White People, Chris Rock, and the Long End of the Stick

chris rock

Chris Rock

By now, the news that Chris Rock tweeted, “Happy white peoples independence day the slaves weren’t free but I’m sure they enjoyed the fireworks” is no longer news. His tweet set Twitter and a good portion of other online media ablaze for a couple of days. Chances are, you read it.

I doubt Rock’s reminder that slaves or blacks weren’t independent on the original Independence Day would have been noticed much less retweeted in excess of 15,000 times had it not been for his use of these three words, “white people’s independence”. I admit that I can’t know this with any certainty but my guess is but for those three words, Rock’s tweet would have disappeared into the Twitosphere right along with the other million tweets people ignore everyday. But Rock probably knew, when he crafted those 100 characters, that all he had to do was utter the words white people especially connected with them getting something that black people were denied  and he’d get a buzz or in the case of Twitter, set a trend – and mostly because of white people.

He was right. Check out this story and this one.

The funny thing is that we don’t seem to have a problem hearing about black people being enslaved. We’re so accustomed to hearing, seeing, and using words like slavery, injustice, inequality, discrimination, disadvantaged, prejudice and the like to describe the state of being black in America that – like background music in a movie – these issues seem to go unnoticed (except, of course, by black people). They’re interwoven into the tapestry of American culture. You can talk about these issues until the cows come home and you’ll get little notice, but use those same words while uttering the words “white people” and you’ve got the making of a viral tweet.

So why is this? How is it that, as a nation, America continues to experience racial disparity in education, healthcare, employment, wages, home ownership, and a host of other areas – yet, as a nation, Americans don’t call for a national response. Could it be that the perception is that these are not America’s problems – these are “racial” problems whose solutions are left to those who belong to a particular race? The message being that the vast majority of Americans, more specifically white Americans, don’t see themselves as part of the problem or part of the solution when it comes to issues around race.

In speaking of the racelessness of whites, sociologist and author Allan G. Johnson wrote in his ground breaking book, Privilege, Power, and Difference, “Beth – a white student – could be alert to the realities of economic discrimination against Black communities while still conceptualizing her own life as racially neutral – nonracialized.”

We often hear of minorities and women getting the short end of the stick or less than their fair share or being disadvantaged. Rarely if ever is attention brought to the other side of the coin – those who are getting more than their fair share, the overadvantaged, the ones who get the long end of the stick. We know it’s impossible for someone (through no fault of their own) to get the short end of the stick without somebody else receiving the long end — the unearned priviledge (frequently not asked for but used none the less). Which goes to the explosion caused by Chris Rock’s tweet and more specifically, the harsh treatment he got for posting it. It’s one thing to talk about the plight of blacks but quite another to bring whites into the picture. That gets dangerously close to looking at the other side of the coin.

As a writer for an online social justice magazine, I am frequently asked to write about issues of race. Recently, I was introduced to a woman who is alleging that she is experiencing discrimination on the basis of race, at her place of employment — California State University. The woman is a long-term employee and tenured full professor at California State Northridge. She is also black.

She’s asked me to do an investigative piece because she feels she is being set up to lose her position. After listening to her story, and knowing what I know about employment discrimination, I told her not to expect much. I sensed that she hoped her story could make a difference but I thought it was important for her to have realistic expectations. Then I started researching for the piece which will be published in a few days.

In my search for information, I learned that the racial imbalance at the faculty level of the California State University was so out of kilter with the state’s population that in September of 2001 the California State Legislature adopted a piece of legislation, ACR 73, that “urged” the university to conduct a study of its hiring practices in order to effectuate improvements and to develop and implement a plan of correction.

I also discovered that as of 2010, 70% of the faculty is white while 35% of the student body is white. Today, blacks represent only 4% of the faculty and multiple examples of racial and gender discrimination lawsuits against the university can be found with a single Google search.

