A Mountain of White Privilege

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 11.31.49 AM


Last week I got an email from reader Emma who had read my description of Portland, Oregon’s battle to rename a not-very-popular street to Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.[1] Emma wanted to know what I thought of the ongoing attempts to rename Alaska’s Mt. McKinley. I confess that I had never heard of the Mt. McKinley controversy prior to getting the email, so I had to do some poking around the intertubes. As you may have already guessed, the controversy surrounds a movement to scrap the current name in favor of the Native American name that preceded it. What you may not have already guessed, however, is… well, is literally everything else that makes up the story.

The more I learned about it, in fact, the more fascinated I became; everything I thought I was going to discover ended up being the exact opposite of what had I expected. Indeed, the entire decades-long ordeal might well be the starkest example of cartographic white privilege I have ever come across — which for someone living in the United States is saying something. And if you haven’t really ever heard of the controversy before and you’re white, my guess is that it will be the same for you.

So I decided to write about it.


Koyukon family.

For those of you who know or care little for topography, Mt. McKinley isn’t just any mountain. Located in the southern third of Alaska, it is the highest peak in North America, utterly dwarfing the enormous mountains that surround it. (Only Nepal’s Everest and Argentina’s Aconcagua peaks are more prominent.) For centuries, the local Koyukon tribe referred to it as Denali (or sometimes Dinale). Not surprisingly, once English-speaking white people moved into the neighborhood they decided that a mountain so majestic deserved a more English-sounding name. Thus it was named Densmore Mountain by the US Board of Geographic Names, after a 19th-century prospector who had become something of a well-known fan of the peak’s beauty.

According to German-American climbing enthusiast and historian Fred Beckey, the decision to rename Densmore Mountain to Mt. McKinley had everything to do with the gold-standard vs. silver-standard political battle of the late 1890s. Though it seems archaically quaint from our 21st century point of view, the gold vs. silver battle was, at the time, something akin to the love child of abortion, same-sex marriage, and immigration reform to the people of that era in terms of the passion, fury, and vitriol it engendered. In 1897 an Alaska-based gold miner named William Dickey penned an opinion piece for the New York Sun, saying that the federal government should rename Densmore to Mt. McKinley, after sitting US President and gold-standard champion William McKinley.


A pro-McKinley (and pro-gold standard) campaign poster

Dickey’s argument had everything to do with the gold v. silver political battle. At the time William Jennings Bryan, an opponent of both McKinley and the gold standard, was making real inroads with public opinion on the pro-silver stance. Dickey believed that the PR of naming the highest peak in the country after McKinley would add a certain amount of gravitas to the President in the eyes of the public. After the Sun ran the editorial, renaming the mountain became something of a rallying cry for the Team Gold set for the next two decades. And thus in 1917 did Woodrow Wilson sign into law the Act to Establish the Mount McKinley National Park in the Territory of Alaska, which instructed the US Board of Geographic Names to change Densmore Mountain to Mt. McKinley on all current and future maps. And just so there’s no misunderstanding, please be aware that the renaming had everything to do with the gold v. silver kerfuffle and nothing else. McKinley not only never set foot on the mountain, he never once set foot in the state of Alaska; he appears to have had no real policy or personal interest in the Alaska, mountains, cartography, or America’s wilderness.

This is important, as you will see, because one of the interesting things about the Mt. McKinley history is that it flies directly in the face of arguments made by the pro-McKinley camp: that a mountain’s official name cannot be changed for purely political reasons, and that the mountain should retain it’s  original American name because of the importance of tradition.

When I was poking around the itnertubes on the subject, I found a lot of people bemoaning the PC culture that was allowing non-Alaskans to come in and force Alaskans to rename their mountains in order to appease a bunch of lower-48ers. This widely held assumption, it turns out, is entirely — nay, almost perfectly — wrong.


William McKinley showing his softer, loving expression.

For whatever reason, even though Washington, DC officially renamed the mountain, most native Alaskans — Native American and otherwise — never stopped calling it Denali. For a variety of reasons (tradition, relative remoteness, aesthetic choice) the name McKinley just never stuck with the locals. Sometime around the late 1960s, as native American pride and civil rights movements were gaining traction, Alaskans took up the cause to rename Mt. McKinley back to Denali. The process for renaming  mountain in the United States, it turns out, is actually something you can do if you’re willing and able to go through all of the steps necessary. Alaskans did, in fact, proceed with these steps, and by 1975 they succeed in completing all of them.

