Dear People with Privilege: On Freeing the Pelican

The first men to deny sexism are sexists themselves; the first white people to deny racism are racists themselves.

One of the profound tensions of the U.S. is that the country founded on the ideals of individual liberty—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—was in fact built by sexists and racists. This is no easy or comfortable contradiction.

We have settled into an ends justifying the means narcotic as a people to avoid that contradiction.

The great praise the U.S. does deserve (although not unique to the U.S.) is the concept of pursuit; a great many people have pursued and continue to pursue the elusive equity of our founding principles.

To identify, admit to, and then confront racism or sexism, we must reach to the people with the most power in the country—white men, who believe they have earned that power, their success.

Racism and sexism are not mere abstractions because some people must be complicit in the perpetuation of both.

Even among the victims of racism and sexism, we find people complicit, but the main people responsible for our failures in the pursuit of equity are the ones with the most power, power gained from privilege.

Most of us, then, when confronted with the ugliest truths of racism and sexism immediately tell our stories of struggle: “I cannot have privilege,” we proclaim, “because I have struggled!”

So consider the invisibility of privilege to those with privilege.

You buy a pair of Nike shoes, and if someone asks you if you are for child labor or slave wages for women forced to work in cramped factories as their homes, you are very likely to strongly reject being for those abstractions—while wearing the shoes made in horrifying conditions for women and children workers earning slave wages.

The problem of privilege is that most of us with privilege are complicit through negligence, not through conscious decisions to oppress.

Consequences, however, make those distinctions irrelevant.

As Roxane Gay navigates wonderfully in Peculiar Benefits, many people have contexts within which they have privilege, unearned advantages—even people for whom much of their life is spent as the victim of other people’s privileges.

And white heterosexual men can struggle mightily in life, even as we celebrate the apparent success of a black homosexual woman.

Outliers are some of the most powerful blinders for confronting privilege.

But I believe I can offer here a simple test.

First, to admit to having privilege is not opening yourself to scorn; the fact of having privilege is not justification for condemning anyone.

From there, then, we must move to the key question: What do you do with your privilege(s)? Perpetuate your own needs and desires? Or use your privilege(s) in the service of others who are oppressed, who are victims of other people’s privileges?

Some tests include whether or not you acknowledge your own and systemic privilege (racism and sexism, for example), and then if or not you develop an ability to feel compassion for anyone who is struggling, recognizing that human failure may often be the consequence of systemic forces and not individual flaws.

This last point is important. Racism, for example, persists because as a culture, people in the U.S. have made the default stance about human struggle and failure to be flawed individuals: People who succeed, we assume, worked hard, and people who struggle and fail, we assume, are lazy.

Each of us must come to acknowledge our privilege(s) and proceed with the understanding that systemic inequity is the root cause of individual struggle and failure.

To use your privilege in the service of others [1] even when that act creates risk for you and especially when that act works to dismantle the privilege that allows you to serve others.

A picture (or in this case, a video [2]) is worth a 1000 words, so let me end by suggesting, this is what it looks like to acknowledge your privilege, to identify those who suffer inequity, and then to act in the service of that other:


[1] To serve others, as well, must avoid paternalism. It is not substituting arrogance for your privilege in order to save those who are lesser than you; it is seeking out anyone without your privileges and then asking, How may I help you?

[2] Too often, when confronted with systemic inequity (racism, sexism, etc., represented by the fishing line on the pelican’s beak), people either refuse to acknowledge the fishing line, blame the pelican for being in the situation that caused the line tangle, or argue, “I didn’t put the fishing line around the beak.” Yet, we are complicit if we fish (even carefully), eat fish, or if we do nothing while aware of the dangers of fishing for pelicans and other animals—even if we believe we are compassionate to or hold no prejudice against pelicans.

See Also

Montclair SocioBlog: The Winds of Privilege

How to Expose Racists: Simply Mention Racism

I was pleasantly surprised when Education Week published Why Are We Criminalizing Black Students? by Tyrone C. Howard.

