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All Roads Lead to White Privilege

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I'm finishing up my book right now, and am on a chapter about race and white privilege. During my research, I came upon this lengthy article on the Tea Party movement in the latest edition of Alternet.* It provides a telling (if mundane) example of how in our persistently racist politics, all roads - even "progressive" ones - always seem to lead back to deifying white privilege.

The article does a commendable job showing how the Tea Party demographic - according to polls, predominantly suburban, upper-middle class and white - has in the past "only been able to maintain a sense of their own power by their place at the top of the heap" and that today a "sense of lost privilege is stoking the drive toward (Tea Partiers') 'ethnonationalism." Liberals, says the article, "have largely failed to address" this resentful motive behind the Tea Party's disparate causes.

All of that is absolutely true (as I will further expand on in my upcoming newspaper column on Friday). And yet, what ultimately does the article suggest progressives do to combat this?

What's a Progressive to Do? To halt the destruction that would follow in the wake of a successful Tea Party movement, progressives need to do two big things: thwart the growth of the Tea Party movement, and organize as a counter-force. To hold the growth of the Tea Party movement in check, progressives will need to be strategic in their messaging, making arguments for enlightened self-interest to suburban white men for progressive causes.

In other words, instead of building the strength of progressives' burgeoning multicultural coalition through overtly anti-racist themes that explicitly challenge white privilege, the article asks progressives to fight white privilege by immediately privileging political messages that coddle privileged whites - that is, by trimming the progressive message into one that makes sure not to offend/counter white resentment. This, despite the resounding electoral success of progressives' multicultural coalition in the last two elections, and despite Census data showing America will soon be a majority minority (read: non-white) country.

Look, I'm all for universalist progressivism, and I believe that a strong progressive platform - even the anti-racist tenets - will naturally appeal to many white people. But the idea that progressives have to either A) specifically prioritize a message that appeases to privileged whites and/or B) tailor their message so as to avoid offending those who value white privilege - well, this would, unto itself, further strengthen the very white privilege that is at the root of so many American problems.

If I had to guess, the article's author wasn't consciously aware that it was doing this. But that's the whole point: White privilege in America today is so omniscient, so assumed, so embedded in everything, that it is even forwarded by some liberal voices as the answer to the very problems it creates. And the fact that so many of the liberal voices that inadvertently perpetuate these rhetorical parameters (particularly magazines, pundits and think tanks inside the cloistered Beltway) are catering to a mostly white privileged audience of elites means that they rarely - if ever - are called out for their contribution to an inherently racist paradigm.

* CORRECTION: The original post wrongly identified the publisher of the article as the American Prospect. It should have identified Alternet as the publisher. I sincerely regret the error.