Saturday, June 8, 2013

"We have met the enemy, and he is us"

I watched this video this afternoon before I went to work, and it's been occupying my mind all day. Right after I watched it, I shared it on Facebook with some comments about how it gets at 3 clustered sets of assumptions (aka stereotypes):

  1. Young white men doing something that looks very suspicious obviously wouldn't really be doing what it looks exactly like they're doing, so even when they say that they're doing what it looks like, they must be kidding.

  2. Young black men are always under suspicion, and even over-the-top behavior must really be what it looks like.

  3. Attractive, young white women ... I'm not quite sure. Is it that the guy who offered to help her steal it was back at stereotype (1) (putting her with white men and treating her statement that she was stealing it as a joke), or did he think that helping her steal it might give him a chance?

My sense of it is that the bystanders were not necessarily racists, as such, but subject to society's implicit differential standards for black men/white men/white women (I'm sure some of the bloggers I follow would have something to say about the continued invisibility of black women in society involved in ABC's having left them out of the experiment).

What I mean by differential standards is that with the 2 white actors, people gave them some level of benefit of doubt: things seemed fishy, so the bystanders felt they needed to think it out before calling the cops. With the black young man, they were immediately ready and ignored anything indicating that things might not be as they seem.

To my mind, this gets at the kernel of what differential privilege is:

  1. The great majority of a society need to have internalized ideas of what various types of people are allowed to do such that when someone steps "out of line" for their type, a mob of seemingly independent people can put a stop to the "infraction",

  2. Members of groups that are allowed more freedom of action within the ideas in (1) need not be aware that they have more freedom. Indeed, in a supposedly classless society, it is "better" if they aren't aware since awareness of that inequity (aka "checking one's privilege") could lead to elimination of the relative privilege.

Thus, my using a quote from Pogo for the title of this post: Society is a thing, and what it is is that mass internalization of standards, mores, memes, and so on. That means that a great many of us will have internalized some of the crap that our conscious selves disavow. To get society rid of that crap, we must as individuals become aware that we have that crap and deal accordingly.

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