Whiteness and white privilege speak European languages

by , under Enrique

As we hold our collective breaths and await to know the identity of the bombings in Boston Monday, too many don’t see a suspect but a whole ethnicity or religious group. Tim Wise put it very well in an opinion piece where he makes some distributing revelations about the power of whiteness.

If we understand in Finland, the Nordic Region and Europe that white privilege in the United States means the same thing here, we can begin to understand the social ills that have inflicted us as well.

Being “white” in Europe means that you are a member and identify with the dominant ethnic group of a country. You can speak Italian, be a white Romanian, Estonian-speaking Estonian, or an Englishman or a white Englishwoman to enjoy white privilege over other groups that are visible minorities.

Wise affirms that the Boston bombings are another lesson about ethnicity, whiteness, and specifically of white privilege.

He writes: “White privilege is knowing that even if the Boston Marathon bomber  turns out to be white, his or her identity will not result in white folks generally being singled out for suspicion by law enforcement, or the TSA, or the FBI…And if he turns out [the killer] to be a member of the Irish Republican Army we won’t bomb Belfast. And if he’s an Italian American Catholic we won’t bomb the Vatican.”

Anders Breivik, who killed in cold blood 77 victims on July 22, 2011, is a good example of white privilege in the Nordic and Europe. Despite his horrific act, nobody in this part of the world thinks that all white people are mass murderers.

On the contrary. Whites privilege and time make us forget such horrors. Wasn’t Breivik a deranged lone wolf?

We should start to speak more about white privilege.

Not talking about it  shows another feat by white privilege: Playing down the issue.

  1. Klay_immigrant

    I wonder how people would react if there was a terrorist attack in Finland or elsewhere and the perpetrators acted in the name of Perussuomalaiset?

    Would the reaction be that these are individuals and lay the blame on them alone or would there be calls for action to be taken against Perussuomalaiset too and it’s followers as they inspired the attack?

    • Farang

      Very good question 😀

      I’d like to hear Enrique and Mark’s answers. I already know them, but would be nice to hear what they say.

    • Enrique Tessieri

      –Would the reaction be that these are individuals and lay the blame on them alone or would there be calls for action to be taken against Perussuomalaiset too and it’s followers as they inspired the attack?

      Maybe they’d single out the perpetrator and call him insane. What do you think?

    • Mark

      What’s your point Klay?

      Acting in the name of PS may not in itself place blame on PS. When it comes to beliefs and politics, in most cases the end goals are very similar and usually ‘good’ at least for some members of society – the dangers come in how those goals are attained and who suffers along the way.

      The other question is how much PS would have been stoking the fires that led to an outrage of that kind. Almost all wars are fed by heated rhetoric and a self-entitled sense of injustice and outrage, yet almost always a total blindness to the idea that an opponent can feel the same thing or would even be justified in feeling the same thing!

      Taking action against the followers? What kind of action?

      Clearly you are using this as an analogy, but an analogy to what, Klay? You are being unnecessarily cryptic, me thinks!

    • Farang

      Mark

      Clearly you are using this as an analogy, but an analogy to what, Klay? You are being unnecessarily cryptic, me thinks!

      Are you pretending or do you actually say you don’t see Klay’s analogy?

      Whenever islamist to terrorist attacks and then give a statement that they are doing it in the name of Islam, you are very eager to condemn any lines drawn to blame Islam. Your immediate reaction is always that the attacks are actions of infividual islamist groups and you start the full force defense of muslims. And that is the correct way, I agree with that.

      But now if the similar situation was regarding to PS, you start to seek reasons how you could blame PS for “stoking the fires that led to an outrage of that kind”. This is what I challenge you about.

      Why do you relate differently if terrorist attack is done in name of islam compared to attack done in name of perussuomalaiset?

    • Mark

      Are you pretending or do you actually say you don’t see Klay’s analogy?

      No, it was not clear at all.

    • Mark

      Farang

      But now if the similar situation was regarding to PS, you start to seek reasons how you could blame PS for “stoking the fires that led to an outrage of that kind”. This is what I challenge you about.

      Point 1
      There is NO one single spokeperson for Islam.

      There IS a single spokesperson for Perussuomaiset, his name is Timo Soini.

      Point 2
      Islam, like most religions is fundamentally an act of following one’s conscience. Leadership and authority of priests is not absolute in any sense and is very dispersed – different groups will follow different leadership and none can claim to speak exclusively on behalf of all Muslims or the whole of Islam, i.e. on behalf of Allah. Yes, some people attempt to claim that authority, but the fact that a vast majority will not recognise that authority shows just how impossible it is to claim that authority. There is no unequivocal leadership, though many groups will have their own leadership.

      In Perussuomalaiset, there is a single leadership. Although there is variety of political opinion within the party, only the leadership can speak with any authority about what PS stand for or believe.

      Point 3
      When the leadership of a very small grouping within Islam choose a militant path, they contradict the ‘peaceful’ religious and spiritual intentions of the vast majority of Muslims. Holding the whole of Islam responsible would be like holding all political parties responsible for the extreme beliefs of a militant minority. It makes no sense.

      This should answer your question.

    • Mark

      Farang

      Why do you relate differently if terrorist attack is done in name of islam compared to attack done in name of perussuomalaiset?

      Just to point out again, Farang, that Klay already conceded this point once in the discussion. He first used the word ‘Arab’, and then corrected himself to refer to the specific group of mostly Arab Muslims behind the attacks, i.e. Al Qaeda.

      That is the problem in blaming Islam – Islam is simply too broad a category.

    • Farang

      You still dodged the main question:

      If someone who is not a member of PS does an attack and says it is in the name of PS, why is it justified to blame PS for it?

    • Mark

      Farang

      If someone who is not a member of PS does an attack and says it is in the name of PS, why is it justified to blame PS for it?

      There is not enough information here to come to a sensible conclusion. If the political party had said that Parliament was an illegitimate institution dictating to Finland from Helsinki and that this has to stop, I would see that as irresponsible. If someone then bombed the parliament building citing the ‘illegitimate institution’ part, I would say that that party must take some responsibility – not for the action of bombing, but for the irresponsible way they had undermined the security of Finnish society by attacking the legitimacy of its institutions.

      Do you see the difference that I am making? I am not saying politicians are responsible for the actions of individuals, but they are responsible for their own communications, and if those communications incite violence or can all too easily be interpreted as inciting violence, then the politician should be held responsible for that, for either deliberately inciting violence, or at the very least, for being a poor politician who fails to appreciate the security of Finnish society.

    • Mark

      Klay

      I think you need to open your mind to the idea of white privilege. It’s not an easy concept, because it is about things we take for granted. You don’t think about the air you breath until you find yourself breathing toxic air – you just take it for granted. Privilege is the same thing – people don’t question it and are rarely aware of it. It should be like that with dignity – being able to walk down the street knowing you are an accepted member of society, that you are not targeted especially just because you have a particular ethnic appearance or a particular dress or skin colour. When minorities do become a target, become stigmatised, either as ‘terrorist’, ‘welfare shoppers’, ‘criminals’ etc., then that simple dignity is taken away, and walking down the street can become painful and even dangerous in way that the majority will never know or realise, because it is something they can take for granted, as with most feelings of security.

      I think you make the same mistake as Farang, Klay: You try to equate political membership as the same thing as ethnic membership. Indeed, there is such a thing as political persecution, locking people up for opposing a ruling force simply by presenting ideas, and that must never happen. But the ideas involved are important too, because if those ideas are extreme and incite violence and persecution in themselves, then the ‘freedom’ to express those ideas is certainly should be questioned. Political freedom comes at the price of respecting the public good. If political ideas threaten the public good, then it is right that they are opposed, politically and if necessary, through the force of law. Freedom is not a carte blanche to harm others or to incite harm against others.

      A political identity and an ethnic identity are quite different. Unless you wear a uniform declaring your political allegiance, it is quite easy to mingle in society and avoid discrimination if your political beliefs put you in a despised minority. It is important to protect the rights of political minorities, however distasteful their beliefs or totalitarian their aims. The key thing is balancing their freedom to political activism and the rights of others to live a life of dignity. There is no way around balancing these different needs of different groups. Ignoring the rights of either group is not good enough. One principle must be seen to trump the other – in this case, the right to dignity must come first, simply because without dignity, political ‘freedom’ has little meaning. The right to political freedom is not a right to persecute others, and that is where the line must be drawn.

