Monday, 13 June 2016

Thoughts on White Privilege

White Privilege is something that one hears bandied about every so often, yet many of us write it off as some sort of conspiracy theory that is screamed about by the left that is little more than an over-reaction. In many cases a lot of us write it off because governments (at least in Australia) seem to do a lot for the minorities and pretty much leave the White Male Anglo-Saxon to fend for themselves. In a way I've found that to be the case in my life, seeing all these special benefits that go to Aboriginals and the like, and me pretty much being left to fight my own battles. Further more concepts such as affirmative action begin to make me feel as if the fact that I am a white male is becoming to be a disadvantage.

However, with the current furore over the sentencing of Brock Turner, I have suddenly come to realise that White Privilege is alive and well, and that I have experienced it in my own life. In reality, my denial of white privilege, at least where it applies to me, has been little more than a selfish reaction based on the idea of 'why can't I have all those goodies as well'.

The Stanford Rapist

I first heard about Brock Turner when all these memes began to appear on my Facebook feed of a well dressed teenager with the words 'This is Brock Turner, he is a Rapist' over it. I am not one to share these memes, especially since I am not in the business of demonising people. Now, I am not saying what he did was right - by no means - however the saying of Jesus 'he who is without sin cast the first stone' applies in this situation. While not everybody has heard of this (a friend I spoke to the other night seemed to be completely oblivious), I have provided a link to the Wikipedia article above so won't go any further into the background of the case.

Before I comment on the prison sentence I want to say a few things about Turner's future prospects - there are none. This single act that he father so callously described as a '20 minute action' has pretty much destroyed his life - and so it should. First of all his name is going to be listed on the list of sexual offenders - no teaching job for Turner. In fact no job, voluntary or otherwise, which involves working with children or disadvantaged people will be open to him. In fact his career prospects, especially in the days of social media, are going to be incredibly limited. Also, the left wing media have also ignored the fact that he was kicked out of Stanford and kicked off the swimming team for his actions.

Yet the six month gaol term is a classic symptom of the privilege that wealthy white people seem to get. The minimum gaol term for rape in California is four years (though we should remember that he wasn't actually convicted of rape, probably thanks to the advocacy skills of his legal team), yet he manages to escape that sentence because it was seen as having an adverse effect upon his future prospects (whatever those prospects happen to be). I remember a similar case in Australia where the son of a property developer shot a milkman in the early hours of the morning because a couple of girls told him that the milkman was stalking them. He got a suspended sentence. This caused such an outrage that the Director of Public Prosecutions was forced to resign, and the government stepped in to force a retrial (which was grossly overstepping their constitutional authority).

The thing with Turner's sentence is that it started making me think about my own life, and how I have actually had advantages that many non-white people simply do not have.

How I Have Experienced White Privilege

I won't go into to much detail about my past, with the exception of saying that in my teenage years I got caught up with the wrong crowd, got into an awful lot of trouble, and found myself making my way through the court system. However, I was effectively given a slap on the wrist, made to do community service, and pretty much told by the judge not to appear in front of him again (however I did, as I will get to shortly). Since that time I returned to school, got a law degree at university, and was subsequently admitted to the bar as a barrister and a solicitor (which is why I say that I did reappear before him). I now have a steady job with a regular pay cheque and live a comfortable middle class life.

Many of my friends and family attribute this to being able to successfully turn my life around and actually making something out of it. However, after the furore that arose over Brock Turner's sentencing, it made me realise that being a white male also had quite a lot to do with it (as well has growing up in a middle-class Christian household). It made me ask the question: if I happened to be black would I be in the same position as I am today - most likely not.

Some have suggested that Australia doesn't have the same issue with race that the United States does, however I am inclined to disagree. The truth is that we also have our issues, especially when it comes to the native Australian Aboriginals. Pretty much, in Australia, if you are an Aboriginal born into an Aboriginal family then you are pretty much going to be starting off behind the eight-ball, and spending your entire life there, despite all of the helping hands that are given to you. The sad thing is that, like America, the number of Aboriginals in custody far outweighs the number of white people, and if you happen to be black then the chances of you landing up in gaol at a young age is much higher.

While there is a furore over Turner's sentence, it is not so much the sentence itself, but what he was sentenced for, and the message that it sends out to the world.

Rape: Culture

A part of me believed that in our enlightened age that the whole rape culture had been put behind us and that men and women could be treated as equals. Sadly that is not the case, as is not only evident with the Brock Turner trial, but also with the countless reports that one reads about life on university campus even today. I've been to university, and I've lived the university lifestyle (though I wasn't aware of any rapes occurring during my time there, even though I was privy to a lot of information - none of my male friends ever found themselves up on rape charges, at least as far as I know).

When I was in law school we studied rape, and I was also privy to a couple of cases during work experience in a criminal law firm. The sad truth is that a lot of rape (around about 90% I understand) goes unreported. One of the main reasons that this happens is because of the torment that the victim has to go through during the trial, not only having to face her perpetrator, but also having to be grilled by the defence, and having her entire story being pulled apart piece by piece. The term that is used for this is Gaslighting. While the term generally applies to somebody living in an abusive relationship, this also occurs during the trial, which sadly is a key aspect of our criminal justice system.