Regretfully, this blog is gorged with posts about EdWeek routinely failing the education discussion, but Howard’s commentary confronts well a hard topic in education.

And then came the comments—tone deaf at best, defensive and racist themselves as worst (first three opening rebuttals):

mcruiz

I’m amazed. I truly didn’t know we teachers had that much power, and the propensity to use it for evil deeds. Wow! Imagine that, we have the power to criminalize Black students. Wow, again!

LynnG

This is a ridiculous article and the author’s bias is so heavy handed that he’s made his argument a joke. Talk about confirmation bias.

Paul D. White

One more racist rant from a Black college professor who doesn’t have the courage to tell the truth, and one more worthless posting by Ed Week for what? A desire to show how “tolerant” they are to biased, ignorant positions regarding race and performance in the schools?

The great failure of the U.S. which has brought us to Trumplandia is, as I have pointed out often, James Baldwin’s “this rigid refusal to look at ourselves” that must be aimed with laser focus on white America.

In schools, black and brown children are disproportionately targeted and punished for the same behaviors as white children, and then in society, black and brown people suffer more inequitable treatment by police and the judicial system.

As Thomas Rudd explains about school discipline:

Contrary to the prevailing assumption that African American boys are just getting “what they deserve” when they are disciplined, research shows that these boys do not “act out” in the classroom any more than their White peers.

For example, in a study conducted by the Indiana Education Policy Center, researchers conclude that:

“Although discriminant analysis suggests that disproportionate rates of office referral and suspension for boys are due to increased rates of misbehavior, no support was found for the hypothesis that African American students act out more than other students. Rather, African American students appear to be referred to the office for less serious and more subjective reasons. Coupled with extensive and highly consistent prior data, these results argue that disproportionate representation of African Americans in office referrals, suspension and expulsion is evidence of a pervasive and systematic bias that may well be inherent in the use of exclusionary discipline (Skiba, 2000).”

And the ACLU reports: “Staggering Racial Bias: Marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.”

Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow details that policing and the judicial system routinely practices inequitable targeting, convicting, and sentencing along racial lines for the same behaviors—blacks disproportionately suffering for acts no different than whites.

This begins in our schools because the white power structure cannot or will not see the bias in order to eradicate it.

The seeds of the wider post-truth U.S. have been sown by the white “rigid refusal” to admit and then confront the racism that continues to fester in the country.

This is old fake news, but as the posts on the EdWeek commentary reveal, racists respond to facts about racism by calling the messenger a racist. That’s the nastiest fake news there is, especially when it is coming in a publication about the education of our children—the first victims of racism, the most powerless victims of racism.


See Also

Racial Disproportionality in School Discipline: Implicit Bias is Heavily Implicated, Thomas Rudd

The War on Marijuana in Black and White (ACLU, 2013)

Education Reform in the New Jim Crow Era

Confronting, Finally, Obama as Centrist, Incrementalist—Never The Socialist

It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.

James Baldwin, No Name in the Street (1972)

The Right, specifically the Republican Party, has never been too bright, but it has always depended on the ham-fisted logic of the U.S. public.

As political maneuvering, the Right maintained a persistent drumbeat throughout Obama’s presidency, painting him The Socialist.

Yet, over the past few days, that same Right has unwittingly unmasked both Obama and themselves by noting the similarities between past comments by Obama and recent controversial claims by Ben Carson (slaves as immigrants) and Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz (iPhones and healthcare).

First, let’s be clear that calling enslaved people “immigrants” and demonizing people trapped in poverty are categorically wrong—regardless of who makes the claims.

And let’s also clarify that although the ends do not justify the means, Obama’s calloused comments were in the context of quite different goals than similar comments made from Republicans: Obama seeking equity and expanding healthcare by working within the system and long-held but false American Myths versus Republicans denying racial inequity (Carson) and working to cast impoverished and working citizens out of the guarantees of publicly funded healthcare and into the dog-eat-dog world of the free market.

But, second, and possibly more importantly, Obama has been unmasked as a centrist, an incrementalist—what we may admit is Ben Carson-light in rhetoric, but not political goals—by the very Right who falsely portrayed him as The Socialist.

