The Whiteness Factor
The relationship of being white and American is a complex one because one would have to determine how far back in human history we would have to go in order to figure out where classifying all started. We could go start at the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, could go back to the Civil War era, we could go as far back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence or even 1620 when the first pilgrims landed in the new world. Suffice to say, we do not know when this racial subclass began, but being white and American is seen by the world as top of the social order and either approve of it or radically disapprove of it. Therefore, some of the factors that could help define this sub class are realization of white privilege, the type of education a person has and his or her place in the work force.
Historically we cannot determine where this social classification began, but we have a strong idea what age a person realizes that he or she is different. In Beverly Tatum’s article “Can We Talk”, she mentions that one of her students did an experiment with three to four year olds in which her student asked these children to draw a Native American. The children of course had no idea what this student was talking about and so when she changed the words around and said draw Indians, then these kids knew what she was talking about and the pictures the children drew of Native American’s consisted of feathers and various weapons (Tatum 124). Although that experiment is open to interpretation because of when this actually happened, it does tell us that a person doesn’t learn these social ideas overnight but are groomed to be aware of their social standing. This form of grooming of a child in some cases can be considered an extreme form of brain washing depending on where they live and who their parents are. This was seen in white extremist groups such as the Klu Klux Klan and even the Nazis and so when that child becomes an adult, one of two things might happen. Either he or she will believe in that extreme form of social status or they will be so confused as to what to do he or she will have a difficult time trying to be accepted in society. Therefore, with the example given from Beverly Tatum we know or at least have an idea where white privilege begins for an American. Let us skip past the teens and go right into adulthood and a person is getting ready to go into college.
We know from our past that white privilege was set in stone because the school system had already enforced that idea by the time a person is seventeen to nineteen years old. It was obvious that if you are white and did well in school and your family had a good social status that young adult was going to get into an Ivy League college. Now take away the wealth and that same young adult still did well in school and was white, they still had a good chance to get into a college. However, if you were non-white and did well in school getting into an Ivy League college or any white college was never going to happen, regardless if you were in the top one percent of your class with 4.0 GPA that meant nothing. Due to the fact that if that person is either African-American, Asian or Hispanic, their social status is so low the mere thought of letting her or him through that Ivy School’s door was laughable. Although white privilege in the school system is still there, depending on where you live, the education system has been trying to balance that white privilege out and erase classification out completely. Although wealth is a major factor in white privilege that only applies to a very small percentage of people and so comes in the middle and working class Americans.
Although the middle class reaps some of the benefits from both working and upper classes, the working class struggles the most because of two factors, economy and race. Lillian Rubin made that point in her article “Is This A White Country, Or What?” as she talks about the struggles of working classes for all groups of people (Rubin). Even though the people interviewed in her article are just a small minority of people who think that the world is out to get the American culture because they do not learn the American way of life, does not mean that everyone thinks about it from time to time. Sure, the statistical information will say otherwise about crime in this country and affirmative action at the work place, but for those who complain that foreign people are taking away their job opportunities are the jobs people usually do not want. That is how white America thinks and acts today, they do not want to do those low wage jobs and yet when they hear about non-whites doing those jobs, they get into an uproar about it. As for how the economy works into the work force, Lillian mentions in her article that when the economy is booming white America is friendlier to outsiders, however, when the economy goes bad that is when it turns ugly and a job witch-hunt begins (Rubin). Even though the white Americans get the better jobs opportunities, most of them work hard for that opportunity and but the “lazy” society that has developed does most of the complaining. Of course, who’s to say why this happens as there are too many reasons, questions, arguments about this and no good solutions to fix the problems that we have today.
The privileges that white America receives through the education system and through the work force are astounding; hardliners think otherwise and so both sides wage a pointless battle on equal opportunities. It is obvious that everyone is out for their own benefit, but when something happens everyone chooses sides, begin the finger pointing, and play the blame game. As a white person the only privilege that I have is the freedom to make choices, right or wrong I decide what I want to do and who I can believe in and not the American society that I live in.
Tatum, Beverly D. “Can We Talk.” Race, Class and Gender in the United States. By Paula S. Rothenberg. 7th ed. New York: Worth, Incorporated, 2006. 123-129.
Rubin, Lillian “Is This A White Country, Or What?” “Race, Class and Gender in the United States. By Paula S. Rothenberg. 7th ed. New York: Worth, Incorporated, 2006. 338-345.