Privileging White Skin: Monetizing the Class Struggle with Chelsea Handler

My wife and I watched a new Netflix documentary, “Hello, Privilege. It’s Me, Chelsea” on a day Pres. Trump retweeted words that his ouster via impeachment would spur a civil war. In her 64-minute documentary, Chelsea Handler interviews whites about their skin-color privilege, with a running commentary on the winners and losers of whiteness.

She speaks with Orange County, Calif. GOPster women. One wants to move past the economics and politics of skin color issues. The past is past.

A white rapper with a rap sheet from Tennessee is politically conscious of white-skin privilege. He speaks about this process from his experience in the so-called criminal justice system. Hell, yes.

Handler’s commentary is informative, in the way that personal experiences can be. Her sharing of teen encounters with the police is revealing. She went free. In contrast, her black boyfriend with whom she visits a quarter-century later gets 14 years in prison. He is one of the 2.3 million Americans behind bars, disproportionately black and brown, as Ava DuVernay shows in 13th, her 2016 documentary about the U.S prison-industrial system. The U.S. is five percent of the world population and locks up 25 percent of the planet’s prisoners, disproportionately black and brown Americans.

As some of Handler’s interviewees show, white-skin privilege means they have a blind spot to the perils of living while black and brown, e.g., subject to police and vigilante violence for reasons of poverty and skin color 24/7. The perpetrators of these injustices go free generally, thanks to their overwhelming power to maim and murder. This is the rule in a society that legitimates the rule of law to perpetuate white-skin privilege. “Law, especially criminal law, is deeply embedded in this white-mind framework,” writes Zillah Eisenstein in Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution (Monthly Review Press, 2019).

Race however is not always and everywhere a skin-color issue. Handler ignores this. We should not. Why? This can help to show us how race is a social construct.

Handler’s ancestors changed from nonwhite to white, racially speaking. For example, Handler’s and my Jewish ancestors set foot in America as nonwhite folks. They faced discrimination in ways big and small. They were an inferior race to the so-called elite race of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

Those racial relations changed. Jews whitened when policies such as Social Security excluded agricultural and domestic workers, largely brown and black Americans. Handler’s family like mine benefitted from access to Federal Home Administration-backed mortgages that excluded black and brown Americans. In this way, generational wealth flowed away from racial minorities and to whites. The U.S.’s widening wealth gap has a history.

White supremacy and its history of a chattel labor system birthed racial capitalism. Its sustaining power in part comes from white-skin privilege, “the public and psychological wage” of whiteness, according to W.E.B. DuBois.

However, we, socially, should not rely upon a celebrity such as Handler with capital from Condé Nast Entertainment, a transnational corporation, which is investing in the Internet, to attack white-skin privilege. In brief, return on that investment is the force behind the production and distribution of Handler’s documentary. It is a commodity to grow the wealth of investors. Apparently, we have arrived at a point that a documentary about white-skin privilege in America is a business opportunity. The social reality of this phenomenon reveals many things. One is the disarray that besets the U.S. working class.

It has been stronger in the battle for peace and social justice. For example, the 1960s’ anti-war, and black and brown movements, created their own facts on the ground against the Vietnam War and Jim Crow segregation. People lost their jobs and lives in this struggle. Its power, culturally and more, moved millions progressively and as a result spurred a corporate counteroffensive against New Deal and Great Society programs and policies.

Handler’s new documentary is a case of monetizing social struggle. This is a sign of what the late economist Samir Amin called “decadent capitalism.” We can and must do better.

More articles by:

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com

August 06, 2020
H. Bruce Franklin
How the Fascists Won World War II
Robert Jacobs – Ran Zwigenberg
The American Narrative of Hiroshima is a Statue that Must be Toppled
Howie Hawkins - Madelyn Hoffman
Reverse the New Nuclear Arms Race
Brian Kelly
Ireland and Slavery: Debating the ‘Irish Slaves Myth’
Talli Nauman
Native Americans Win Historic Victories in U.S. High Court Rulings
David Mattson
“Man Attacks Grizzly” and Other Leading Bleeding Stories
Jack Rasmus
US GDP Collapses and Economic Rebound Fades
John Kendall Hawkins
Suffrage: The Myth of Sisterphus
George Ochenski
An Unbelievably Disastrous State of Affairs
George Wuerthner
Trouble in Paradise Valley
Binoy Kampmark
State of Pandemic Disaster: Melbourne Moves to Stage Four
Howard Lisnoff
The ACLU Has Never Done a Damn Thing for Me
Priyanka Singh – Sujeet Singh
Time to Empower the Invisibles: India Awaits a Mental Health Revolution
CounterPunch News Service
Conservationists to Federal Agencies: Restore Protections for Imperiled Wildlife in the Flathead National Forest
August 05, 2020
Roy Eidelson
Black Lives Matter: Resisting the Propaganda of Status Quo Defenders
Melvin Goodman
The Department of Homeland Security: the Ideal Authoritarian Tool
Paul Street
Misleaders at a Funeral: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama Eulogizing Racial Justice in the Name of John Lewis
Seiji Yamada
Hiroshima, Technique, and Bioweapons
Vijay Prashad
How Trump Managed to Lead the World with the Worst Response to the COVID Pandemic
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Alternative
Jonas Ecke
The Worst Hunger Season Yet to Come: Global Moral Failure in the Time of Covid-19
Rafiq Kathwari
The Battle for Kashmir
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Arch-Kleptocrat is Found Guilty
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
U.S. Cold War China Policy Will Isolate the U.S, Not China
Lee Camp
Why Housing Is a Human Right
Sam Pizzigati
For Egalitarians, a Sudden Sense of Possibility
Jonathan Cook
Can Israelis Broaden Their Protests Beyond Netanyahu?
Thomas Knapp
Ten Years After Lieberman’s “Internet Kill Switch,” the War on Freedom Rages On
Binoy Kampmark
Staying on Message: Australia, the US and the AUSMIN Talks
Elliot Sperber
The View From Saturn 
August 04, 2020
John Pilger
Another Hiroshima is Coming…Unless We Stop It Now
Dave Lindorff
Unsung Heroes of Los Alamos: Rethinking Manhattan Project Spies and the Cold War
Kenneth Good
Escalating State Repression and Covid-19: Their Impact on the Poor in Kenya
Dean Baker
We Need an Economic Survival Package Not Another Stimulus
David Rosen
Globalization and the End of the American Dream
John Feffer
The Pandemic Reveals a Europe More United Than the United States
Patrick Cockburn
The Government’s Failed Track-and-Trace System is a Disaster for England
Ramzy Baroud
‘Optimism of the Will’: Palestinian Freedom is Possible Now
CounterPunch News Service
Statement From Yale Faculty on Hydroxychloroquine and Its Use in COVID-19
Manuel García, Jr.
Ocean Heat: From the Tropics to the Poles
Sonali Kolhatkar
Why the Idea of Jobless Benefits Scares the Conservative Mind
Greta Anderson
Framing Wolves in New Mexico?
Binoy Kampmark
Pulling Out of Germany: Trump Adjusts the Military Furniture
Shawn Fremstad – Nicole Rodgers
COVID Stimulus Checks Shouldn’t Penalize One-Parent Households
Adam Shah
The 1 Percent’s Attack on Unemployment Benefits is a Sign of Our Broken Democracy