Barack Mandela
Lawyer, Military Veteran, and Philosopher

Black Privilege: Finding Power Within Myself

Barack Mandela at the grave site of Rabbi Elazar Shach in B’nai Brak, Israel. (Photo from Mr. Mandela’s personal collection)

In the United States, the concept of “white privilege” permeates the public intellectual discourse. Fundamentally, “white privilege” describes the advantages of whiteness, white skin, and white racial identity.

As a black person, it is difficult for me to wrap my mind around the concept of “whiteness”. I ask myself the following questions: What does it mean to be white? What is white racial identity? What is white supremacy? What is white nationalism?

Within America’s diverse and multi-layered society, it’s not easy to define “whiteness”. For example, are Italian American’s considered “white”? Are Latino or Hispanic Americans considered “white”? Are Arab Americans considered “white”? Are American Jews considered “white”? What about other groups such as Greek Americans or Armenian Americans? Is white the same thing as Caucasian or Aryan?

Although I have been socially conditioned to see myself as “black”, I have not been thoroughly educated on the evolution of “whiteness”.

When I was a small child, for example, some of my black role models told me that rock music is “white music”. Thus, musical groups such as Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, and U2 were considered “white music”. Whereas hip hop, rap, soul, blues, R&B, and jazz were considered “black music”. As a black child, I was expected to listen to “black music” and avoid “white music”. It’s as though certain sounds have been racialized.

I was born and raised in Long Beach, California which is Los Angeles County. During my childhood, my city was largely segregated along racial lines. My community was primarily black, Latino, and Asian. Whereas the beach communities known as Belmont Shore and Naples were primarily “white” neighborhoods. There was an Iron Curtain dividing my hometown separating people of color and “white” people.

In fact, my first introduction to “whiteness” came from watching Lucille Ball in the TV show “I Love Lucy”. As a young black child, I didn’t view white people as real, authentic people with thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams. I viewed white people as “those people” on TV.

Black people meant “us” or “we” and “our people”, and white people meant “them” or “other” and “those people.”

Barack Mandela talking to a rabbi at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem. (Barack’s collection)

To make these psycho-social matters more complex, “blackness” was divided into “light skin” and “dark skin”; and “nappy hair” (bad hair) and “straight hair” (good hair). Many black people used cosmetic products to lighten their skin and straighten their hair to look more like white people. Some people used plastic surgery to narrow their noses and shrink their full lips to look more like white people. It’s as though whiteness was an invisible standard imposed upon my people: “To be white is to be normal”.

As a child growing up in such a complex society, I learned America like a movie script. Although I didn’t understand “blackness” or “whiteness”, I pretended to play by the rules of the game—the racial game. To this day, America continues to engage in a game of racial chess.

When I was in law school at UC Law San Francisco, I converted to Reform Judaism and Orthodox Judaism. I then became a citizen of Israel. After becoming an attorney, I served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

While I was in the IDF, I didn’t know whether the Ashkenazi Jewish soldiers were considered “white” or “people of color”. To this day, I don’t know if Israel is considered a “white” country. Is Benjamin Netanyahu considered a white man? Is Itamar Ben Gvir a white man?

To attain peace of mind, I look at myself in the mirror, and I decide to love myself unconditionally. I love my mind, body, soul, and spirit as much as possible. I love and embrace my African American roots and heritage.

I empower myself with black power, black beauty, and black privilege.

About the Author
Licensed Attorney. I earned a Doctor of Law at the University of California, College of the Law, San Francisco (Hastings) . I earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Riverside. I was an international student at the University of Costa Rica Faculty of Law and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law. I am a military veteran of the United States Air Force and United States Army. I am a laureate of the National Defense Service Medal from the Pentagon. I am a financial donor to following: Harvard Law, Yale Law, Stanford Law, Berkeley Law, UC Hastings College of the Law, UC Davis Law, Columbine High School, Choate Rosemary Hall, Phillips Exeter Academy, Sidwell Friends School, Viewpoint School, Beverly Hills High School, Eton College in the United Kingdom, Special Olympics, Children's Defense Fund, Obama Foundation, Clinton Foundation, Barbra Streisand Foundation, Princeton University, Florida A&M, Howard University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, and the British Red Cross. I am former special assistant and staff attorney to Governor Pete Wilson of California. I was public affairs assistant to US Senator Barbara Boxer. I am a member of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
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