As I have detailed in the Big Lie about the Left in the U.S., there simply is no viable or influential Left in this country, not in our two major political parties and not even on our university campuses; the leftwing professor cartoon is just as false as Obama The Socialist.

The Democratic Party in the U.S. is a centrist, leaning right, party; college professors are moderate progressives, comfortable members of the leisure class who are in no way dedicated to upsetting the status quo.

And everyone in power—even Bill Clinton and including Obama—remains trapped in narratives about race and social class that are both enduring and provably false.

Political leadership in the U.S. on both sides of the aisle speak to and perpetuate “get tough on crimes” rhetoric, despite decades of dropping crime rates; “fearing foreigners,” despite ample evidence that homegrown terrorism is far more dangerous; and “lazy minorities” as well as “lazy poor” characterizations beneath bootstrap language, although the bootstrap myth is a lie and systemic inequity remains powerful (racism, classism, sexism) on the lives of many Americas.

We don’t need the Right to pick through Obama’s legacy to highlight that he was never The Socialist, but it certainly would go a long way toward an equitable nation if we all would confront the moral vacuum that exists in U.S. politics because we have no political Left.

Publicly funded—universal healthcare, public education, roads and highways, judicial system and police force, military—is not about giving things to lazy people for free; publicly funded is about the collective will of a people determined to provide everyone access life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Equity is the political goal of the Left; forced equality is the cartoon version of “communism” that is in fact totalitarianism, fascism. The former is a moral imperative, the latter is heinous and immoral.

The U.S. is an amoral country that claims “democracy” but worships capitalism.

And thus, in typical confrontational and uncomfortable style, James Baldwin wrote in 1967:

It is true that two wrongs don’t make a right, as we love to point out to the people we have wronged. But one wrong doesn’t make a right, either. People who have been wronged will attempt to right the wrong; they would not be people if they didn’t. They can rarely afford to be scrupulous about the means they will use. They will use such means as come to hand. Neither, in the main, will they distinguish one oppressor from another, nor see through to the root principle of their oppression.

There is much to unpack there in 2017.

Obama and Carson, separately and together, are wrong to blur the horror of people enslaved with immigration.

Obama and Chaffetz, separately and together, are wrong to trivialize the basic human right of healthcare by playing to a false stereotype of people trapped in poverty.

But the real problem, the one crystal clear to Baldwin, is the collective work of the Oppressor, the U.S. public that not only allows these wrongs, but creates them.

As Stephen Pimpare notes, the largest block of people living in poverty are children, with no political or economic power.

People in poverty are mostly those children, the elderly, the disabled, students, the working poor, and those proving care for others.

Across the U.S., we’d rather play gotcha partisan politics than give a good damn about fulfilling our promises as a people committed to human dignity and equity for all.

Finger pointing across the aisle keeps everyone from the mirror that would require us to admit who we truly are.

And so …

baldwin012

Artwork by Molly Crabapple

Give Me Your Soda, Your iPhone, Your Sick Yearning for Healthcare

The public is stunningly misinformed about issues and concepts that are essential to understand if a democracy is going to thrive.

The Trump candidacy and presidency have exposed a powerful example of that problem since many who support Trump believe that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare are different programs.

This important policy confusion is grounded, I believe, in larger concepts about which most in the U.S. are just as misinformed: race and social class.

Even among my college students who are well educated, few are aware that race has no basis in biology, but is a social construction. And people in the U.S. routinely over self-identify as middle-class, while also associating ethical and moral qualities to the classes (the poor as deserving their poverty due to character flaws; the wealthy as earning their wealth due to superior work ethics).

Further complicating the national beliefs about race and class is how the two overlap, specifically how lingering racism lurks beneath negative stereotypes about the poor.

Political leadership in the U.S., then, includes two powerful facts: most of those leaders are affluent, often among the very elite of wealth, and virtually all of those leaders speak to the public’s flawed but powerful beliefs about social class and race (although usually in coded ways).

