Saturday, August 14, 2010

California's Proposition 8 - Privilege and the Naming of Neutrality

My commentary here will be brief. I just want to alert you to a current issue/debate going on here in California that can be used to help us increase our ability to see how white privilege often shows up in our public debate.

Having said that, this issue is really not about race at all. It's about Proposition 8, an initiative passed by California voters that ended the ability of gay and lesbian people to legally marry in this state.

On August 13th , a pair of editorials were published in the LA Times. Links are posted below. They are both short and worth reading.

Lose the Ruling, Attack the Judge

A biased ruling on gay marriage in California

As you can see, neither say anything about white privilege. But, what I'd like to offer here is that there are links between the arguments presented here and the criticisms against the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court.

Basically, (and I'm probably abbreviating this too much) what I see is that when a group that has long held a position of power (and sees its way of life as the "norm") fears that there is another group becoming increasingly powerful and thereby potentially 1) receiving increased benefits from the system and 2) creating a cultural shift regarding what is considered "normal", there is a backlash. This backlash targets the less systemically powerful group as "biased", as though being part of a "minority" group automatically makes one incapable of rendering an objective and fact-based opinion.

Let's be clear, though, that the point I am raising is that the group that has long held power assumes that its representatives ARE absolutely neutral and are somehow more capable of generating a reasonable and fair perspective.

Pasted below is a perfectly crafted (in my opinion) satire of this issue as presented on Stephen Colbert's comedy show in regards to how it plays out in terms of race.

Stephen Colbert's THE WORD - Neutral Man's Burden

We should watch out for, and argue against, this problematic tendency whenever it arises. Because regardless of how you feel about this particular issue (gay marriage) is all tied up with power and privilege, and the people who are in a position to wield institutional power most often in this country are still both white and straight.


  1. Dear Shelly,
    Hello, there, Shelly! Your blog post here as usual as always is right on target! Thank-you for providing the links, they are absolutely priceless, and show just how accurate your great points are for sure! It is so sadly true, as in how our now U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was treated in the hearings by some privileged white males who have white and male privilege, that minorities are unfairly seen as being unable to be neutral and to not have bias. Shelly, you are so right when you say that the less systematically privileged groups are seen to be unable to be neutral and to be able to avoid bias. It is apparent that those who are more privileged, such as white males, and heterosexual white males and some (not all, though) heterosexuals, are often viewed as being able to be more neutral and to be able to avoid bias. Women, people of color, and transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, as well as other marginalized and less privileged people, are wrongfully viewed as the problem, as not being able to be neutral and to avoid bias, like having a special agenda. Shelly, the super links you provided are proof positive of the accuracy and validity of the fine and excellent points which you have made!

    I am overjoyed that Proposition 8 was overtuned, and I am so proud of my state of Iowa for legalizing lesbian and gay marriages! Like people of color, in our fight for equality in marriage, we as lesbians and gays are seen as being not neutral, biased, and as having a special agenda to have special rights. I can see here how there is an interlink between sexism, heterosexism, transphobia, genderism, homophobia, and racism. As the black lesbian woman who I am, I can for sure find relevant points of connection for me in all of these recent news stories, and in what I viewed in the links which you so graciously provided, Shelly! This blog posting of yours, like all of your other ones, is fantastic and makes such super points, Shelly!

    True sister who you are, Shelly, to both the witnessing whiteness movement in your Radical White Community among other white persons, and in your fantastic outreach to all people of color and their communities, you are doing so exellent! You work so hard, Shelly, and with such integrity! I thank you so dearly, kindly, and deeply, Shelly, and all of our other fine white antiracist persons for all of your advocacy in outreach! I am so, so heartened and inspired by you, Shelly, and the other super white antiracist people, and I have such an increased faith, hope, and optimism that things can and will get better, this means so much! Blessings so, so much to you for always, Shelly!

    Sincerely always,

    Sherry Gordon