Guest Commentary: Is Rosenstein a benefactor of white privilege?

Guest Commentary: Is Rosenstein a benefactor of white privilege?


There has been much discussion on white privilege, what it means, and what to do about it. Sometimes, there are very legitimate complaints of the differences with which people are treated based on the color of their skin. One only need to look at the Laquan McDonald case in Chicago as an example. Sometimes, people claim outright absurdities, like the claims by Michigan State University Professor Shreena Gandhi saying Americans who practice yoga are contributing to white supremacy.

The absurdities shouldn't mask the very real and unjust way people of color are treated, even here in this supposedly progressive community. Two recent related examples on the University of Illinois campus can help illustrate the point.

The first incident involved a graduate student and instructor, Tariq Khan, who participated in an anti-Trump rally on campus, as is his right. He faced some counter-protesters, tempers got heated and, ultimately, he grabbed one of their cellphones and threw it to the ground. He was charged with a misdemeanor, criminal damage to property, and as of this writing, those charges are still pending.

The second incident involved a professor, Jay Rosenstein, who, as part of his anti-Chief activism, followed several individuals into a restroom and was filming them, ostensibly as part of an investigation into whether staff were assisting people performing Chief related activities at basketball games. He was arrested for filming in a public restroom (ostensibly a felony), but charges were immediately dropped. The investigation ended with no one, presumably, having examined what exactly was filmed in the first place.

These incidents are roughly similar, both on this campus, both involving decisions by the same prosecutor, both involving left-leaning activists, yet the outcomes are very different. Arguably, the filming in a restroom is more serious, at least as far as the law is concerned, as that violation is a felony (if convicted). Both involve right-leaning victims. Both are part of the larger damage we face in society where tensions over politics are leading people to cross what otherwise are viewed as unambiguous bright lines in the law.

There is one other important difference. Jay Rosenstein is a politically connected privileged white man who is 57 years old. Tariq Khan, obviously, is not a white man. In fact, he is a young minority man. If there is a red-carpet treatment for people being arrested, that's what Professor Rosenstein got. Tariq Khan is facing the familiar treatment that many young minority men face in the criminal justice system. To put it kindly, it's not being given the benefit of the doubt.

It is no small irony that anti-racism activist Jay Rosenstein has made a reputation fighting for these issues but when push came to shove, that didn't stop him from affording himself of the unearned privilege his whiteness gets him.

In dismissing the charges against this privileged white professor, State's Attorney Julia Rietz said to The News-Gazette, "The criminal-justice system is not the place to gain an advantage for one side or the other on a public debate." How aren't both of these issues the same in that same regard? In fact, some of the groups pushing media coverage in both incidents are identical.

In light of previous decisions made by this state's attorney in the past and some her racially inflammatory remarks made in public, it's hard to find another explanation for her behavior except that she saw a privileged and politically connected white man and gave him the benefit of the doubt. Tariq Khan receives no such privilege, despite the fact that he has actually worn a uniform to defend this country. If there is to be privilege, I suggest military service ought to afford it to you.

If justice is truly supposed to be color-blind, it's certainly not looking that way in Champaign County.

The next time someone asks you what white privilege looks like, you now have an answer. It looks like Jay Rosenstein.

John Bambenek is a lecturer in the departments of computer science and information sciences and a member of the Illinois Board of Higher Education and Community College Board.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
rsp wrote on February 04, 2018 at 11:02 am

This whole column is white privilege.

Did Tariq Khan make the comparison? Khan, who fought for his country so you could make stupid comparisons and say they were equal? Khan, who allegedly damaged a phone the owner says was already damaged in the video they posted online. He didn't steal it because that would require the intent to permanantly deprive the owner of it. When his case is resolved it will be very much in his favor, probably involve counselling. You're not in favor of people who served our country getting the support they need?

Did Rosenstein attack anyone? Put his hands on anyone? Has he shown the video to anyone, posted it online? No? The claim was they saw him and ducked into the bathroom. He followed. Then this guy claims he was using the urinal and turned around and surprise! Both of those things can't be true but they are told by the same guy. The same guy thinking if he put out the urinal story it would destroy the other guy.

Legal cases require "clean hands", so if you are lying about major issues of fact you don't have clean hands. So doesn't the other side have the same white privilige?

Speaking of white privilige and taking photos in the bathroom, girls do this everyday. Selfies. Should they all be arrested? Please say yes.

bambenek wrote on February 04, 2018 at 12:02 pm

First, the law prohibits video that Rosenstein was charged under. That being said....

One could presume that girls taking selfies in the bathroom have consent considering they are taking pictures of themselves. Hence, the “self” in selfies. I suppose we would have to examine if there was a split personality issue where all present personalities did not consent, but we’d need a forensic psychologist to weigh in there. 

But nice try attempting a marginally coherent yet logically defunct argument. Always a pleasure to visit in NG comments section where only the finest members of the Champaign County e-lawyers Association hangs out.

rsp wrote on February 05, 2018 at 9:02 pm

The intent of the law has to do with the fact creeps like to hide cameras to get shots of unsuspecting people using the facilities, including children. They are commonly known as "crotch shots" because the camera is hidden in a stall or held under the side of one to get the shot. To equate it with the room is dumb. People try to get the same photos in dressing rooms, on stairs, locker rooms, or just by walking up and upskirting an unsuspecting woman or girl.

But you're worried about the label on the door and not the actual intent or what's on the video. Like a label on a door ever made anyone safe. Typical man.

I don't think the jury would like his actions but I seriously doubt they would convict him, so maybe you little meme is out of touch.

CommonSenseless wrote on February 06, 2018 at 3:02 pm

Kind of like those "gun free zone" stickers, huh?