Friday, November 11, 2011

Robert Jensen The Color of the Race Problem Is White"

From the San Fransisco Gate, on May 25, 2006 by Reyhan Harmanci: FACING HIS RACE: 'The Heart of Whiteness' Racism isn't over, professor says, and people should admit it.

University of Texas professor and author Robert Jensen has a target audience of white liberals, but he isn't really preaching to the choir. Rather, he's preaching to people who think that they might be the choir but after listening to his thoughts on the huge scope of white privilege could find themselves in need of a conversion.

"In a way, my audience is specifically liberal white people who want to believe the struggle is over, that we're fine-tuning a system that is fair," says Jensen. "I say no, no, no we're still in a position to acknowledge the white supremacist nature of society."

Jensen's "The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege" (City Lights Publishers; 124 pages; $12.95) is a slim book that makes a complicated case for white people to start addressing the ways institutional racism still pervades U.S. society.

Getting the group in power to break down its own advantages is, Jensen readily admits, a tough sell. Jensen opts for a two-pronged attack. One appeals to a sense of justice, the other to self-interest.
"Listen, if you claim to believe in the inherent dignity of all people, and the golden rule -- and some version of the golden rule is present in the philosophies of most societies -- you have to acknowledge that the lived conditions between races in this country are unjust. There are huge gaps in terms of wealth and well-being, terms I use to describe measures like unemployment, infant mortality," he says.

"In a society where material conditions are contrary to claims of justice, well, you better get off your butt and do something."

The other case is a little less clear-cut, but potentially more powerful. "You go back to the essays of James Baldwin, who pretty much nailed it in the '60s," Jensen says. "To believe in white supremacy, you surrender part of your humanity. You embrace a pathology that borders on lunacy -- there is a slight material self-interest in it because it gets you goodies for being white -- but it's at the cost of your humanity, at a richer understanding of the world."

Basically, Jensen says, when you stop assuming white privilege, you get the chance to grow.

But how does a white male college professor get to talk about abandoning privilege? Isn't he the epitome of insular white liberal academia?

Jensen, who studied feminism before taking on race, got his doctorate from the University of Minnesota. He is sensitive to how his identity affects his audiences. "I'm very aware of the irony, and as I've said before, there's not an original idea in my book," he says. "... I'm trying to say some basic things about race as honestly as I can." (source: San Fransisco Gate)

Robert Jensen The Color of the Race Problem Is White"

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