As the Trump administration and Republican Party prepare to end the ACA and offer new healthcare legislation, what is being put disturbingly on display is a resurgence in attacks on the undeserving poor.

Three examples serve well to expose how Republicans and the mainstream media speak to and perpetuate the image of the undeserving poor in order to promote public policy that abandons the vulnerable and rewards the privileged.

As I have examined, just before Trumps inauguration, The New York Times published a damning and false story about people on welfare purchasing soda, In the Shopping Cart of a Food Stamp Household: Lots of Soda.

Joe Soss refuted the article, noting that welfare recipients, the USDA studied actually showed, had very similar purchasing patterns as those not on welfare.

Yet, multiple states have begun legislation to bar soda purchases by any on welfare.

The NYT article, despite being provably flawed, and the proposed legislation reveal a social belief that people trapped in poverty somehow don’t deserve luxuries (sodas), that the poor must have higher standards of self-control than people in other social classes.

This example from the media helps us understand the Republican use of “choice” to mask how their policies benefit the wealthy and ignore the poor.

Next, consider Paul Ryan’s and Mike Pence’s groundwork for repealing the ACA—both of whom Tweeted about choice and freedom as the ideals driving their work.

Market-based healthcare shifts all the responsibility onto individuals, and Republicans are masters at manipulating the misinformed public.

Finally, as Republicans unveil how they will replace ACA, the realities of that plan (shifting the burden to individual medical savings accounts, despite most Americans without healthcare are also without savings or the ability to save) are being masked by the same sort of undeserving poor language found in the NYT:

“Americans have choices. And they’ve got to make a choice. And so maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care. They’ve got to make those decisions themselves,” [Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)] said on CNN’s “New Day” when pressed on insurance for low-income Americans under the latest draft legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act.

The illogic of such claims—does the cost of an iPhone really equal healthcare costs?—cannot stand up without cultural assumptions about the undeserving poor.

Rep. Chaffetz and the Republican Party depend on most people hearing this nonsense and thinking, “That is not me. That is not anyone I know or care about,” even when the consequences of the legislation is about them, about people they know and care about.

But even more damning is that the healthcare policy of the U.S. will always necessarily effect everyone; in other words, to view policy as “about me,” or not, is the best way to support legislation that will not serve you well.

The ignored truth, for example, about poverty helps expose how misguided the Republican agenda is.

The ignored truth is, Who are the poor?:

poor1987

As you can see, more than 80% of the officially poor are either children, elderly, disabled, students, or the involuntarily unemployed (while the majority of the remaining officially poor are carers or working people who didn’t face an unemployment spell). I bring up these 80%+ because these are the classic categories of people that are considered vulnerable populations in capitalist economies. These are the categories of people that all welfare states target resources to in one form or another, the good ones very heavily.

The poor in the U.S. as vulnerable populations who are not lazy or deserving of their poverty—this is what confronts a people who must make an ethical decision about the role of public policy.

That over 30% of the poor who are children, they should have to depend on a medical savings account, the whims of the market?

In America, we are a misinformed people, and that results in a political dynamic in which many vote against their own best interests.

Welfare is not about purchasing sodas, and healthcare is not about choosing between care and an iPhone.

These are calloused lies driven by the media and political leaders who are trapped themselves in stereotypes about the undeserving poor.

Public policy as well as media and political discourse is much different when we reject the undeserving poor framing and seek ways to practice that all people “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Unalienable rights for the most vulnerable among us must have nothing to do with competing in a market and everything to do with the collective will of a people who see ourselves in everyone.

“Something Like Scales”

Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again.

Acts 9:18 (NIV)

The existential crisis of my youth was my embarrassment and shame for having been raised in ignorance. My redneck past erupted from my mouth in the first weeks of college, and I exposed myself an arrogant fool.

Racist, sexist, brash, and incredibly insensitive to human dignity—I had no sense of community, no humility, little compassion, and no room for anything to replace the incredible callousness that filled my mind, my heart, and my soul.

