“White Men as the Problem” (3/8/2009) will make many whites uneasy because of the truth that lies behind the statement that white males have created many of the social problems in the world today. I would like to comment on several points related to the article.
First, Joe’s article demonstrates the powerful links between race and class, clearly focusing on the fact that elite white males have created the class and racial social systems that produced most of the greed-driven misery over the last several hundred years and led to the present economic meltdown. White wealth, power and prestige have been built upon the exploitation, oppression, and dehumanization of people of color. White men created the capitalist economic system in the United States, benefit most from the system, and continue to produce new generations of whites to maintain the system. Whereas those that possess little economic power in the system, suffer greatest in the system, and whose life chances are severely challenged by the system, tend to be people of color.
One of the great sociologists of the 20th century, WEB Du Bois, proclaimed that “white wealth and culture” relies upon “Negro poverty and exploitation” (see The Oxford WEB Du Bois Reader, 1996). In his book Color and Democracy, W.E.B. Du Bois notes that “the continued oligarchical control of civilization by the white race”— and injustices of white-run societal systems “proceed as if the majority of men can be regarded mainly as sources of profit for Europe and North America” (Preface, 1945). Today’s social thinkers (e.g., Joe Feagin, George Fredrickson, Paul Lauren, and Chancellor Williams, among others) echo Du Bois’s observations made nearly a half century ago.
Ironically, and not surprisingly, when the economy is in crisis, whites disassociate themselves from capitalism; but when economic times are good, whites cannot wait to boast about their savvy entrepreneurial skills, smarts, power and wealth. With the recent collapse of the US and global economies, the “Donald Trump types” that white American society worshipped during the years of prosperity are now viewed questionably and even seen as villains. The same CEOs that Congress used to court and cuddle are now targets of Congressional committee investigations. Even the free-market, non-government interventionist ‘pro-capitalist’ platform of President Bush was not sacred as the capitalist economy spiraled downward. He quickly changed his support of the basis tenets of capitalist philosophy, non-government intervention, at the end of his administration (ironically, a last-ditch effort to benefit white capitalist elites).
A popular white myth claims that whites have single-handedly earned their wealth and worked harder than other people (of color). This is nonsense. For years, as a white man, I was convinced that my “success” (capital accumulation, property ownership, fine cars, lavish lifestyle, even dates with women) was the result of my skills alone, without realizing the advantages of my white male privilege and position in an unjust, un-equalized social system that benefits whites (particularly white men) and targets people of color. One might ask, how many talented people of color have been overlooked—economically, socially, and intellectually—in favor of mediocre whites? This white-run capitalist-racist-patriarchal system, advancing many whites and oppressing many people of color, has been fixed in American society from the start, as most people of color have known for years and as Joe’s socio-theoretical and historical understanding of the white racial frame clearly indicates.
Despite my best intentions to default my position as an advantaged white man, I cannot begin to escape my white privilege (luxuries of prep school and higher education) and greater access to power and resources (connections with wealthy whites and spoils of capitalist exploitation of people of color and poor whites) that exist in the white-dominated capitalist social world. While morally, psychologically, and socially uncomfortable on a number of levels, I hope that other white men can begin to question their position in the social world. It is necessary that white men recognize the mechanisms—the white racial frame, the colonization of people of color—that support their positions of white privilege and power, and that they take steps to compensate and return power and privilege back to people of color who have been robbed and mistreated for centuries.
One last note, while I agree that white men are primarily the problem, the ‘white family,’ white women and white children, also benefit from capitalist, racist exploitation. For example, white women hire women of color to perform the labor-intensive choirs in the homes of white families (cleaning the house and child rearing); rarely is this relation reversed. White children, boys and girls, are trained to learn the necessary “skills” to maintain the white frame that will benefit them at the expense of people of color and poor whites. According to James Wright, a “2007 study conducted by researcher Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution showed that a typical black family had only 58 percent of the income and assets of a typical white family. Blacks lag behind whites in two wealth-producing instruments, homeownership and owning a business.”
Until serious social transformation occurs along race, class and gender lines, whites, in general, not just white men, should be viewed as ‘the problem.’ To begin to help solve this problem, all whites must quite denying their unjust, ill-gotten privileges and rigged access to power and resources and attempt a redemptive path of recourse.