For example:

  • In 2002, Pat Washington, a black woman and former assistant professor in the women’s studies department at San Diego State University (SDSU), filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that she had been discriminated against on the basis of sex and race. The EEOC found in her favor and recommended that the university award her tenure, promotion to associate professor, and back pay with benefits. Despite the EEOC’s recommendation, Pat Washington had to sue Cal State to get the recommended remedy. The case went back and forth through the appeals process with Dr. Washington taking it all the way to the California Supreme Court. In April of 2005 the court chose not to hear her case.
  • In 2003, a sharply divided federal appeals court refused to reinstate a jury’s $637,000 damage award to a former California State University at Hayward professor who claimed he had been denied tenure because of his race and African origin. The professor, Dr. Mohamed Osman Elsayed is from Sudan. He was the first black tenure-track professor at the school’s mass communications department.
  • Cici Mattiuzzi, the Director of Career Services in the College of Engineering and Computer Science at CSU, Sacramento, has filed a suit against CSU because she alleges retaliation in the form of exclusion from meetings, being denied office space and other unfair actions after she settled an earlier case agains the university for various theories, including gender discrimination. Mattiuzzi’s case is current.
  • In a current case being heard at the California Superior Court, an associate professor, Lauri Ramey, alleges she was discriminated against when she was hired as a tenured associate professor at CSULA, because she was paid less than a male professor hired at the same time. She complained about this perceived wage discrepancy, and now claims that she is the victim of discrimination and retaliation. The EEOC found in her favor, but did not pursue the case. The case is in the discovery phase.
  • Michael Pounds of Cal State Long Beach alleges discrimination based on his age, race, and disability. Pounds, a 61-year-old African-American man with a visible disability alleges several acts of discrimination including his appointment as department chair for one year as opposed to the typical three-year term. His case against California State University was recently dismissed.
  • Mohammad Noori was Dean of the College of Engineering at Cal Poly until June 2010. Professor Noori has filed a suit claiming he was removed as dean because of his race/national origin and religion, and was retaliated against because he complained about discrimination. This case is current.

But in the face of this anecdotal information as well as years of statistical data that point to racial and other non-merit based inequaties at California State University, the focus continues to be on one side of the inequality coin – the underserved, the disadvantaged, the short end of the stick and so it remains “their” problem to solve.

To better illustrate this point, I contacted Allan G. Johnson and asked his permission to reprint an excerpt from his book, Privilege, Power, and Difference. He granted it.

This is what came to mind for me as I watched Chris Rock’s tweet trending while researching racial inequities at Cal State University– thank you Professor Allan G. Johnson:

In 1990, ABC News aired as a segment of Prime Time a documentary called True Colors. It focused on two men who were quite similar in every observable characteristic except race: one was black and one was white. The crew used hidden cameras and microphones to record what happened in various situations – applying for a job, accidentally locking oneself out of the car, trying to rent an apartment, shopping for shoes, buying a car and so on. Over and over again the two men were treated differently. In one instant, for example, the white man wandered into a shoe store in a shopping mall. He was barely across the threshold when the white clerk approached him with a smile and an outstretched hand. He looked at some shoes and then went on his way. Minutes later his black partner entered the store and from the outset was utterly ignored by the clerk, who stood only a few feet away. Nothing the black man did seemed to make a difference. He picked up and looked at shoes, he walked up and down the display aisles, he gazed thoughtfully at a particular style. After what seemed an eternity, he left.

When I show True Color in my race class and at diversity training sessions, I ask whites if they identify with anyone in the video. Invariably they say no, because they don’t see themselves in the black man’s predicament or in the racist behavior of the whites. Somehow, the white partner who is on the receiving end of the preferential treatment is invisible to them, and if I don’t mention him, he rarely comes up. In other words, they don’t say, “Yes, I see myself in the white guy receiving the benefits of white privilege.”

The effect of this obliviousness is for them to become invisible as white people in everyday situations and unaware of how privilege happens to them, especially in relation to other whites. They don’t see themselves as being involved in situations in which privilege comes into play. They don’t see, for example, that simply being white puts them in a particular relationship with someone like the shoe store clerk (whom they readily identify as racist) or that this relationship affects the way customers of color are treated and the way they are treated as whites.

The invisibility of whiteness illustrates how privilege can blind those who receive it.

sharon kyleIt is easy to confuse intentions with consequences. Systems of privilege continue to wreck havoc in the lives of many while conversely providing unearned advantage to others irrespective of intent. There is no such thing as doing nothing. There is no such thing as being neutral or uninvolved. At every moment, social life involves all of us — those with the short end of the stick and those with the long end. We need to address the systems that cause and maintain both.  (for more information on this topic, see the books below)

Sharon Kyle
LA Progressive, Publisher

Published Saturday, 7 July 2012


  1. Sikivu says

    Excellent break down of the the institutionalization of white privilege and entitlement (i.e. white supremacy).  Peggy McKintosh’s ubiquitous “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” is another good concrete exercise of how whites are advantaged in everyday ordinary life

    • says

       Peggy McKintosh is in the video “Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible”. I embedded a clip after Cindy-Roy (another commenter on this article) mentioned this fantastic documentary.

