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Thursday, June 08, 2006

AlterNet: Why White People Are Afraid - By Robert Jensen, AlterNet

Posted on June 7, 2006, Printed on June 8, 2006
http://www.alternet.org/story/36892/
 
It may seem self-indulgent to talk about the fears of white people in a white-supremacist society. After all, what do white people really have to be afraid of in a world structured on white privilege? It may be self-indulgent, but it's critical to understand because these fears are part of what keeps many white people from confronting ourselves and the system.
 
The first, and perhaps most crucial, fear is that of facing the fact that some of what we white people have is unearned. It's a truism that we don't really make it on our own; we all have plenty of help to achieve whatever we achieve. That means that some of what we have is the product of the work of others, distributed unevenly across society, over which we may have little or no control individually. No matter how hard we work or how smart we are, we all know -- when we are honest with ourselves -- that we did not get where we are by merit alone. And many white people are afraid of that fact.
 
A second fear is crasser: White people's fear of losing what we have -- literally the fear of losing things we own if at some point the economic, political, and social systems in which we live become more just and equitable. That fear is not completely irrational; if white privilege -- along with the other kinds of privilege many of us have living in the middle class and above in an imperialist country that dominates much of the rest of the world -- were to evaporate, the distribution of resources in the United States and in the world would change, and that would be a good thing. We would have less. That redistribution of wealth would be fairer and more just. But in a world in which people have become used to affluence and material comfort, that possibility can be scary.
 
A third fear involves a slightly different scenario -- a world in which non-white people might someday gain the kind of power over whites that whites have long monopolized. One hears this constantly in the conversation about immigration, the lingering fear that somehow "they" (meaning not just Mexican-Americans and Latinos more generally, but any non-white immigrants) are going to keep moving to this country and at some point become the majority demographically.
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