thought to whether or not you’ll be perceived as racist for crossing the street when a thug is sauntering your way.
- Feeling at liberty to criticize white kids (and adults) behaving badly as products of white privilege, while anyone who dares to criticize black kids (or adults) behaving badly is clearly a racist trying to perpetuate centuries-old oppression of black inventiveness and creativity.
- Feeling like if you know someone is white but know nothing else about them, they’re privileged, and you can dismiss out of hand anything they think, say, do or suffer.
- Never needing to say you’re sorry … about anything.
Now, having compiled the list, I want to make something crystal clear: I firmly believe that, whatever stereotypical slivers of truth it might contain, a list like this is largely a litany of bigotry that casts its racist spell by taking certain recognizable patterns and turning them into an ideology built on caricature. But, having said that, I want to make something else equally clear: Peggy McIntosh’s original 1988 list that invented the absurd notion of “white privilege” is every bit as bigoted, silly and stereotypical as this one.
Both lists deny individuals their individuality. They insist on subsuming them under dehumanizing racial umbrellas and do not care to dignify the particularized humanity lurking beneath the superficial canopy. They polarize people, reify racial stereotypes and race-based perspectives on the world and make any form of racial reconciliation less possible. Whether cast as disingenuous self-critique (“checking your privilege,” in our present-day terminology), as McIntosh’s list was, or presented as a more barefaced critique of the “Other,” which is the approach I take, the end-result is the same: those most eager to vent their anger at others glom on to such constructs in order to spread bigotry and hatred, and the careless, hostile manner in which the concept of “white privilege” has been bandied about to silence people and stifle real engagement and honest discussion is a testament to this fact.
This is why my ultimate goal is not to get you to go around crowing about “black entitlement” the way there are a lot of short-sighted race-baiters crowing about “white privilege” and “white fragility” and lurking in every nook and cranny of the internet, but rather, to deploy “black entitlement” as the blunt instrument that it is, with the aim of taking some of the edge off of the ax of “white privilege” that some hatchet men have been using in an effort to chop down the whole forest instead of focusing on uprooting the few weeds causing the actual problem. Or, to change the metaphor, think of the notions of “white privilege” and “black entitlement” as opposing falsehoods, countervailing forms of sophistry, potent poisons, each of which, however, can function as the antidote for the other. We want them to dissolve each other and give us a chance to breathe free of the distorting effects of these toxic brews. It is only then that we will once again be able to start progressing towards the noble goal of seeing past each other’s surfaces and judging each other based not on who we are but on what we actually say and do.
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Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, drama, essays and polemics. In the words of one of his intellectual heroes, José Ortega y Gasset, biography is “a system in which the contradictions of a human life are unified.”
Some of his articles have appeared in Acculturated, PopMatters, The Hedgehog Review, The Montreal Review, The Fortnightly Review, Mercatornet, New English Review, Culture Wars and nthposition.
He makes occasional, unscheduled appearances on Twitter (https://twitter.com/Zoobahtov).