Tim Wise on terrorism, privilege, and understanding the power of whiteness

Ed. note: This is a guest post by Juliana Britto Schwartz. By day, Juliana is a student at University of California, Santa Cruz. By night, she is a Latina feminist blogger at Julianabritto.com, where she writes about reproductive health justice, immigration, and feminist movements in Latin America.

A vendor hawks a newspaper displaying its Boston marathon attacks front page, in New York on April 16, 2013. The city went on high alert a day after two explosions happened in quick succession near the finish line at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding more than 100 others, in the worst terrorist act in the US since September 11, 2001. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand        (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)In the wake of the Boston bombing and in the midst of a manhunt, we are harshly reminded that though bombs do not discriminate against race and gender, people do. We’ve already heard what we know now to be false reports that a “dark-skinned man” was behind the crime, and stories of a Saudi man being taken into custody in spite of being a victim, and not the perpetrator of the act. Brown people who weren’t even at the scene are being targeted, including a Muslim woman who was attacked Wednesday morning by a white man screaming that Muslims had been involved in the bombing. A Bangladeshi man in New York was attacked by four men mistaking him for “an Arab.” The largest mosque in Boston now has security guards posted outside of it, fearing violence in spite of the fact that at that time they still don’t know who was behind the bombings.

Now that we have more (but not ALL) the facts, when sifting through all of the speculation and conversation about Boston, it’s important to remember not only that racism tinges the information we receive, but that white privilege also plays a huge part in shaping the dialogue around terrorist acts.

In his piece, “Terrorism and Privilege: Understanding the Power of Whiteness,” Tim Wise reminds us that terrorism is just as white as it is brown. You’ve never heard of Tim McVeigh? That’s because no one attributes his race to his violence. That’s because he was white.

“White privilege is knowing that since the bombers have turned out to be white, no one will call for whites to be profiled as terrorists as a result, subjected to special screening, or threatened with deportation.

White privilege is knowing that since the Boston bombers have turned out to be white, we will not be asked to denounce them, so as to prove our own loyalties to the common national good. It is knowing that the next time a cop sees one of us standing on the sidewalk cheering on runners in a marathon, that cop will say exactly nothing to us as a result.

White privilege is knowing that if you are a white student from Nebraska — as opposed to, say, a student from Saudi Arabia — that no one, and I mean no one would think it important to detain and question you in the wake of a bombing such as the one at the Boston Marathon.”

So, now that we have found out who was behind the bombings, regardless of their race, let’s remember that one’s skin color has nothing to do with one’s propensity to violence.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to her work at Feministing, Lori is an Associate Director at Planned Parenthood Global. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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