I have finished reading The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesteron and one of the interesting things that he proposes at the beginning of the book is the idea of the caveman. I'm sure we are all familiar with this image:

This image, it is sad to say, typifies the status of women even in our society - that is as an object to be possessed by a man. It is not a question of seduction, it is a question of possession through violence. Sure, we may look at this picture and laugh, believing that this is typical of a more barbaric time, however this picture actually has a subtle effect upon our own consciousness - what it tells us is that a woman is a possession, a possession that needs to be taken by force, a possession that is not a human and has no rights

However there is another problem with rape, and that is the question of consent. Okay, maybe we have come a long way from when the definition of rape was simply sexual intercourse without consent (meaning that the penetration of the vagina by anything other than a penis wasn't considered rape), however the definition of consent is actually quite broad. If a woman is persuaded to give consent through fraud then consent has been given and thus it is no longer rape. This is a classic example of the seduction technique, where the other party is persuaded through fine sounding words to consent to something that maybe they wouldn't have given it if they knew the truth. How many times have we ended up buying something that we have later regretted because we have been charmed by the words of the salesperson? This is why we have cooling off periods. Further, consent given while one is intoxicated is, sadly, still consent.

This is one of the big problems with our society - the advertising and fashion industries pummel women with the belief that they must dress well and look beautiful, and when a woman is raped, a part of society then turns around and blames the victim for dressing in a way that has caused men to desire her, and if she didn't dress in such a way then maybe she would not have been raped. Can one blame the advertising industry for this? To an extent yes, but while the modern marketing machine has a lot to answer for, in the end it is not society that should be held accountable, but those who believe they can get away with it.

A Question of Entitlement

The baffling thing to me is why would a man, who had everything going for him, think he could get away with having sex with an unconscious woman? Was it the case that Brock Turner, a member of the Stanford Swimming team, could not have consensual sex? Maybe that was the case - I personally don't know and don't want to make any assumptions. However, and as suggested with the cartoon above, there is also a suggestion of entitlement. Our media seems to constantly blast the idea that if one is rich and successful then one can have whatever they want. However what if somebody says no? Well, I guess the belief is that people shouldn't say no, and if they say no then they must be persuaded otherwise. If that doesn't work then the cultural norm suggests that one should then take out a club.

The problem with the WASP culture is that it is a culture of entitlement, especially when it comes to sex - moreso in marriage. Up until recently it was actually believed that if one was married then that was considered to be implied consent, which meant that rape could never happen in a marital relationship. As far as I'm aware, at least in Australia, this has changed, however we still come across the problem of being able to prove that a rape has occurred in such a relationship.

However, on the question of entitlement I believe that this meme sums it up beautifully (though I still believe that there are some things that the population should be entitled to - healthcare, housing, food, and a good education, but that is another topic):

A Complicated Matter

I asked my pastor tonight if there was such a thing as white privilege, and his answer was yes, but with a caveat - it is a complicated matter. There are a lot of things that actually go into this idea. Sure, if we have a poor white family and a poor black family then the black family is probably going to have a lot more difficulties than the white family, however this is painting a purely black and white view of the world, the the world actually doesn't exist in that dichotomy, namely because we have a variety of people inhabiting our lands - Asians, Indians, and Middle Eastern people for instance - yet we still seem to see it in a very black and white view.

I believe that it boils down to the fact that the black/white divide exists because both races are native to the same continent (and I am speaking of Australia here because my knowledge of the United States comes mostly from Hollywood, though I do read a lot of independent articles on the internet). The thing is that there are actually three layers here in Australia - the original inhabitants, the British colonists, and the immigrants. With regards to the Aboriginals they are considered a defeated and conquered people - out of mind, out of sight - however in many ways are similar to the Afro-Americans - a greater rate of incarceration, a lower standard of eduction, generally living in poverty et al. However, with Australia there is also the question of immigration, and it has changed somewhat over the years.

Back in the 50s and 60s, when my parents were growing up, it was the southern Europeans who were flocking to Australia and were the target of racial vilification. When we head into the 80s, and the South-East Asians begin to arrive, they become the target. These days it is those from the Middle East and the rampant Islamaphobia. However, they don't necessarily attract the same attention as the Australian Aboriginals. My theory is because many of them have come from relatively stable countries. A Chinese pulled over by the police is probably going to be treated the same a your average Anglo as opposed to an Australian aboriginal. It is not that they aren't exploited - the 7-11 scam is a clear indication of that - however the fact that immigrants seem to eventually establish a comfortable lifestyle in Australia while the Aboriginals still live in abject poverty suggests that there is still something very wrong in out society.

Thoughts on White Privilege by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

1 comment:

  1. Great article. I have had a similar journey. One of the things that really made me think was an incident I had back when I was in my late teens. My younger brother was really into chess at the time, and decided to attend a tournament in Modesto (the setting of American Graffiti - although it was filmed in a smaller town with an intact downtown.) I had an old Camaro that I hadn't yet repainted, so it looked rough. Rather than watch endless chess games, I decided to sit in my car in this parking structure and study. The security guard drove by regularly, and apparently found me to be highly suspicious, so she called the cops.

    I, naturally, was respectful and showed my ID and gave my explanation. End of *my* story.

    But even then, I knew that things would have gone much differently had I been black or hispanic. I probably *would* have been cited for loitering or some other bullcrap infraction. Or, perhaps, it would have been a Tamar Rice situation, and I would have been dead.

    I grew up in a mostly minority neighborhood in LA, and it was pretty darn obvious that I was treated differently as a white kid than my friends were when it came to law enforcement.

    That's just one example. Later, I discovered that every single one of my non-white friends had a story of some sort of harassment by the cops, by businesses, or by random people on the street. Of course it's complicated, as you point out. Some stereotypes can be advantageous (here in the US, being Asian can often get you a tech job, for example), but on the whole, white is assumed to be "normal" and everything else "exotic" in some way.

    I like how you tie in Rape Culture and entitlement. Just for a bit of crazy info, the last state to outlaw marital rape here in the US did so in 1993.

    Nineteen freaking ninety-three. That's embarrassing.