Swimming in White Privilege

D. L. Hughley, Black comedian and author of the new book Black Man, White House, was interviewed the week of Aug. 11, 2016 on the Tavis Smiley Show.  Now, D. L. Hughley’s earlier book is called We Want You to Shut the F#ck Up, so we (a) already like him and (b) know to expect a degree of comedic audacity and brutal honesty.  That said, we really appreciated his jokes during the show about how White privilege informs expectations for safety.  Hughley brought up the cases from earlier this year when children tragically wandered into the zoo enclosure of the silverback gorilla and into the alligator-infested waters near Disneyworld.

“It is ridiculous the things that you see.  Like when I watch what happened with the tragedy with the alligator.  When a sign says ‘Don’t swim,’ don’t swim!  . . . . Alligators don’t read signs! . . . But I know what, when Black people see a sign that says ‘don’t swim’ you best believe we ain’t swimming.  That’s why they got a pool, right?! [Imitating a parental voice] ‘You better dip your toe in that bathtub and shut up, we’re at Disneyworld.'”

Perhaps some would criticize Hughley for “blaming the victim” of such tragedies, but a truth his comedy reaches links the expectation of safety from others in the world to White privilege.   Blacks, his shtick implies, have never been able to expect institutions and authority figures to guarantee their safety.  They have, instead, taught one another to watch out for dangers.  Black parents should not have to have “the talk” with their children, especially their sons, but they do.  They know that Black boys and men are far more likely than Whites to be targets of police brutality.

We know that women (of all races) are far more likely than men to be targets of sexual assault.  Offering girls and women tools for being on the lookout for signs of danger is just as rational a response to a violent and unjust world.  That’s why the many rape prevention educators who preach bystander intervention whilst refusing to talk about how women can learn to defend themselves sound like people who have had a privileged protection to the point of paralysis.  How about we make it easier for women to be aware of their surroundings, and act on their awareness, assert themselves, and hit or kick if necessary to get out of an attack? Nope- that’d be victim blaming, we’re often told. Women should be able to walk across their college campuses naked, and defenseless, we are told.  How about we shift our understanding of ourselves as powerful and empowered, and able to make choices that challenge rather than support the patriarchy?  That’s what self-defense training can do.

We know, we know. You can’t train an alligator but you can (supposedly) train men to be different, and less dangerous. This might be true, but self-defense training will work a lot faster than your training of men.  And guess what?  When women watch out for themselves, take themselves seriously, and defend their own safety, that sends a powerful “training” message to the men in their midst.

 

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