Many years later in my doctoral program, I discovered Lou LaBrant and was immediately drawn to her warnings about word magic and provincialism, and her faith in progressive education as a path out of ignorance and bigotry:

The English class does not differ from other classes in responsibility for social situations which militate against prejudice and intolerance. Classifications which result in racial or cultural segregation, encouragement of small cliques, avoidance of crucial issues-all of these may be evils in the English classes as in others. Indeed, many of our classifications, built on results of reading tests, tend to promote rather than to destroy the kind of antisocial situation just mentioned….The question is briefly: Do the very words we use and our attitudes toward them affect our tendency to accept or reject other human beings? (p. 323)

In my mid-30s, I had already made significant strides along the journey captured by LaBrant, a journey that was deeply indebted to my reading black and women writers who shook the scales from my eyes and pointed me to the light leading away from the provincialism of my youth.

Concurrent to my passion for fiction and literature was my self-taught commitment to reading existential philosophy, which also resonated with me as I had become aware that every human is a prisoner of her/his own Being.

It was not that I came to know the world through my being white, male, heterosexual, and a non-believer; it was that I made the error of not recognizing those lenses, falling into the trap expressed by Claudia Rankine and James Baldwin.

That trap was to ignore my whiteness and to fail to understand that anything that defines any individual is inseparable from the world around that individual; as Baldwin explains:

White Americans find it as difficult as white people elsewhere do to divest themselves of the notion that they are in possession of some intrinsic value that black people need, or want. And this assumption—which, for example, makes the solution to the Negro problem depend on the speed with which Negroes accept and adopt white standards—is revealed in all kinds of striking ways, from Bobby Kennedy’s assurance that a Negro can become President in forty years to the unfortunate tone of warm congratulation with which so many liberals address their Negro equals. It is the Negro, of course, who is presumed to have become equal—an achievement that not only proves the comforting fact that perseverance has no color but also overwhelmingly corroborates the white man’s sense of his own value.

The existential crisis of my first three years of college did not bring me to some miraculous enlightenment. Neither did my doctoral experience in my mid-30s.

As I stumble toward 60, the crisis remains, and the journey continues.

My most recent leg of that journey has been grounded in social media, where I have gathered (especially on Twitter) connections that allow me to listen beyond myself about race, social class, gender, sexuality, ablism, and a whole host of contexts that, as LaBrant confronted, address “our tendency to accept or reject other human beings.”

Over the past few years when I have increased my public writing as well as my presence on social media, I have learned two important lessons.

First—although it has taken me decades to recognize and come to understand better my own struggles with anxiety and introversion—I am a lifelong outsider, a non-joiner.

However, I have experienced a few vicious (and unfounded) attacks directed at me either through a virtual connection only or about my role as a public intellectual.

In these cases, the conflict was grounded entirely (again as LaBrant noted) in how the other person was naming me, especially in terms of how that naming associated me with allegiances I do not have (to organizations, to known personalities, to acquiring financial benefits).

My non-joiner Self has always been rooted in my fidelity to ideas and ideals, not people or organizations. I am perpetually checking if people and organizations share that fidelity, but I cannot pledge allegiance to anyone or any organization.

These conflicts happened, it is important to stress, with both people I consider allies and those who are clearly in different camps than I am.

Just as a broad example, I have felt tension from union members and advocates because, I think, I hold an odd stance of never having been in a union (living my entire life in a right-to-work state) and of criticizing strongly both of the major teachers’ unions and their leaders—all the while being an unapologetic advocate for unionization.

I have also been discounted and discredited among my narrow field of teaching ELA because many within the field misunderstand blogging and academic publishing (neither of which is about making money, by the way).

This first lesson, then, is about how we label each other through association, and as a result, create fractures, angry divisions—much of which is inaccurate, or at least misleading.

Commitments to people and organizations to the exclusion of the ideals those people and organizations claim to be working toward are ultimately counterproductive.

But my second lesson moves beyond the personal and to the wider chasms of the U.S. as a people.

As a perpetual stranger, I am a critical observer, and I have witnessed a powerful and corrosive dynamic captured by the story of Saul’s conversion: “something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again.”

What I have witnessed is about power and privilege as the scales that blind the powerful and privileged.