In the Spring of 1975 the Alaskan legislature voted to instruct the Alaska Board of Geographic Names to change all current and future maps from Mt. McKinley to Mt. Denali, and further instructed then-Governor Jay Hammond to make a formal request to the US Board to change it at the federal (and more official) level as well. And that should have been that. Except that, as it turns out, it wasn’t.

According to rules established earlier, it turned out that the US Board is supposed to change names after the steps Alaskans had taken have been completed — except when there was a bill in Congress that was already dealing with such a name change. And so Congressman Ralph Regula, then-US Representative from Ohio (McKinley’s birthplace) introduced legislation  that mentioned the name change and then refused to bring it to vote, thus forcing the US Board to refuse the request from Governor Hammond. Regula would go on the re-introcude that bill’s language every single Congressional session from 1975 until his retirement in 2009 for the sole purpose of thwarting the Alaskans. Since his retirement, his 1975 language continues to be re-introduced at the begining of each legislative session by other Congresscritters, specifically to use the Board’s rules of order from accepting Alaska’s request for a name change. Thus does McKinley share the dubious distinction of being the American mountain that has one official name in the one US state in which it’s located and another official name in all the other 49.

As I said up top, if there is a more blatant example of cartographic white privilege in the United States, I haven’t seen it.

With Mt. McKinley, we have on the one hand a mountain that was renamed from one white person to another on a political whim, almost entirely by people who did not live by, had never visited, and had no real interest in said mountain or its surrounding area. On the other hand, we have a mountain whose state has spent over 50 years following all the pre-stated rules to get the name changed from a white person to a Native American name, and it still can’t be done. And before you point the finger at Ohio for being the sole spoiler, know that Alaskan representative have over the years repeatedly tried to pass legislation that allows them to get around the rule that continues to thwart them. Each time they have done so, legislators from the lower 48 collectively tell them to go pound sand. (The most recent attempt was just this past February, by AK Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan.) Worse, the pro-Denali movement is largely painted by white people all over the country as the rantings of a few miscreant PC killjoys subverting both the will of Alaskans and Democracy in general — despite the fact that there is not one part of that narrative that stands up to even the slightest scrutiny.

For what it’s worth, I get that it might by nice for someone who lives in Ohio to have a mountain in another state named after one of its native sons. If the people in West Virginia decided to rename one of the Appalachians within their borders Tom McCall Peak or Mt. A.C. Green, I’d be tickled. But I’d never force them to do so. It’s their state, and it’s their damn choice; that it might amuse me means diddley squat. And the thing is, I think we would all agree about that.

But when that Native American shoe is suddenly on the white foot? Suddenly all reason goes out the window, because of “tradition,” or “heritage,” or “history,” or some other word we use to avoid saying the obvious:

In America, we rename Native things after white people. We don’t do it the the other way around.



[1] Because that story is very germane to the topic but buried in the original post I mentioned it in, I’ll provide a quick recap here for those that missed it the first time:

Throughout most of the 1980s there was a push in Portland, mostly by the black community, to rename a major street after MLK. To provide some historical context, this was also in the era where Portland police were — this is true — leaving dead opossums on the door steps of successful black-owned small businesses to send a message. (Presumably the message was to stop being successful black-owned businesses.) After they were caught, two of the seven officers involved were initially fired, but then — this is also true — were rehired by the police union their previous salaries after many Portlanders protested their termination in a “Cops Have Rights Too” rally.  The other five officers — once again, all true — never faced any sanctions at all because, hey, they were just some good-at-heart white boys out blowing off steam and having some good old fashioned fun on the job — and where’s the harm in that?

Anywho, after a decade of trying, minority advocates eventually succeeded in getting the city council to rename Union Blvd, a battered eyesore of a road that was known for going through the shoddier parts of town. This resulted in a huge backlash, as people who previously didn’t seem to care a tinker’s cuss for Union Blvd. suddenly decided it was the cornerstone of our Precious Rose City Heritage. Because tradition. And then after a while of that, this same group of people decided that what the city really needed to do was change the name of Union Blvd to Ronald Reagan Blvd., because tradition is apparently a fickle mistress.

