Reference to essay about "white privilege"

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Radio host's reference to an essay about “white privilege” by Tim Wise, author of “White Like Me”

You wrote in September, 2008, to complain about an item on CBC Radio Toronto's Metro Morning program. Just after the 7:30 AM newscast, the program's host, Andy Barrie, made reference to a “trenchant” essay that a listener had sent to him. He read part of it on the air and directed interested listeners to a link to be posted on Metro Morning's website. The essay was written by a man named Tim Wise, who is well-known in the United States for anti-racism activities; most recently the author of a book, “White Like Me.” The paragraph of the essay cited by Mr. Barrie said this:

White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God's punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you're just a good church- going Christian, but if you're black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you're an extremist who probably hates America.

Mr. Wise clearly had a definite point of view, expressed, as Andy Barrie said, in a trenchant manner (Trenchant being defined as “incisive, terse, vigorous”).

You complained that the excerpt details “how only white people are racists,” that “it is entirely inappropriate to single out white people as this can lead to hatred towards this identifiable group…I do not want my children growing up thinking the colour of their skin, white, makes them inferior to others.”

The program's executive producer, Joan Melanson, replied that “white privilege” is a sociological concept, albeit a controversial one. She pointed out that the CBC was mandated to carry a range of views on controversial subjects.

You rejected Ms. Melanson's explanation and asked for a review of the matter, making more general statements about what you perceived to be Mr. Barrie's “elitism.” You also say that “the only view ever expressed on Metro Morning is….left-wing.”

You did not offer any other specific examples of the “left-wing” bias of the program or Mr. Barrie, so I will confine myself to the essay. A reading of the essay in question does not support the notion that it is racist against white people. In fact, the point of the article, written by a white person, is that being white has its privileges; that people may view similar actions differently when carried out by people of different races. While it is not an opinion with which everyone will agree, it is not one that meets any definition of which I am aware of racist language. Nor does it suggest that white people are inferior to others. It is indeed “trenchant” by the definition found in my Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

That being said, it is important that programs search out the widest possible range of views on subjects of controversy. Mr. Barrie, as an experienced and thoughtful journalist, has the right to point his listeners toward items of interest. But the program's producers should ensure that other opinions are found on CBC's websites and programs.

Conclusion

Mr. Barrie was within policy guidelines in highlighting the essay and the essay was not racist or demeaning of white people. Program supervisors should be aggressive in bringing forward many and varied trenchant opinions on matters of public controversy.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman