Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Peter Watts and Smug White Privilege

Ask a black person about white privilege, and you'll get a knowing smile. Ask a white person and they'll tilt their head like a confused dog. What are you talking about?

The idea is that, merely by being white in America, someone is surrounded by a variety of privileges, most of them minor in themselves, but which add up to a superior status. Be anything but white, say a lot of black people, and you'll find out just how unprivileged you are. Police will deal with you as a suspect. Cab drivers won't pick you up after dark. Waiters won't serve you very quickly. Shopkeepers will follow you around the store. Doormen at bars will look for ways to exclude you.

It goes on and on. And it's not just the little stuff. Try getting an interview for that crucial first job out of college if your resume mentions that you were president of the African-American Business Association. See what happens if you are stopped for speeding while racing to the hospital because your wife was hit by a car and is dying. Be the best golfer in the world, and find out how quickly it doesn't matter when it's discovered you've been screwing every blond chick on the PGA Tour.

White people see little or none of this, little or big, and tend to be incredulous and laughably defensive when it's pointed out. Yet, no matter what, they will cling to their privileges to the bitter end. One of them being the idea that they can hassle the police in course of their duties, and get away with it. And if they're Canadian, and a writer, and have a doctorate, Katie bar the door.

It reminds me of when I was driving a cab to get through college. I gave a ride to a white, female professor. We got to her destination in the middle of a driving rainstorm. Her bicycle was in the trunk, and she expected that I would get out of the taxi, in the rain, and grab her bicycle for her. It wasn't a heavy bike, and the trunk was already open. She had to get out of the vehicle anyway, so I told her she could get her bike on the way inside.

Indignant, she got her bike and started walking away. I called over to her, and she came over to the window and told me she wasn't going to pay the fare. What good would it go for me to have gotten out, I asked her. All that would've accomplished is that two of us would get wet, when only one of us needed to. Not only that, but I don't have anywhere to dry off, and I need to work for the rest of the day. You can just go inside and grab a towel.

It didn't matter. In her mind, I was supposed to get wet for her. In her case, it was white class privilege. I was a taxi driver, a servant, and for some reason I was obligated to suffer. It's a good thing for me that I wasn't black, because when I grabbed that woman's wrist through the open window of my cab, held her there in the rain, and radioed in for the police to be sent, I knew that I wouldn't be arrested for it. In fact, the police came and told her to pay the fare. She did so, and called the cab company after she dried off.

At the end of my shift, the dispatcher asked me whether I had really told her that she'd never worked a goddamned day in her life and that no one was going to take my money away from me. No, of course not, I said, with a smile. I'd never say such a thing. Not ever.

Back to poor, smug Peter Watts. There he was at the border. Apparently, white privilege doesn't cut it at the Port Huron crossing. Maybe they've busted too many mild-mannered Canadians with drugs in the trunk. Or maybe they've taken those lectures to heart about being 60 miles from Detroit and you'd better treat everyone the same, or your ass will be in a serious sling.

Who knows? I'm sure that Mr. Watts would vigorously deny that he expects special treatment, but you really have to be part of the Smug White Asshole Class to think it's okay to start a confrontation with a border patrol officer, disobey that officer's reasonable orders, and resist arrest.

And what of Mr. Watts's equally smug, lily-white fan club, some of whom have been posting blog comments to the effect that hard-ass tactics would be okay on the Mexican border, but not on the Canadian border? I could be wrong about this, but I'll be surprised if Peter Watts is getting any upsurge of support out of the African-American community for his juvenile little stunt at the Port Huron border crossing.

A Fun Fact to Know and Tell

On his blog where critics are now barred for asking inconvenient questions, Peter Watts has ridiculued the idea that he could have been screened as a terrorist.

Hey Peter, remember the millenium plot? You know the one that was foiled by a U.S. Customs inspector in Port Angeles, Washington not long before Jan. 1, 2000? Want to know how that was foiled? I have the inside skinny, told to me by a senior officer of the Canadian military who was posted in Victoria, B.C. at the time.

The U.S. Customs inspector wasn't the one who fingered the would-be terrorists. What actually happened is that they were profiled by Canadian border guards on their exit from Victoria. Interestingly enough, Canadian and U.S. law enforcement work together. The Canadians told the Americans, and the people were rousted at the dock in Washington State.

Of course, white Canadians could never, ever be involved in terrorism, just as white Americans couldn't be. Just ask Timothy McVeigh, you fool.


  1. I'm not white, and I'm a fan of Peter Watts' work.

    "Mr. Watts's equally smug, lily-white fan club..."

    You know, it's actually pretty insulting to assume that every one of Watt's fans and defenders are white. There have been a lot of conversations in sci-fi fandom in the last year or so about the presence of fans of color and how they're often ignored or assumed to be white.

  2. Watts might have some black readers, but from reading the censored blogs that are fitting him for an anarchist halo, I don't get the sense that too many black people are among those rising to his defense.

    I think we're talking about, ahem, a certain demographic here.

  3. p.s.: I want to make clear that I am not speaking for black people here. My point is very different: Mr. Watts's behavior that day reflected his self-entitled white privilege.

    What is especially interesting to me is that Watts's friends have been saying on various websites that hard-edged tactics would be okay at the Mexican border, but that at the Canadian they seem a little too harsh.

    Wink, wink.

  4. I'm not black, either.

    People of color is a very inclusive term, and it encompasses black people and far more. Your assumption that only white people read sci-fi, followed by your assumption that if I'm not white then I must be black, are pretty insulting. It's a very limited view on what's not only possible, but exists.

    If you'd like to learn more about why this issue matters, I suggest these links.

