As we now move into the official Political Aftermath period of the Boston bombing — the period that will determine the long-term legislative fallout of the atrocity — the dynamics of privilege will undoubtedly influence the nation’s collective reaction to the attacks. That’s because privilege tends to determine: 1) which groups are — and are not — collectively denigrated or targeted for the unlawful actions of individuals; and 2) how big and politically game-changing the overall reaction ends up being.
This has been most obvious in the context of recent mass shootings. In those awful episodes, a religious or ethnic minority group lacking such privilege would likely be collectively slandered and/or targeted with surveillance or profiling (or worse) if some of its individuals comprised most of the mass shooters. However, white male privilege means white men are not collectively denigrated/targeted for those shootings — even though most come at the hands of white dudes.
Likewise, in the context of terrorist attacks, such privilege means white non-Islamic terrorists are typically portrayed not as representative of whole groups or ideologies, but as “lone wolf” threats to be dealt with as isolated law enforcement matters. Meanwhile, non-white or developing-world terrorism suspects are often reflexively portrayed as representative of larger conspiracies, ideologies and religions that must be dealt with as systemic threats — the kind potentially requiring everything from law enforcement action to military operations to civil liberties legislation to foreign policy shifts.
“White privilege is knowing that even if the bomber turns out to be white, no one will call for your group to be profiled as terrorists as a result, subjected to special screening or threatened with deportation,” writes author Tim Wise. “White privilege is knowing that if this bomber turns out to be white, the United States government will not bomb whatever corn field or mountain town or stale suburb from which said bomber came, just to ensure that others like him or her don’t get any ideas. And if he turns out to be a member of the Irish Republican Army we won’t bomb Dublin. And if he’s an Italian-American Catholic we won’t bomb the Vatican.”
~ from Let's Hope the Boston Marathon Bomber Is a White American by David Sirota ~
We see this very same dynamic with mass shootings in this country. If the shooter is white -- a good bet since most of them ARE white -- he is a lone wolf suffering from some degree of mental illness. On those few occasions when the shooter is not white, that's a different story. If the shooter is black, then a lot of people will immediately point to the shooter's race as if that provides a definitive explanation (i.e., black males are "prone to violence" and "crime"). If the shooter happens to be Arab and/or Muslim, then too many people simply say, "See, all of 'em are terrorists!"
There is no question that there are blacks and Arabs who are overtly violent and willing to commit crimes against humanity. But the very same is true of whites. In fact, over the past decade or two, I would venture that whites are just as culpable, if not more so, than any other racial group of killing tens of thousands of innocents.