  2. says

    Thank you Sharon, my prolific friend, for this important and beautifully written post. And thanks to Chris Rock, who I adore, for continuing to tell the truth despite the too cowardly (and too ignorant) haters who vilify him. Chris is a hero – and so are you!

    Onward to justice…

  3. Cindy-Roy says

    A film is available from World Trust that covers this very subject. In “Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible,” white Americans recount their personal experiences of witnessing non-whites being discriminated against AND of being the beneficiaries of privilege. (It was shown at the Topanga Peace Alliance’s Film Night several months ago.)

    • Guest says

      What about poor whites?  Are they in the video?  What about whites that worked their butts off and never got any privileage outside their own hard work?  Stop the race war.  This is a rich-poor war.   Tell the truth.  

      • Sikivu says

        Do the research and read the article.  There is a gargantuan race-based wealth gap in the U.S.  So even working class whites have greater assets, capital and family household income than do middle class Afr-Ams and Latinos.  Poor whites benefit from white privilege and the pigmentocracy at every step–i.e., they are not racially profiled by law enforcement, they are not racially marginalized in TV and film (where the vast majority of producers, directors, actors, casting agents and screenwriters are of European American origin and hence market and produce a culturally specific version of American life that is supposed to be “universal” i.e., from white perspectives), they are not racially discriminated against in mortgage lending (major lawsuit filed in 2010-11 against Countrywide for targeting black and Latino homebuyers with predatory loans regardless of credit, income and assets), bankruptcy filings, K-12 disciplinary policies, criminal sentencing practices and residential settlement patterns (AA and Latinos of middle class backgrounds are disproportionately relegated to neighborhoods of lower socioeconomic status while working class whites enjoy greater access to higher socioeconomic status neighborhoods with commensurate levels of goods, services, and job resources). 

        • Guest says

          I guess your calling all the entertainment industry, all police officers, all bank loan officers, and everyone else in society racist.      Working class whites do not have greater assets, capital of family income.   People live in neighborhoods where they choose to live, most of the time wanting to live with their own race or culture.   That is a choice.    Good stores go to neighborhoods that can afford their goods.  It has nothing to do with race, it all comes down to where is the money.

          Stop the racism.  

    • says

       Thank you Cindy-Roy — I grabbed a clip of the movie and embedded it above. Thanks for reminding me of this movie. I’ve seen it before. It is a must see for anyone wanting to understand silent racism and white privilege

  4. says

    Yes, you raise some significant questions.  We are born into this narrative, our language, our culture, our environment.  “We are but poor players upon the stage…”  Salud!

  5. Ljkrausen says

    Yes indeed, sharon. Especially since he made that comment previously, I saw it on TV, maybe in one of his shows I recorded. recently We need to mention who tgets the long end of the stick, because, that’s why other people are getting the short end– that has to be made clear to the popular mind.

  6. Hstewart10 says

    White folks like to take umbrage with any comment linking them with responsibility for history that they see as negative — white supremacy thinking is calculated to make white folks think that their garbage doesn’t stink.  It is interesting that no one ever talks about the lack of white slaves in the US (there were indentured folks like my early family in the colonies — but they were not slaves)  because that proves the point that slavery in the US was based on economics and race.  And it is seldom mentioned that the use of slavery and the accumulation of capital in the hands of capitalist slave owner/holders provided a basis for much of the rich capitalism of “American exceptionalism”. 

    • Hwood007 says

      You need to research where the real “slave” wealth was located, think NE, the slave ships, etc.  They were still doing their slave work long after the slave trade had been stopped in America.  They sold the black slaves from Africa to the countries south of the US because they could not sell them in america.  The fine folks in the NE even traded native Americans to slave countries outside of America.  This slave thing is no where near as simple as you make out, it had been going on for more than 200 years before the first one came to America. You do know that blacks in Africa held slaves and sold blacks to others as slaves.  It was rare for a white man to go on a slave hunt, the whites just bought them at the coast from blacks and put them on ships and sold them elsewhere.

      A lot of current whites have stories to tell of the past and our slave circumstances and as long as we continue to play one side against the other, your grandchildren will still be dealing with this.  Sharon is working this issue the correct say so see what happens in the  end.  The north wanted slaves to be property and not a person and the south wanted them to be people and not property.  That is how we ended up with the less than one person as far as population was concerned.  Let us be glad we have made progress. Is it 100% done, no, but neither are most other problems .