    A check-in list of sci-fi and fantasy fans of color with 900+ responses

    A discussion of invisible audiences

    A discussion of Racefail 2009

  5. It's not "white privilege" to not get beaten, maced, and falsely charged for asking questions. Trying to turn this into a race issue is completely spurious.

  6. Watts claims to have been beaten and maced, but this is the same guy who won't answer basic questions about the incident, and who has censored those who see it differently. You have uncritically accepted his account, much as the Bill O'Leilly/Ann Coulter crowd uncritically accepted the Bush lies about torture.

    As for white privilege, it's almost always "completely spurious" to smugsters. Why, how can I be an example, they will say. I'm a liberal! In fact, it is Watts's "liberal" supporters who have been posting on various blogs that hard-ass tactics are okay at the Mexican border.

    Wink, wink.

  7. BTW, I've been amused by the enthusiasm that Watts and his fans have displayed for censorship of my comments on their blogs. A typical example is one Will Shetterly, who's blog is appropriately called, "It's All One Thing."

    He has been blocking my comments, as have Watts and most of the rest of his sycophants.

    Like their brethren under the skin, Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter, they can't brook disagreement. Like any good liberals, they demand to be loved. God help you if you don't.

  8. So. Do we agree that people of color get stopped, searched, and questioned more often than people with white skin? And do we agree that they are more often treated with brutality and abuse of power? Further, can we agree that they are less likely to protest abuse of power because they fear what will happen if they do?

    Then, like those who marched for equal rights during the civil rights movement, Dr. Watts should be applauded for speaking out against this abuse of power on behalf of all of us.

  9. PS: Found a link to a very interesting piece about police search by a 25-year police veteran on a discussion of Watts' case:

  10. I don't believe there was any abuse of power in Watts's case. I think he was pissed off about the search and became sufficiently hostile and combative that the cops were justified in arresting him.

    I think his exaggerated self-entitlement contributed to the situation. He wasn't going to let anyone do this to him. Not to a Ph.D. writer with some Hugo awards. How dare they?

    Sorry, Pete. As my dear 'ol dad used to say, you put your pants on one leg at a time. The rules apply to you, too.

  11. What a bizare argument. "Black people are forced to expect oppression, so anyone who is upset at being oppressed is demonstrating white privilage."

    Good job doing the terrorists jobs for them.

  12. Billy, you need to go back to school, because you clearly have problems comprehending what you read. Try putting your finger under each word as you go. It might help.

  13. I've been reading a lot of the posts and comments about what happened to Peter Watts, and while I've seen quite a few who say it's worse on the Mexican border, I haven't seen anyone say it's all right for it to be worse there.

    Do you have cites?

  14. By the way, here's something Peter Watts and his friends won't be able to censor: The escalating rental car bill from Hertz. Unless someone has sprung that car, Pete is now responsible for 13 days of rental fees, plus that lawyer of his that the State of Michigan has refused to pay for.

    "Dr." Watts, I hope this is worth it to ya, because these bills are going to get pretty big.

  15. Wow. This is a parody blog, right? 'Cause nobody who was really this stupid could operate a keyboard.

  16. nobody who was really this stupid could operate a keyboard

    Gee, would you care to elaborate on that, or are you God, whose mere word should make me tremble?

  17. dude you are exactly right I have crossed the Blue Water Bridge hundreds of times you do not mess with border guards period. They absolutely take this job seriously and they will make you suffer for the simplest indiscretion. They profile, they harass and they provoke especially the Americans and not just because of 9-11 they've done it for years. What kind of idiot does not know this never mess around at a border crossing even an amicable crossing between the US and Canada. Just don't do it.

  18. Yeah, froghair, what really struck me about this is that for a Ph.D., Peter Watts lacks smarts.

  19. grinder

    I really do have to question your intelligence on the matter, as well as your blatant racist views.

    First off, Dr. Watts isn't refusing to talk about the event. He's being advised not to talk about these events. Anything he states publicly about the events that took place will be used in his upcoming case in court. Obviously, not following this advice would be "lacking in smarts". Which leads me to believe you're just another Troll on the internet, considering the fact that Dr. Watts -has- followed his lawyer's advice to not make public statements about the events.

    Second, "white privilege"? While I do agree that the majority of the population of our so-called "developed countries" tends to shun those with a darker skin colour (also known as "stereotyping"), I still fail to see where your statements apply. Perhaps they come from personal experiences, or perhaps from hearsay. However, all you're saying here can be distilled into "look! they're discriminating against coloured people! they're bad and stupid and mean!" Which is another point for your lack of actual intelligence.

    Thirdly, last I heard, the US border patrol folk still have Dr. Watts' things in compound, which includes the rental car. I do believe the bill for said car now comes on their plate, considering they are preventing its return.

    Fourth and last: I'm sure you've seen Dr. Watts' reasoning as to why he now blocks any and all offensive posts coming from Trolls such as yourself. Therefore, I'm quite sure you have also seen how he refers to people that think he did this for the kick of it, for fun, or, as you say, for publicity, as "idiots". I believe this to be an understatement: you are not an idiot.

    You, and everyone else who thinks Dr. Watts did all this on purpose, are an atrocity that should never have seen the light of day.

    Or at the very least never have been taught how to use a computer.

    As for mister froghair: you -are- aware that this could just as easily have happened to you, or to someone you care about, correct? Maybe you've been lucky so far, but trust me: you'll see just what Dr. Watts went through firsthand someday.

    Dutch greetings, from a "lily-white" random person.

    P.S.: adding "wink wink" to your posts makes you look like an idiot. Please stop.