From the Bernie Sander’s campaign to Hillary Clinton’s campaign to the accountability education reform resistance—and many other contexts—I have watched as white people with some degree of privilege and power have squandered their good intentions, alienating marginalized people by not listening.

The worst of which has been the tone deaf All Lives Matter (and Blue Lives Matter) response to Black Lives Matter.

In a recent post about rescuing education reform from post-truth, I highlighted that both the reform mindset that public education is a failure and the counter-resistance (that often says public education is not the problem because poverty is) are equally flawed—the latter because it spits in the face of the vulnerable students (black, brown, English language learners, special needs students) who are in fact being cheated by an inadequate K-12 public school system.

I think ultimately the second lesson is about missionary zeal, the bleeding-heart liberal urge to save the world, an urge that ignores (as Baldwin challenges) the arrogance of privilege, the condescension of privilege.

And thus, even as I have framed this with a sight metaphor, when the scales drop from our eyes—when we resist viewing the world through our provincialism, through our necessarily personal biases (and bigotry)—we are freed to listen and to hear with compassion and awareness so that our worlds expand.

Freedom and equity no longer appear to be a zero-sum game.

Ending racism is the responsibility of whites. Ending sexism is the responsibility of men. Ending economic inequity is the responsibility of the wealthy.

Privilege and power control how the U.S. works, for whom it works as well as over whom it plows.

Our country is in desperate need of a conversion such as Saul’s, the scales dropping from our eyes so that we may listen, understand, and act in the service of those we have too long failed to see or hear.

School Choice and the Inequitable Meat Grinder of Social Darwinism

A close second to Trump himself as the poster child for the tragic consequences of being rich, white, and blindingly ignorant is Betsy DeVos, billionaire from a pyramid scheme and smiling shill for school choice.

In the ugliest of ironies, DeVos has possibly achieved the single greatest moment of racial appropriation for political gain with her nonsensical twisting of HBCUs:

hbcu-devos

To understand the racism and privilege driving how and why the Right and Republicans chant “choice” and reach awkwardly out to blacks, consider Poet Claudia Rankine on studying whiteness, and the age of protest:

Why is it important to deconstruct whiteness? Rankine, whose most recent poetry is dominated by short paragraphs surrounded by expanses of white space, explains: “White people don’t see that their own positioning is a created position. They think it’s a meritocratic situation . . . rather than that the entire culture is set up to help them,” she says. “And so then they begin to believe that they are what is normal. That means everybody else is other to their position and, until you interrogate that, they will feel that individually they’re being attacked any time race comes up rather than understanding they are part of a community that includes all of us that put this hierarchical structure in place.”

DeVos, like Trump, believes she has earned her stature, believes she knows more than anyone else, and believes everyone else simply isn’t trying, isn’t deserving.

Blinded by her wealth and whiteness, she cannot see that choice is tossing everyone else into the inequitable meat grinder that is Social Darwinism.

From Trump to DeVos and all the other Overlords of white privilege, they cannot comprehend the next level of a people providing for everyone the basic human dignity that makes choice unnecessary.

Community, collaboration, and human kindness are beyond the Overlords.

DeVos, like Trump, knows nothing beyond her own empty soul blanketed in ill-got wealth and secured by her whiteness.

And thus the larger irony, the choice now confronting decent humans in Trumplandia, as Rankine explains:

“My feeling about it is [Donald] Trump has made apparent the mechanism that has always been in place; and, as Americans, we were OK with it as long as you didn’t say it. As long as the white nationalism that has built this country was not made apparent,” [Rankine] says. “Once it was made apparent, people were depressed. They’re not depressed about the systemic articulation of those views. They’re depressed about the fact that, as Americans, they are overtly now tied to it and its rhetoric. That’s the difference . . . suddenly, as Americans, we saw that this other thing was also who we are.

“Was I devastated? Yes. But I feel like we live here, we saw it coming. We saw the rallies. We understand how patriarchy, misogyny, racism work. We know it’s alive and well. What did we expect?”