      The problem is that in enforcing that principle, it is extremely easy to reverse the argument: that the political persecutors have themselves now become the persecuted, with all the stigmatisation and discrimination that was the reason for the ‘oppression’ in the first place. This raises a very interesting judicial question; let’s take an extreme example to help make it more clear – killing a murderer (capital punishment) makes the State into a murderer too. Given the State is now the evil party, was the murderer therefore right to murder in the first place, should they have been free to do that? No. Clearly it was right to stop the murderer from killing again. By by killing the murderer, the State compromises its moral authority, with the State resorting to use the same means that was itself the reason for the injunction in the first place.

      The answer therefore becomes apparent: The State must guard against persecution of extremist political minorities, even while they must also step in to protect those that would be a target of those extreme political minorities. If you harm another, you must accept a ‘punishment’ or sanction from the State. Otherwise, you are not accepting the ground rules for political legitimacy and the rule of law, which makes any claim to ‘political identity’ invalid. You cannot abuse the idea of ‘freedom for all’ and then claim that the punishment for that abuse in turn abuses your freedom. We have to accept that when a person violates the rights of others, then this sanctions the State to in turn violate the perpetrator’s rights, even the right to freedom, i.e. jail. That is the punishment, the loss of rights. That is the rule of law, and it is the line that must be drawn if the State is to have any power to protect the ‘freedom of all’.

      In fact, the same reasoning applies just as much to religious extremism. Claiming immunity from prosecution for acts of religiously inspired hatred will not do, simply because the right to ‘identity’ must be prefaced on the idea that other people are entitled to their identity too and to live without the fear of harm coming to them because of that identity. The first to abuse that right is the first to lose the right to claiming ‘freedom’ through identity.

      I hope this goes some way to clarifying the moral difficulties in this question, Klay.

    • Farang

      Mark

      Acting in the name of PS may not in itself place blame on PS. When it comes to beliefs and politics, in most cases the end goals are very similar and usually ‘good’ at least for some members of society – the dangers come in how those goals are attained and who suffers along the way.

      Well, have you forgotten how many people tried to blame Halla-aho of Breivik’s actions based on the very thin connections (Breivik quoting someone who had quoted Halla-aho)?

    • Mark

      Farang

      Well, have you forgotten how many people tried to blame Halla-aho of Breivik’s actions based on the very thin connections (Breivik quoting someone who had quoted Halla-aho)?

      Pay attention to the rest of what I wrote about the taking responsibility for feeding the rhetoric that inspires people to commit outrage.

    • Farang

      Do you see the difference that I am making? I am not saying politicians are responsible for the actions of individuals, but they are responsible for their own communications, and if those communications incite violence or can all too easily be interpreted as inciting violence, then the politician should be held responsible for that, for either deliberately inciting violence, or at the very least, for being a poor politician who fails to appreciate the security of Finnish society.

      Politicians should be allowed to voice critic without someone falsely interpreting it as inciting hatred or violence.

    • Mark

      Farang

      Politicians should be allowed to voice critic without someone falsely interpreting it as inciting hatred or violence.

      Politicians can be real slime-balls. We should also beware those politicians who would deliberately exploit this freedom to criticise in a way that is calculated to incite hatred for the purpose of political gain.

      Perhaps you should be as critical of politicians as you want politicians to be critical of us?

      The degree that a politician leaves themselves open to false interpretation is subjective. Likewise, a politician that deliberately incites hatred (they would never see it as this, but rather they see the ‘ethnicising’ of a topic as quite legitimate) can also, once investigated by the police, claim innocence or twist their own words to imply a there was not ill-intent.

      When you are left arguing over the meaning and intention behind words, it is a very difficult ‘crime’ to enforce and leaves an awful lot of room for them to claim political persecution. This has always been one of the main arguments against censorship of hate speech. But the problem is that it turns a blind eye to the real harms that that hate speech does in society.

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