Wednesday, July 17, 2013
It's not just white privilege; it's white authority
White privilege comes from the decisions to color-code the working class of North America, decisions made in the very early days of colonial settlement, even before New England was settled.
The legal system of American slavery was a new invention and codified very early in colonial history. Slavery in England before 1600 was debt slavery, had a time limit, and was inherited father to son. A son would be in servitude until the unpaid of his father was cleared.
But slavery in America was for life, had no time limit and was a status inherited through the mother. If your mother was a slave, then you were a slave. (Think about the sexual violence and rape assumed by that legal redefinition.) Laws had to be written and judicial precedents established to make this a legal system. It was conscious and deliberate work.
Slavery in British North America was a legal system created to solve specific problems in the extraction of wealth from the colonies.
In the beginning, it was tobacco was the most important source of wealth from Virginia. Tobacco needed large amounts of labor which could not be hired because of the horror of its working conditions. Labor had to be compelled, but Virginia was frontier. The native people could not be compelled to work; they could easily escape into the forested inland regions. Europeans could not be compelled to work because they could go 50 miles down the road, change their name and start over. Hence African slaves.
But in order to compel African slave labor, they had to prevent slaves from escaping down the road, as well. They could be controlled by their color, that they were different in appearance. All whites had to be and were enlisted in the effort to control all black people. Any white person could challenge any black person to prove that they had been given permission to be in any place. One race policing another. Community over community. In several colonies, including Virginia, free blacks were banished from the colony as their presence undercut this system. In short, slave America depended on universal racial profiling as a means of maintaining and controlling the slave system.
White privilege is not simply that white people were given privileges and benefits that black people were not. It stems also from a system in white people were given authority over black people.
That system passes down culturally and shows up in the police forces and prison guards throughout the country. In many northern urban cities, police forces were essentially segregated. Prisons are often located in rural parts of the state, up here in the North, were the prison guard population will be white. It sets into the very definition of policing itself that it is a paramilitary organization whose job is to control an alien population. They "patrol".
When George Zimmerman is described as a "wannabe cop" -- what's that about?
The pacification and control from above of an alien and restive black population seems to me to be the unspoken assumption behind much of our domestic political debate. On the one hand is the hardline camp which calls for strict law and order, as much punishment as possible and short rations to ensure compliance. On the other hand, a more liberal camp argues for more mercy and better benefits as a way to keep the peace. It's almost impossible to escape the construct that they (those people) are our problem and we have to figure out the best way to manage them to keep this culture and society from devolving into some unimaginable horror, like a zombie movie.