To this day, a quarter of a century later, on our  local talk radio stations you can still occasionally hear people grouse about the totalitarians that sullied our city’s good name by both the changing Union to MLK and the later changing of 39th Street to Caesar Chavez Blvd., though the dozens of other name changes that have occurred since are either pretty much ignored or celebrated. But this does not, as these callers themselves will point out, have anything to do with race. Because that would be wrong.


[Picture of Mt. McKinley via Wiki Commons. Picture of William McKinley via Wikipedia. Picture of Koyukon family also via Wikipedia. Picture of McKinley gold-standard campaign poster via Wikipedia as well.]

Please do be so kind as to share this post.

119 thoughts on “A Mountain of White Privilege

  1. I don’t know anybody who calls it McKinley. Well tourists and cheechako’s ( people new to living Alaska). Pretty much everybody else calls it Denali. Also the park around the mountain is Denali, so when people are going there they are usually referring to the entire park and not just the mountain.

    I’ll admit i’m not the target for people ranting about PC ( because it’s a mostly stupid term that hides all sorts of deeper meanings). But it would help people who complain about PC to know WTF the background of issues are as you very well lay out here.


  2. Well, now that’s a story. Thank you for telling it.

    I’ll have a drink with Oscar and Vikram, too, but not because of this post. It’s just Friday, and I could use a drink.


  3. Sorry, i simply dont care. Franlky i’m tired of being told that im bad person, oppressor, etc. Call it opression fatigue if you will.


  4. And here I thought that this would be about Douthat’s response to Brooks’ latest.

    This was much better. It’s amazing how willfully ignorant folks can be, as encapsulated by your

    But this does not, as these callers themselves will point out, have anything to do with race. Because that would be wrong.


  5. Interesting. I don’t know why but this reminds me of how various cities in the United States are changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. I believe Seattle was the city to do this most recently.

    The standard liberal line on this is that Columbus was a genocidal oppressor. What is not remembered history is that there was a time when Columbus Day was a very big deal to Italian-Americans. This is when Italian-Americans were viewed as being a kind of sub-par European and not quite white. Columbus Day allowed Italian-Americans to show that they were just as American as anyone else. I think North Beach (which is/was San Francisco’s Italian community) still holds big parades on Columbus Day.

    So now Italian-Americans are just another variant of white and the day is considered disreputable among the left.

    But I wonder how older Italian-Americans feel about this? Ones who can remember as using the day to prove their Americaness?


    • Columbus Day became an American holiday after the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, which was also to celebrate Columbus’ voyage. At this time, public schools in the United States began to teach children about Columbus to teach patriotism and white race purity. Colorado made Columbus Day into a holiday in 1906 and it became a Federal holiday in 1937. Before that local celebrations of Columbus Day existed. The first known one was in 1792 in New York City. Italian-Americans started to treat Columbus Day as an ethnic holiday in October 12, 1866 according to Wikipedia and they were also instrumental into making it into a holiday in the states and nation-wide. The first Italian American Columbus Day parade took place in 1868 in New York City.

      By all accounts Columbus was a right arrogant religious fanatical bastard. Not a suitable hero for the present but fitting for his times and the fact that he worked for the Catholic Monarchs. Whether or not Columbus Day should became Indigenous People’s Day is a question with no easy answer though. What happened to the Native Americans was monstrous and it should be acknowledged but the myth of Columbus, and myths are very important in building a civic nation like the United States, is still important to many people. The East Coast has many more Italian-Americans than the West Coast so Indigenous People’s Day never really caught on.


  6. Although I’m now very interested in the realization that names of geographical features can be changed and the seemingly small amount of political effort that needs to be deployed in order to do it.

    For instance, California’s Highway 99 is called the “Jefferson Davis Highway,” notwithstanding the fact that Jefferson Davis, to the best of my knowledge, never visited California nor particularly cared about California other than its admission into the Union as a free state, notwithstanding the fact that California was never a part of the Confederacy, and also notwithstanding the fact that Jefferson Davis was a traitor who politically led a rebellion that was the bloodiest conflict in our country’s history.

