The case for structural critique

Commenter Karl makes some good points about my post on Obama and white sympathy:

I kind of get what your saying but it seems a bit all over the place. What is really so wrong and off base about that quote, blacks have all the reason to be mindful of stalled progress; jim crow and reconstruction anyone? I've read you rail against white guilt/sympathy a number of times and I don't get it. You seem to conflate the acknowledgment of white privilege and the benefits that come along with that by whites with sympathy. Even worse you seem to imply that the the meager benefits gained via affirmative action proportionally add up to the reverse of white privilege. Also, why do you always point to Ivy leagues in these discussions, what about all the state schools that have benefited from AA? Is that type of one-sided analogy any different from the folks who point to welfare queens when they argue against public assistance? I see nothing wrong with addressing structural and cultural privilege skewed towards whites for various reasons, race being central. Would you deny that this is the case? I agree with the points that dropout rates, teen pregnancy etc should be folded into a larger American agenda no doubt but that doesn't dismiss the need to acknowledge and keep track of the role of privilege as well. As proven by the rise of Obama and others these agendas are merging into a broader American agenda, maybe not as quickly and as intellectually concise as you would hope but it is happening so what's you beef?

Hmm, quite a bit there. The short answer is that my beef is with the idea that an Obama  administration is somehow bad for black people, but let's back this up a sec. I think I should say that I have absolutely no problem with structural critique of the country. To me, the biggest problem, in terms of the black-white gap, is that Jim Crow/racial terrorism/housing covenants/red-lining/job discrimination effected a wealth transfer out of black communities. I don't think you can get away from that, and if you just think about it for a minute, you become instantly unsurprised at why things are as they are. Moreover, there are some very solid studies which show that job discrimination continues even up to today. I don't know what you call those sorts of things, if not structural.

So my beef with these guys is not that they make structural critique, it's that they seem bound to a set of strategies that just haven't gotten us anywhere. Again, I need to hear about something else besides Affirmative Action and a vague notion of social justice. And then I'd like to see it pitched in such a way that it makes the broader country see their own interest in our interest. That's not merely crass politics--I actually believe that Jim Crow was ultimately bad for the broader country, not just for black people. I don't think boom in prisons is a good thing for any American of any color.

Backing up to the original critique, I think this theory that an Obama presidency makes it harder for us to press our case to white people is flawed on several levels. But let's deal with just one--the myth that pressing the case was ever simple. Every advance that black people have made in this country has been coupled with a new more complicated reality which in turn requires different solutions. You couldn't fight lynching like you fought slavery, and you couldn't fight segregation like you fought lynching. Each time there's a historical marker achieved, the terms change. An Obama presidency is the same thing. The world becomes a little more complicated with a black president, and old solutions--which weren't really working before anyway--become totally outmoded. I just don't see that as a bad thing.

Also, on the point of Ivy Leagues, more accurately, I tend to use "elite" schools as examples--like Berkeley in the original post. That's only because so much of the energy over AA is expended discussing those schools. It's also the portion of the debate I most strenuously object to. I'm just not losing much sleep over the fact that some kid has to go to lesser state school (or Heaven forbid an HBCU) because AA was phased out. My stress is over black kids who basically have no shot at college.