I’d never heard of Touré until about two hours ago; I don’t watch MSNBC. But apprently he caused quite a stir a few days ago with this tweet.
Indeed, according to a whole bunch of conservatives on Twitter, Twitchy, and the Blaze, he offended Jews across the world by “suggesting that Jewish Holocaust survivors benefitted from being white.”
Me personally? I’m not so offended.
As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, I’m well aware of the challenges faced by the men and women who endured the worst horrors of Nazism. My grandparents survived the camps, found their way to Israel, built a life there, then moved to the United States, and built a life here. They were hard-working, stubborn, serious people who took the hardships they faced in stride and never gave up; they instilled those virtues in their children and, at least to an extent, in their grandchildren … at least the stubbornness.
But let’s not pretend, as these conservatives have done, that Touré is suggesting Holocaust survivors were the recipients of all sorts of great benefits because of their skin color when they were being rounded up and transported to concentration camps. What he’s suggesting is that white people who came to the United States after WWII were able to accomplish all that they did in part because they there are systemic benefits afforded to whiteness in this country … and that includes the relative ease with which they were allowed to enter the country legally.
This isn’t the same thing as saying that being Jewish in America in the 1950s or 1960s was a breeze or that the government was looking for Jews so it could just hand them privileges on a silver platter, or that it’s a breeze even now. What I would say, using more characters than Touré did, is that hard work is rewarded unequally in America, now as then, and that it’s easier to make opportunities for yourself if your skin is lighter rather than darker.
My grandfather struggled to make ends meet when he brought his family here; he worked long hours and he taught himself English (his fifth language, I think) by watching television. But let’s keep in mind that as long as he didn’t say anything and as long as no one asked him his name, the assumption was that he was just another blue collar white man from the Detroit suburbs.
I wrote a short blog post about privilege almost a year ago and I think it’s worth quoting part of it here:
I never have to advise my son to avoid wearing some article of clothing because he might look suspicious to a vigilante. I never have to tell him that our neighborhood might be dangerous place for him to walk around. I don’t have to warn him that some people might not like him simply based on the way he looks.
My son — purely by virtue of his white skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes — will never have to deal with issues such as these. And I, as his father, won’t have these concerns about him and his well-being.
Given the myriad worries and fears associated with raising a child, I’m incredibly fortunate not to have to deal withthese issues too. And I’m very mindful of the fact that it’s a mark of my privileged position in our society that I won’t have to try explaining these things to my son.
There are a great many privileges associated with whiteness in the United States and to pretend this isn’t the case is to remain willfully ignorant of the way life is lived by those who are different from you.
Finally, I should note that all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth about Touré’s comments happened because he told the grandson of a Holocaust survivor that his family’s All-American Success Story owed something to the fact of their whiteness. Everyone all over the internet was up in arms because of it, calling Touré a racist and an anti-Semite.
But, of course, the anonymous guy who seemed to suggest to Touré in the above exchange that his family survived the Nazi destruction of European Jewry actually isn’t Jewish:
I don’t know anything about this guy’s family, and he provides no information, but since they aren’t Jewish it seems pretty clear that his family wouldn’t even have had to face some of the challenges I mentioned above.
He’s just “a young single white guy” who doesn’t understand the concept of privilege and adamantly refuses to think about any of the ways in which he and his family might have been the recipients of some of the systemic benefits afforded to whiteness in this country.