The meat grinder has been exposed with a white hand at the crank arm.

What are you going to do?

The Perfect Minority Trap: White Privilege as Teflon Factor

Dan Le Batard headlines an anti-sports-talk-show sports talk show on ESPN, and has stirred controversy by arguing that Magic Johnson has been named President of Basketball Operations for the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA because of Johnson’s charisma and not any essential expertise for such a high office.

Some have called out Le Batard’s remarks as racist, while others have defended Le Batard.

This debate highlights that recognizing and discussing racism in the U.S. remain marred by the codes that blind; in this case, although Le Batard may have good intentions by self-identifying as not racist, his comments about Johnson are steeped in and speak to a racist code: the perfect minority trap.

Particularly important to understanding why Le Batard’s comments ultimately are racist—even if Johnson’s new position is more about his charm than his credibility—is that the comment comes during the rise of Donald Trump to President of the U.S. and his appointments to his cabinet, notably Betsey DeVos as Secretary of Education.

Two dynamics are at play to understand that Le Batard’s criticism is offensive.

First, white privilege created the Teflon Effect in which wealth and being white as well as male allow virtually nothing to stick to a person who maintains his statues. The two most powerful examples of this is Ronald Reagan, often called the Teflon President, and Trump himself.

Let us imagine if Barack Obama as a candidate had done even one of the outlandish things Trump did during his run to the White House. Would Obama’s political career have survived? No way.

Second, and related, is the Perfect Minority Trap that mandates perfection for any marginalized group—by race, gender, or economic status.

Consider the demonizing of people in poverty who depend on welfare by The New York Times through misrepresenting their purchasing of soft drinks, which actually is at the same rate for those on welfare and those not on welfare.

The poor, the narrative goes, must be perfect in order to deserve public assistance, but everyone else can do as she or he pleases.

But if we return to Obama, his presidency was characterized by nearly a perfect ethical record as President and as a person; yet, he continued to be demonized by the Right while Republicans (white, wealthy, and male) skirted along without any actual unethical behavior sticking.

Finally, we must place Le Batard’s criticism of Johnson also in the context of the NBA—where the workforce is overwhelmingly black men but disproportionately positions of power (owners, general managers, coaches, etc.) remain white [1].

If Johnson has received his position on charisma and not qualifications, he is simply experiencing the white norm in the U.S. that includes people receiving advantages by connections and not by earning those advantages. For example, while as president, George W. Bush challenged affirmative action for college admission, yet he gained access to an elite college by being a legacy, connectedness, not his academic achievement.

Legacy admissions—mostly white and affluent recipients—receive little criticism in the U.S., but race-based affirmative action—mostly racial minorities and women—is routinely excoriated by politicians and the public.

And if we remain in the sports world, Marshawn Lynch and Rob Gronkowski personify how Lynch is apt to be called a thug (see also Richard Sherman) while Gronkowski is merely a meathead; Lynch must be perfect, and no behavior by Gronkowski receives more than a grin.

That is the U.S.—where white privilege goes unchecked, but as Le Batard’s comments trigger, where minorities must be perfect.

Racism in the U.S. is systemic, and less codified in laws than before the Civil Rights movement.

As such, racism is often coded and perpetuated by individuals who otherwise appear to be good people who would never consider themselves racist.

Le Batard’s criticism of Johnson is a perfect moment for the U.S. to confront how good intentions are not enough when we continue to practice and then deny having one set of standards for white, wealthy males (Teflon Effect) and another for racial minorities and women (Perfect Minority Trap).

Again, if Johnson received preferential advantages for a position he is not qualified to hold, it seems far more pressing to confront how and why Trump has become our president and Betsy DeVos was allowed to buy her cabinet position with billions earned through a less than credible business.

The only qualifications Trump and DeVos have nothing to do with expertise or earning their status—being white and wealthy.

So in the end, yes, Le Batard’s criticism is steeped in racism, a racism grounded in white privilege and different standards for wealthy white men and everyone else.


[1] Let’s note the NBA does receive credit for being at the top of pro sports for racial and gender equity, however.