      • Hstewart10 says

         You must have read into my writing what you wanted to hear.  I never even mentioned the South or agriculture versus the northeast. And though money was made in the slave trade the accumulation of great wealth in the agricultural and other use of slaves still built tremendous wealth that enriched the white supremacist society which hell slaves (and women) as chattel.

  7. Hwood007 says

    Sharon, I would not have thought the facts you gave were from California, perhaps the south (they have a reputation just as pit-bulls do) but to read of such stuff from the more liberial west coast is a surprise. I thought people there were judged for their skills and the value they could bring to a job. Why would the high court there turn down hearing the case?  I have seen homeless people in your state treated better.

  8. Hwood007 says

    I assume that the current blacks in America know that not all blacks in America were slaves before 1860.  Black slaves did not count as a whole person for population reasons but the free blacks did count as a whole person in 1860.  Also I think the largest slave owner in the south at the time of the war was a black man.  He even gave money to the CSA to help them in the war.  Having lived in many places in several countries, I have discoverd that no truth is 100%, there are always exceptions.  A nother funny, black men had the vote in America years before white women.

    ref Ms Haynes: The brother of my next door neighbor had a pit-bull that bit a person.  The legal problems have left he and his wife without a home and most of their belongings.  If my Weimaraner were to do the same, it would cause me less problems due to the publlic opinion of the two breeds. Things do have a reputation and pit-bulls have one different from my dog.

    • Hstewart10 says

      You are trying to pettifog the questions of racism.  How many white slaves were held by your black slave owner?  How many white slaves were there in the south at any time?

    • Guest says

      Hwood7, assume nothing.   LAUSD does not teach kids the truth.   LAUSD leaves kids ignorant and they like it that way.   This way kids stay ignorant and poor.  If people knew the truth there would be no race wars and that would leave a lot of democrats unemployed. 

  9. Guest says

    Let’s not forget thousands if not millions of men died from all nationalities in the civil war stopping slavery.    People of all nationalities put their lives on the lines to stop slavery and free slaves.

    • Hstewart10 says

       Actually the rich, mostly if not entirely white, bought their way out of military service just as they do now.  It is still poor folks who go out and kill other poor folks to protect the rich and their riches.

      • Guest says

        The civil war was fought with mostly white people, irish, italian, english and others.  The civil war included all nationalities.    They fought and died to stop slavery.  Americans of all nationalities should be proud of that.    America is a melting pot.  Once an American you are American and leave everything else behind.

        Other countries still have slavery today including Africa.

      • Tyrannus Evisceratus says

        Where does that idea come from? I am middle class and I went to the Air Force academy and I was having lunch one day and sitting next to me was another cadet and we started talking about our families. His father was the vice president of pizza hut.
        I was sitting next to the son of a millionaire in the military right next to me.
        We were both going into the same amount of danger(the war in Iraq was still on at the time.)
        The rich fight along with the rest of us.
        Ares doesn’t pick favories based on bank accounts when he beats the drums of war.
        And the Angel of Death sure as hell doesn’t when he is standing over the slain.
        Fate or Chance depending on your preference decides who dies in war not money.

  10. walt brasch says

    Well done, Sharon! While you may be “preaching to the choir,” we still need to be reminded of issues so we can remember why we’re liberals, and why we should be out front in demanding equality and social justice.

  11. says

    Dear Sharon…you’ve motivated me to speak, yet again. Yes, the challenge with Chris Rock’s tweet was definitely the mention of “white privilege.”

    Privilege, inequity, discrimination will never be broken until we “face” the fact that it exists and is mostly felt by non-whites.

    I have a Pit-Bull…who my family loves and adores and through her action…it is definitely returned ten fold. However, the things friends, families and outsiders have the nerve to say to me, without regard to the fact that she is a big part of our family is shameless.

    I love this dog and this breed because of the similarity between its heritage and mine. It is discriminated against, through no fault of its own, because of something “man” chose to do. People’s nature are behind the actions of this dog who wants nothing more than to please its human.

    I look at this dog daily who looks at me so lovingly…and I love her and accept that “fighting to the death”, being tenacious and being a warrior are part of her history…but not the only thing that she is…I love her because of all she is to me and to my children.

    In the end…I have to be a responsible owner and teach her how to express the wonderful things she is so others can hopefully see through and pass, her breeds past.

    Not to compare people to dogs…but when are we going to be responsible enough to say—enough is enough, this happened, its inbred into the DNA of American and its time to unravel it, do the right thing, “FACE IT—HEAD ON” become responsible and irradiate this type of hatred. It’s time to become responsible!

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