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Thread: The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege

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    The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege

    Robert Jensen's new book, The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege, courageously exposes the minds and hearts of whites benefiting from what he calls a "white-supremacist society."

    Jensen is not a minority radical spouting Anglo-blue-eyed-devil rhetoric and a call for racial conflict. He describes himself as "white as white gets in the United States of America. I am a white-bred, white-bread white boy." He's also an associate professor of journalism at the University of Texas in Austin.

    His book addresses white middle-class citizens who deny or ignore the existence of white privilege and disparities in economic, social and educational levels between whites and ethnic minorities.

    Jensen acknowledges that the overt white supremacist activities in America's past -- the antics of Klansmen and decades of Jim Crow laws -- diminished considerably during the 20th century. However, he asserts that most whites have never accepted, or have ignored, the historical reality that white supremacy was founded on the killing of millions of Indians, the seizure of their lands, the enslavement of millions of Africans and wars of expansion into the Third World.

    Jensen asks that whites look into their hearts. Like Marlow in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, whites should brave a journey of self-discovery to confront their fears of blacks and Latinos and overcome the evils of racist attitudes and instititutions. Otherwise, how can the United States take the high moral ground with dictators and terrorists?

    As a personal example, Jensen says that he worked and studied hard to rise from his North Dakota lower-middle-class background to earn his doctorate in journalism and land a job at a prestigious university. He knows that, along the way, he received a significant boost from the fact that he grew up in an almost all-white city, attended all-white schools, had white bosses and never believed that his failures were because he was white.

    He recognized that merit was only part of the reason for his success; his white status in a society that valued whites over ethnic minorities gave him the edge. It's this advantage that he asks his fellow whites to examine and work to eliminate.

    Jensen acknowledges that dismantling racism would mean a loss of power, material wealth and status for whites. An underlying white fear is that with a growing Latino population and political strength, Latinos will gain governmental and social control. Then a white minority might find that it might receive the same treatment it has doled out over the years.

    In a brutally honest story, he talks about a panel presentation he made with Les Payne, a Pulitzer Prize winner and associate managing editor at Newsday. Payne was more experienced, had won more awards, written more serious pieces and spoke publicly better than Jensen. Yet as he sat next to the black journalist, Jensen felt superior.

    When Payne explained to the audience that he had to struggle to overcome feelings of inferiority from his Southern upbringing to succeed in school and professional life, Jensen felt despair. He had thought that he was one of the "good" whites. He realized that despite his political activism and writings on behalf of racial equality, he hadn't shaken his feelings of superiority.

    This attitude of white superiority in history, language and action had forced Payne and other ethnic minorities to feel and act inferior. Jensen's -- and other whites' -- personal recognition of this ideology is the first step to the cure.

    Jensen admits that he's an angry man who wishes more middle-class whites would become indignant. They need to howl at an ideology that forces them to exchange their political souls for material affluence. But not all have sold out.

    The League of Women Voters' recent efforts to persuade the JPS Health Network board to extend non-emergency healthcare to the undocumented is a noble example of middle-class whites fighting for justice. No doubt they risked the loss of support from white, politically conservative organizations by taking up this cause, but they accepted their moral responsibility to ensure that a healthcare system with a $37.6 million surplus provides care to all sick people in Tarrant County.

    As Jensen concludes, the White People's Burden is to civilize themselves and their institutions.

    To eliminate the disease of racism and restore a healthy society, whites should steel their hearts and minds for political change and accept their darker brothers and sisters.
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