    If you agree that it’s thoroughly inappropriate to have a highway in California named for the leader of the Confederacy, then please join me in my efforts to rename California’s Highway 99 the “Burt Likko Highway,” in honor of one of California’s most foremost epistolary advocates of the vibrant liberties ensured by the rule of law. Thank you in advance for your support.


  7. Kitty’s cousin David has reached the summit of the mountain 21 times. He’s only ever referred to the mountain as Denali, and of all the climbers I’ve seen comment on his Facebook page, I’ve never seen any of ’em refer to the mountain as McKinley.

    I think this says something about the attachment given to nomenclature by laypeople and the attachment given to nomenclature by folks who actually have a vested interest in the thing in question.

    Reminds me of the “Is Pluto a planet?” debates. Anyone who “matters” (the folks who actually study planets as a vocation) all answer nearly reflexively with the “Not really, but it’s not really all that relevant anyway.” Anyone who doesn’t “matter” (folks who know nothing about planetary science but who have an Internet connection), on the other hand, has a Very Strong Opinion.

    I think there’s a lot of something to be said about this being an instance of assumed privilege, yeah.


    • The main problem with Pluto in my book is giving it a designation ‘dwarf planet’, and then, paradoxically, claiming it is not a planet. Guys, you literally just called it a term that means ‘small planet’, and then said it wasn’t a planet. If you wanted dwarf planets to not be planets, try not having the word ‘planet’ in the damn name. Seriously, aren’t you guys supposed to be rocket scientists?

      Meanwhile, there *already are* two types of planets…terrestrial and gas giants. (And gas giants have the ‘ice’ subset.)

      Would it really have broken everything to define ‘dwarf planets’ as a subset of terrestrial planets? And then said: Due to the fact there’s a bunch of them and we haven’t found them all, we’re just going to recommend everyone leave them off the *roster* of planets in the future. So anytime anyone lists ‘planets’, people should assume it really means ‘non-dwarf planets’ unless explicitly stated.

      Because that last thing was really the problem. Despite the IAU not appearing to notice, there are actually *hundreds* of things that are probably ‘dwarf planets’, and we can’t go around expecting people to remember them.

      And that was the *only* problem. So in the future we could have just listed the eight planets and add ‘Plus innumerable dwarf planets’ at the end, and, tada, Pluto could have remained ‘a planet’, just one we don’t bother to list. Problem solved.

      But, no, the IAU was a bunch of crazy people, and had to declare that dwarf planets aren’t planets *at all*, instead of just being the ones we don’t bother to list.


        • It is entirely serious. They solved the problem in a very stupid way.

          People can like it or not, but Pluto was going to be dropped from the ‘list of planets’, because there’s no way to justify it being on there and Eris not being on there. (Eris has slightly larger size but slightly less mass.) And if you do put Eris on the list, making any sort of sane cutoff in the future becomes even harder. So Pluto was going away from ‘the list’.

          And so they created the category ‘dwarf planet’ and everything seemed fine. All they would have to say is ‘Look, guys, don’t list dwarf planets when listing planets, there are way too many of them and they’ll change all the time. Just list the major planets and footnote that there are a bunch of dwarfs.’

          This would have produced a small outcry, but people would have gotten over it. Pluto would still be a planet, it was just one so minor we didn’t bother talking about it. People would memorize MVEMJSUN, and know there are a bunch of dwarf planets out there too, with Pluto the most famous, and it would all be sunshine and puppies.

          And, technically, it wouldn’t be ‘reclassifying’ anything (Just adding a sub-classification) or making any previous knowledge ‘wrong’: We found more planets, and made a recommendation not to list ones under a certain size, cause there are quite a lot of them. Everything printed in the past would still be 100% technically correct.

          Instead, they decided the things they had just named ‘dwarf planet’ were not, in fact, technically planets, and announced *that*. This was doubly stupid…it made Pluto not a planet when a still-planet-solution was staring them in the fact, and it paradoxically made things that had just been named ‘dwarf planets’ into not planets. (I mean, it’s be one thing if this was some historic name, like killer whales and Guinea pigs aren’t whales or pigs…but this was a brand new name they came up with at the same time they un-planeted it! I expect less stupidity from scientists.)


