Aaron Greenberg Yours is also an important question and a question that should animate any discussion of these issues. I'm not sure, however, that anyone really thinks white supremacy operates on the individual level and so the charge (that any individual white male who actively or implicitly benefits from that system bears "political responsibility" for its persistence) rings hollow. I use white supremacy as shorthand to describe a political system that confers unequal and unjust distributions of social and economic goods to those racialized as white. Recognizing the way that this system has been established politically, historically, and institutionally could inspire a broad-based, "rainbowed" grassroots coalition to fight for economic and racial justice. Prison abolition, education and immigration reform, and reinvestment in the safety net seems like good places to start.
Aaron Greenberg Thanks for your comment, Matthew. It helps clarify where and how we disagree. Some questions, though. If you agree that the American racial order benefits those treated as white, and if you agree that this system (lets just call it white supremacy) is historically, politically, institutionally entrenched then how could you (an individual, acting alone) ever actually "reject those cheap, undeserved gains"? The impulse to do so is admirable, of course, but is it possible? And even if every white person found some way to disown the unjust, undue privileges they enjoy, would that be enough *or* would even the most effective way to dismantle American racial hierarchies? I tend to think not, but I'm interested to hear what you think.
Aaron Greenberg No one denies that the black underclass has agency except those who reduce their situation to an expression of pathological culture or deviant behavior. I don't know if I can speak for Ecaterina, but I think what's important is to consider exactly what bad choices (read: agency) are available to those unjustly constrained by the persistence of structural poverty. Over-emphasizing agency as Cosby does, as you do, only serves to further insult and marginalize already insulted and marginalized communities.
Aaron Greenberg From what I understand, public primary education started "failing" (in particular in low-income and minority communities) around the same time property tax legislation passed nationally. Why not reinstitute pre-1970s taxes that more evenly and fairly distributed resources to all communities and all districts? For decades before those tax schemes (popularly inspired, incidentally, by white resistance to integration and busing) American *public* education worked fine, without submitting essential civic goods to the vagaries of market-like schemes. It's also worth mentioning that magnet and charter schools do some of the work you talk about by resisting a "one size fits all" education. The results have been mixed. See my response to Andrew Hanson's article on a similar subject: http://demo.policymic.com/article/show?id=96
Aaron Greenberg I'm talking, in particular, about the legislation (beginning in California, but quickly becoming national) that changed the way that schools were funded, effectively leaving affluent, white segregated neighborhoods with excellent schools, and poor, black/brown segregated neighborhoods with failing schools. Though enacted originally by right-wing republicans, I take this to be a position agreeable or at least compatible with libertarian economic philosophy.
Aaron Greenberg Sure, the media were complicit in inflating a marginal news story to national prominence. But the very condition of possibility for the story's success comes from a deep and historic cultural and political strain in American life which has constantly and emphatically questioned the "citizenship" (legal, moral, cultural) of black Americans. If anything, the "birther story" should put to rest any fanciful notion that Obama's presidency ushered in a "post-racial" America. White supremacy is alive and well.
Aaron Greenberg I think you misunderstand what, exactly, folks like Cosby are trying to do, namely, distract from the institutional, structural failings that continue to unjustly constrain individual choice. They're playing into the hands of what some call "neo-racists" -- whites (and others) who chalk up inequality to not just personal choice but racial "culture." It's a long and storied tradition in black political thought (indeed, stretching back to Booker T. Washington) to misplace the highly political sources of that inequality by insulting the morals of the black underclass. For an informative and inspiring corrective to this tendency read the first few chapters of political scientist Cathy J. Cohen's recent book, "Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics."
Aaron Greenberg Three things: -Opening education up to "the market" seems like a sure way to reinforce massive and abiding race and class inequalities. Voluntarism has never been a sustainable solution to racial hierarchies. -Yes: K-12 public education fails many students, but might those failings be tied to exactly the property tax swindling that libertarians advocate? -I also think you've got a very rosy and unrealistic picture of American higher education. Many professors feel increasingly pressured by the privitization of the university; the very scholarly independence that makes for serious and critical intellectual production has come under threat by corporate capitalist sponsorship. An instructive and troubling example: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/06/06/95405/some-question-bps-funding-of-uc.html