By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
A professor in the US, who is white, wrote on her Facebook that Otto Warmbier “got exactly what he deserved. She claimed he had the “typical of a mindset of a lot of the young, white, rich, clueless males who come into my classes.” Kathy Dettwyler, the professor, who is an expert in breastfeeding, never met Otto, but she decided based on his appearance what kind of person he was.
Why does a person deserve to be sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, and then put into a coma which kills them, for allegedly taking a sign? Is that really what “young, white, rich, clueless males” deserve? What was their crime? Being “white.” The term “white privilege” is used in the US against all white people. It isn’t really about being wealthy, it is predicated on being white. “Whiteness” and “white privilege” are the calling cards of today’s virtue signaler who burnishes their “woke” credentials by speaking out against “white privilege.” That’s understandable in the US context, when discussing for instance instances of campus rape by fraternity members. But is it relevant for discussing a man being killed in a foreign country for a “crime” that might have gotten him some community service in the US? Why does he “deserve” to die abroad?
The professor isn’t the only one who wrote this. Many people have said that Warmbier deserved to die for his “white privilege.” Why is that? Why the genocidal hatred directed at him, ironically, mostly from other fellow members of the white privileged group? We see this often on social media, white people shouting about “white privilege” of some other white person. The American swimmers who broke bad in Brazil were accused of “bro culture.” Ryan Lochte was a “bro”, and full of “white privilege” for getting in a small fight in Brazil during the Olympics. Otto was also accused of being an “annoying export, a frat boy.” These voices hate people like Otto and Ryan without ever getting to know them. They see them as sub-human.
Why is his “privilege” worse than the UAE princesses in Belgium who kept servants enslaved for 24 hours a day and seven days a week locked in a hotel and who were recently convicted. Did Otto imprison any servants? Did Lochte? No. So why does our society hate them so much, and not hate Saudi royals who routinely abuse servants, even killing them? If Otto or Ryan had just been born black or hispanic or Asian, then their actions would go unnoticed and those who hate them would have sympathy?
Well, not so fast. Because the professors, academics, intellectuals and other people in the US who hate Otto have never defended North Korean people rights to not be imprisoned in their own country. In short, they think Otto got “what he deserved” but they also think people of color don’t deserve rights. That is why they don’t care about the servants abused by people in the UAE. Those servants are almost all people of color from Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia and elsewhere. Commentators don’t claim that those lacking white privilege deserve rights. Actually they are silent about them and in their silence they excuse their abuses as well.
So the real story here is not about white privilege, it is about one group of white people who have white privilege who hate another group of white people and who excuse their deaths or other things that happen to them because they want to distract from their own privilege.
Hatred of Otto and excuses for his death come from the same sector that people claim he comes from. They say “rich and white” but what they really mean is “I am rich and white, but let’s not talk about me, let’s talk about Otto.” When they say he “got what he deserved” for being white, then logically they should also be given 15 years in prison for hard labor. But you don’t see them handing themselves in. They know they benefit from white privilege and in order to seem like they don’t they shout “white privilege the loudest.” It’s not exactly self-hated, because the white elites who shout “white privilege” are not handing in their elite status and promoting minorities. In fact they hate minorities.
That is why they don’t stand up for minorities and people of color abroad. They don’t care about North Koreans abused by the regime, or Yazidis murdered by ISIS, or other groups. They claim to hate “white privilege” merely to distract. The social media gives them easy access to incite and let loose their hatred. It’s always easier to hate a dead person than have empathy with him. It was easier to bash Otto when he was in prison in North Korea, because he couldn’t speak back. Think about that for a moment. Wealthy white people in America attacked Otto and said he deserved to be sent to prison for 15 years when he was at his weakest moment. Those who stand on the sidelines cheering the murder of Otto or cheered his sentencing did so purposely when he could not confront them, because they need to be able to shout “white privilege” against people who cannot defend themselves. They do so against the dead because the dead cannot sue them or do anything about them, or make them take any responsibility for supporting death.
None of these people who mocked Otto did so from a position of having been through what he went through, false imprisonment and a harsh sentence that violated his basic human rights. They spoke ONLY from privilege against “privilege.” They had the ultimate privilege, and used it to attack those without privilege. That’s the only place they feel comfortable is attacking the weak and powerless and they ascribe to the powerless “white privilege.” But the real privilege is in the hand of the writer who writes about white privilege and excuses the death of people based on it.
So when we hear a lot about white privilege we need to ask who is profiting and who is writing. When the privilege constantly distract from their power and privilege by castigating others we need to ask, wait a sec, maybe we need to ask about your white privilege. When you hear a faculty member who is white say “white privilege” ask how many of their PhD students they advise are white, how many of their faculty around them are white, their friends are white, and those they promote or write letters of recommendation for are white?
When you look beneath the white privilege talk, you’ll find only privilege and mostly white supremacy. White privilege talk is used to hide white supremacy and continue it, through fake denunciations of whiteness by white people who perpetuate privilege. At universities its very simple to see. A faculty that is 93% white in a state that is 50% and a professor whose only writes recommendations for white people and then talks white privilege is in fact using the “boasting” to hide their own agenda. When they hate Otto, they are secretly acknowledging their own role. Otto did nothing to get what he deserved. But those who hate him are more deserving of his fate. They hate him because they know that.