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03/23/2015 01:26 AM

Invisible White Privilege

A few weeks ago a YouTube video surfaced showing two University of Oklahoma white frat boys leading a song that pledged to keep their fraternity racially pure even if it meant lynching a few students. The University moved quickly to close the fraternity's chapter and expel those involved.

The video and its contents did not surprise me. What struck me was that the young men in the video were only 19-years-old, yet they held sway over other students' futures. They possessed what I call invisible white privilege. Invisible to those who possess it, that is, seen by those who do not.

While I have been unable to find a study that places a dollar value on fraternity membership, it is most likely very high. A look among the country's leaders and you will find few who have not emerged from Greek Life with valuable contacts that helped them ascend the ladder to power. One study posits that only two US Presidents since 1825 were not members of fraternities (I actually doubt this because the Military Academies do not have fraternities and two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Harry Truman did not attend college). Still, the number is likely high and the study's more rigorous elements showed a high correlation between fraternity membership and prestigous jobs. In short, fraternities are deeply woven into the mechanics of upward mobility. Blocking someone because of race exhibits the worst traits of the old boy network.

The Oklahoma video comes shortly after the U.S. Department of Justice's report on Ferguson, Missouri. The two events show clear evidence that keeping poor people poor, whether out of prejudice or greed, is a working business/governing model in the U.S. Factor in the student loan industry, the judicial-industrial complex, and the plethora of businesses that benefit from poverty and the decline in upward mobility over the last four decades is no surprise.

The subject of class and race have provided much fertile ground for writing projects. Currently, along with my wife and partner, Anniken Davenport, I am developing a book proposal for a non-fiction book, tentatively titled, The Business of Poverty in which we hope to explore the various interests who benefit from perpetuating poverty. Anniken is also writing a dystopian novel that follows the exploitation curve into the future entitled Labor Force. To get a feel for the novel, check out the Labor Force novel blog.

Finally, a short story I wrote recently attempts to address invisible white privilege in its native habitat, the southern gated community. The story, entitled Lovely People, is now being considered by several magazines for publication.

The Southern gated community is a post-civil rights era phenomenon. As cities became more integrated, upper middle class whites moved to the suburbs. When the suburbs started integrating, the gated community filled the need of the paranoid well-to-do.

Lovely People is an homage of sorts to Flannery O'Connor. I firmly believe that if she were alive today, she would be writing about gated communities. In her staunch Catholicism, Flannery referred to the South as a Christ-haunted land. Her stories exaggerate and ridicule the hot, emotionally-driven fundamentalism so popular in the South. While those elements remain, I would posit that Nat Turner's ghost also haunts the South and his specter has built more gated communities than the carpenter from Nazareth.

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Albert Davenport is the author of In the Shadow of Midnight: Daedalus, A Tale of Savannah and the upcoming novel Revelation 11

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03/24/2015 11:00 AM

Simone Weil, On the Abolition of All Political Parties

On the Abolition of All Political Parties by Simone Weil My rating: 3 of 5 stars If you’ll allow me, dear reader, a self-indulgent preamble— Readers of my novella, The Ecstasy of Michaela, will notice a few lines from Simone Weil quoted as the heroine’s reading material. This should not be mistaken for deep familiarity with […]

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John Pistelli was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He now lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he teaches literature and writing. His reviews and essays have appeared in Rain Taxi, Powells.com, Dissident Voice, and New Walk. His fiction has appeared in The Three Rivers Review, The Legendary, and Whole Beast Rag.

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02/08/2014 12:45 AM

ONLY "MB"


"White people are taking over the city," Marion Barry said tonight during a radio interview with yours truly and Lyndia Grant on her WYCB-AM 1340 program, which she billed as a Black History tribute to "MB's" civil rights work. So, under those ground rules, we all just had a blast shootin' the breeze with him about his health and his legacy. Contrary to rumor, the "Mayor-for-Life" sounded much stronger than we'd expected. However, he acknowledged that he is receiving therapy ...in an undisclosed physical rehabilitation center and says he's walking better and his muscles are better and his spirits are high, and he's looking forward to celebrating his 78th birthday on March 6. He does, after all, he said "have a 77-year-old body" and "it's a miracle that he is alive." No kidding. He alluded to diabetes as the main culprit and said the city is not doing anything about the disease that affects so many blacks. Asked, of course, about his legacy, he said, "I've helped a lot of people." Asked what the "Mayor-for-Life's" public policy priorities would be if he was actually the mayor now, he answered, "helping people stay in the city," because "the white people are taking over the city." And, he'd try to get more "jobs, jobs, jobs" which was actually the priority of his first term.
On a lighter note, MB "loves" the show "Scandal." He pointed out that Judy Smith was working in the US Attorneys Office when he was on trial, and "she's the one trying to clean up that bullshit they were puttin' out there." Only MB; we let him slide on a few of the legal details -- this time. Graciously, he thanked me for being nice! As Mary Layton said, it was a "lovefest."

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Adrienne Terrell Washington is an award-winning journalist, commentator and professor. She has covered local and national news in the nation's capital for over three decades. Her "A Washington Note" blog provides throught provoking insight into current events. When not blogging, Ms. Washington writes memoir and historical pieces.

03/27/2015 02:14 AM

Halden Prison - how rehabilitation should work

I write a lot about the prison-industrial complex, particularly as it had developed in the United States. That's also the basis for my forthcoming novel, Laborforce. In the novel, corporations are able to cherry pick inmates based on particular skill sets needed at any given time. When I first began writing, I thought the premise was far-fetched. Sure, I knew that the cherry office furniture that graced the law library at the state agency where I worked more than twenty years ago was produced by Pennsylvania prisoners under the label Big House. But that wasn't for profit - that was a way to produce office furnishings for government offices. And it seemed a step up from chain gangs and pressing license plates in terms of skill development and marketability post-incarceration. What I never imagined was artisans products produced by prisoners for private industries. And yet, that's what is happening today in the United States, as my prior posts show. The premise isn't so far-fetched at all. But there is a better way - a way that encourages rehabilitation and reduces recidivism without also creating a modern day prison plantation. The most advanced, most humane prison in the world may be Halden Prison, outside Oslo, Norway. there prisoners engage in crafts, read, play board games and serve out their sentences in an environment that looks more like a college campus that a prison - certainly it looks nothing like a US prison. Inmates learn skills, train for work they can perform once released and generally are treated like human beings who made a mistake rather than as chattel useful only for making a buck for profiteers. It's quite refreshing and also happens to work.

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Anniken Davenport is the author of the upcoming novel Labor Force about a dystopian not-too-distant future where the judicial system arrests those with needed skills to feed corporate needs. She is also working on a nonfiction book proposal with Albert Davenport entitled The Business of Poverty.

She holds an MA in both fiction and non-fiction writing from Johns Hopkins University. Ms. Davenport, an attorney with vast experience in criminal, labor and employment law, has authored college textbooks, and numerous professional articles.