  8. Tod, this doesn’t surprise me at all. I’m sorta wondering what you thought you might find, based on your first impressions of the conundrum?


    • “I’m sorta wondering what you thought you might find, based on your first impressions of the conundrum?”

      I thought I would find an example of the more common and nettlesome version of this issue: A situation where the majority of a local community wants to keep the name whatever explorer/politician came up with 100+ years ago, while a vocal minority wants to change the name back to something it had been prior/something new that is more representative of a modern multicultural community.

      As I say, I think that those cases are far more nettlesome and far more submerged in shades of grey. Unlike many on the Right, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with wanting to change a city street to, say, Caesar Chavez Blvd. Unlike many on the Left, I don’t think that not wanting to change a name that’s been there for generations is an inherently bad thing either. (To be honest, in a far more perfect world I have as little problem with the Washington Redskins as I do with the Boston Celtics. In the world as it is, however…)

      But this does not seem to be a nettlesome problem at all. In fact, it seems pretty black and white from my perspective — which is not a thing I usually think about any controversial political issues that don’t directly involve civil rights. That the people of AK have been trying for fifty years to have — let’s be honest here — a mountain no one else really cares that much about changed from being named after a President — let’s continue being honest here — no one really cares about, only to have Congress rebuff them year after year, is something I find mind boggling.


      • Hence my need for a drink. Not the question of privilege or racism, but just the hair pulling idiocy of a power play this petty.

        It’s a giant “fuck you” for no other reason than to say “fuck you”.

        How much do we pay these jack-asses?


      • I have a small shred of empathy for opponents of street name changes. Any such change places a cognitive burden on people who have been using the old name for a long time. They have to learn the new one. This takes some effort. They will get confused by references to the new one. They will look foolish when they don’t recognize the name or use the old one. And this is regardless of any political valence to the name change.

        Nevertheless, I think the name changes proposed are worth that effort. Symbols matter.


  9. Istanbul was Constantinople
    Now it’s Istanbul not Constantinople
    Been a long time gone
    Old Constantinople’s still has Turkish delight
    On a moonlight night

    Every gal in Constantinople
    Is a Miss-stanbul, not Constantinople
    So if you’ve date in Constantinople
    She’ll be waiting in Istanbul

    Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
    Why they changed it, I can’t say
    (People just liked it better that way)

    Take me back to Constantinople
    No, you can’t go back to Constantinople
    Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
    Why did Constantinople get the works?
    That’s nobody’s business but the Turks’


    Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
    Why they changed it, I can’t say
    (People just liked it better that way)

    Take me back to Constantinople
    No, you can’t go back to Constantinople
    Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
    Why did Constantinople get the works?
    That’s nobody’s business but the Turks’


  10. I strongly suspect that McKinley’s relatively recent assassination also had something to do with accepting his name as a “natural” for a newly declared park in 1917, by which time, incidentally, Gold v Silver was no longer a live issue (historians declare the issue “over” as of 1900 and passage of the Gold Standard Act). Democrat William Jennings Bryan, Republican McKinley’s chief opponent on that 1890s question, had been Wilson’s Secretary of State, had campaigned for Wilson in 1916, and still counted himself an ally at the time.

    Otherwise, the reflexive white guilt around here gets so thick it’s smothering – not to mention boring, because shallow, repetitious, and, obviously, presumptively, one-sided. I suppose it has to be noted that few to none of the Alaskan legislators seeking the name change were “non-white.”


    • “Otherwise, the reflexive white guilt around here gets so thick it’s smothering ”

      I have to say, I find this reaction of conservatives whenever anyone points out racism or privledge — that the observer must somehow feel guilt and without that guilt it must not exist at all — to be downright weird.

      I must confess, I feel a total lack of guilt for Mt McKinley, regardless of my race. That you — or for that matter notme, who is making your same argument less articulately — think these observations are an attempt to make people feel bad is — again — a little weird. Or at least it is to me.

      I am reminded of the sermon Will linked to today where the writer noted that all conversations about race on this county are ultimately about not hurting white people’s feelings.


      • Other than the in the title of the thread or prehaps in tod’s fevered imagination, i have have yet to see any evidence of racism etc. in this issue.

        A realy clever liberal could make an entire acedemic career out of this cartographic white privilege thing.


