Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Blood on our Hands - Jodi Dean on White privilege

Here's the post in full:

How many of us have blood on our hands? Do we acknowledge it, atone for it?

I almost titled this post: what racism did for me. I benefitted concretely and materially from Jim Crow laws. I may have said this before, but I think it is important for me to bear it in mind, to remember it, to mark it. Because of Jim Crow laws, my white grandfather--who grew up 'so poor the poor folks called us poor,' as he used to say---with barely a high school education, a 16 year old share-cropper wife, and a new, sick baby, was able to flourish as a small businessman in southern Mississippi.

After the Depression and the end of prohibition--during which he ran a bar for his bootlegging brother--my grandfather opened the only furniture store in Pascagoula, Mississippi that sold to blacks. (Not the term he used.) Or maybe just the only white owned store--I don't know for sure, and all those who would know have long passed. It was called Home Furniture Store. His black customers called him Mr. Home instead of Jake, J.C., or Mr. Runnels. Was he one of the few white progressives? Not really. He was a businessman who could identify an untapped market. Had the market been tapped, he may not have done so well.

His wife bled on and off for a couple of years after giving birth to my mother in a shack near Macedonia, Mississippi. So, they only had one child. She benefitted from her father's business sense. And from segregation insofar as she could become valedictorian of her high school and get a scholarship. Maybe she would have even had the schools been integrated. Thing is, we won't know.

Even if it is exaggerated to say that there is blood on my hands with respect to these matters, and I think it important to consider the other matters perhaps more relevant to this topic, it is not exaggerated to call oneself to account for the way in which one benefits from the suffering of others. It may be that in understanding how we have benefitted from the suffering of others, in recognizing how our privilege has nothing to do with our own acts, our 'merit' as some liberals would like us to think, we can hear the call to do our best to eliminate such suffering. read more


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