      • I’d rather not get into speculation about your personal state of mind and motivations, Our Tod.

        There is no evidence presented here that the resistance to renaming Mt McKinley has specifically to do with “white privilege.” The main people seeking the change are, as far as the post details, all “white,” and the main people offering resistance are apparently doing so over some petty expression of state pride, not racial pride. If there is any evidence of a racial motivation, please present it.

        In the meantime, it seems notable to me that this presumption about the white person is somehow maintained despite the fact that the person who wrote the post is by all appearances a “white” person, as are most of the people nodding their heads. We can also note that “white” people have not in fact shown notable reluctance to give places and precious objects Native American names – including the state of Ohio (from the Iroquois for “large creek”), also including the Denali (for “great one,” not a proper name), a luxury SUV of the Yukon (“great river,” Locheaux) line, manufactured in (I think) Michigan (“great water,” Chippewa). Lately, the problem attributed more commonly to white people, has been an over-eagerness to “appropriate” Native American and other non-white (good) things.

        Haven’t read the sermon – I’ll get back to you, though your description seems rather through-the-looking-glass self-contradictory on the subject, an implicit insult directed at this species called “white people” about a conspicuous lack of insults of “white people.”


        • “I’d rather not get into speculation about your personal state of mind and motivations, Our Tod.”

          Well then, my apologies for bringing up my white guilt then. ;)

          “I’ll get back to you, though your description seems rather through-the-looking-glass self-contradictory on the subject”

          Damn, there I went again!


          • (The problem, Tod is that the reflexes and assumptions originally premised on the discourse of “white guilt” (post-Cesaire, post-Fanon, post-a-whole-lot-of-things) may be second nature for you. The discourse of “white privilege” presumes and implies “white guilt,” and vice versa. The two terms are virtually synonymous and do NOT primarily refer to subjective states, since you may very well experience the effect as of pure truth itself or some species of simple responsibility. For the same reason, to speak against “white privilege” or the discourse of “white privilege” is virtually to identify oneself, for a prisoner of that discourse, as a “white racist” or, simply, “a racist,” or simply, “white,” since those two terms also eventually converge: Every white person is privileged (as an indirect beneficiary), every white person is guilty (see previous), every white person is racist (can’t help it, deep down), whites are the only true racists (paging M. Fanon): white = guilty = privileged = racist. Just ask Chris. )

            (Don’t understand the second part.)


            • I don’t know how to respond to this except to say that I don’t agree with a single assertion your making, and that if you really do believe all of these things I am unsure how exactly we can even begin to communicate with one another on this issue.


                • Man,”What White Privilege Means to Me, by Tod Kelly” sounds like the most cringe-worthy high school sophomore essay ever written. But I’ll give it a shot anyway.

                  My understanding of white privilege (WP) is that it is those social advantages that whites in our society have that are so ubiquitous that it is difficult for most of us to immediately see, in the same way that fish might not “see” water. WP is not intentional; WP is not malicious; WP is not even necessarily racist. Indeed, it has little to do with being white at all, and more to do with historically being the part of the assumed holders of political, social, and economic power in society. Presumably, there is likely Jewish privilege in Israel, and — at least at one time in the past — likely Kshatriyas privilege in India as well.

                  Instance of types white privilege range from the extreme to the banal, but collectively they add a layer of comfort that not all non-whites are “privileged” to experience. One example is that when interviewing for job, I personally have never had to wonder beforehand the degree to which I need to act or not act white, too white, or not white enough for whatever employer i was meeting with. Indeed, it never even occurred to me to consider the question. Another is that growing up, pretty much everyone I learned about as a kid in school that was a “great man”I was told I should emulate was someone who looked like me and my family; because of this, it never occurred to me to ask myself if because of my race I would ever be able to do X.

                  Where I and others here will likely disagree is that I neither think the question of whether something is or isn’t WP is objective rather than subjective, nor do I think that it’s subjectivity makes it nonsense.

                  You, for example, might look out and say to yourself that there is no difference — socially or economically — growing up black in America than growing up white. Or, if you’re like notme, I expect you might say that there is a difference, but that being white means that you are in fact under-privledged. How I convince you otherwise is, I have found in my life, likely impossible. Sure, I could point to studies, just as you could reply to any of them #MoreSocialThanScience.

                  Some things in this world, there just isn’t the kind of objective evidence you personally need to see, CK, and I get that. If you don’t believe the things I just described actually exists except in my fevered liberal imagination, hey, I’m cool with that and wish you no ill will for it. But I’m also not going to spend too much time arguing the point over with you, because really, if we can’t agree on the idea that growing up being told all (or at least most) the great people in history were white might not have a very different effecst on non-whites than it would whites, where on Earth would we ever begin to find common ground to build from?

                  “Agree to disagree” seems a wiser use of my time.


                  • Man,”What White Privilege Means to Me, by Tod Kelly” sounds like the most cringe-worthy high school sophomore essay ever written. But I’ll give it a shot anyway.

                    The declaration of full disagreement with me (every “single assertion”) and of a complete incapacity to communicate calls for a return to the basics, if only as a last resort.

                    You wrote a post about a “mountain of white privilege,” relying completely on the term as a substitute for logic or evidence. Since analyzing your further responses would be a time-consuming exercise, in the shadow of your stated lack of remaining interest, I’ll just note here that this latest comment largely consists of 1) examples utterly irrelevant to the matter at hand, and 2) attribution to me, speculatively, of allegiances and positions I have never held or taken and wouldn’t hold or take. Your language even slips from suggesting that I might conceivably hold those positions – that I do not hold and have never held, and gave no indication of holding – to presuming that I simply do hold them.

                    Since, however, you do not wish to hold a conversation at all on these topics, as you have now stated twice directly, and are to all appearances completely content with your position, as you are dismissive of those who presume to question it, it would be pointless to go any further.


  11. For the most part I am indifferent to what things should be named, if the state wants to call it one thing, then it should be up to the state, and like wise a city changing a street name. Many residents or people who go regularly to the locations might keep calling them by the old names, such as Army or, apparently Union.

    Cartographic white privilege is possibly the silliest turn of phrase I have heard in quite a while, and like notme I grow fatigued to the point of indifference on much of this. Are attempts to rename Hells Kitchen in NYC Cartographic white privilege? What I would say that for this – ” But this does not, as these callers themselves will point out, have anything to do with race. Because that would be wrong.” – to work for me you need to do a whole lot more work than some story about racist cops.


  12. Incidentally, I recently discovered that there are quarters with the names of various state parks on them. One of them is Denali. As in Denali State Park, since that is the federal name. The quarter abbreviates it to the label “Denali”. The picture smack in the center is…the tallest mountain in North America. The easy thing to surmise for someone who isn’t in on the technicalities is that there is some mountain somewhere named Denali. I wonder to what extent this upset anyone from Ohio.

    Here it is: http://www.parkquarters.com/denali-national-park-quarter


  13. This is another interesting tidbit. Apparently the Daily Show did a segment on the non-renaming and interviewed the curator of the McKinley presidential museum, who is oddly a fan of President McKinley.

    While I expected a degree of backlash about the naming of the mountain, I am truly surprised at the attacks on my intelligence, my character, and my career. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I have poured my heart and soul into what I do for nearly 14 years as Curator of the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum. When a producer from The Daily Show called me, I was thrilled to even be on their radar screen. I went into the experience with an open mind, and I wish those who have taken the time to send me nasty emails would do the same.



  14. I don’t see this as white privilege either. The Ohioans are being complete dicks, but it’s not because the Alaskans want to change the mountain’s name from a white guy’s to a Native American one, it’s because they want to change it from an Ohioan’s to a Alaskan name. If the change were from Mount Joe Morgan to Mount William Seward they’d feel the same way.

    Ohio doesn’t have a lot going for it these days, and it certainly can’t compete with Alaska. (If your neighbor goes to Columbus for a week, there’s no danger he’ll invite you over to watch videos of his trip.) So it’s understandable if they take the “Mother of Presidents” thing a bit too seriously. As I said, they’re being total jerks about it, but I don’t sense anything racial.


    • Well yeah, but the Ohioans Are Dicks explanation doesn’t explain why AK reps and Senators can’t get Congress to pass a quick bill allowing the Board to bypass its rule this one time. Or at least, it doesn’t at first blush with me. (Is it a party/primary thing?)


      • RTod

        We all know that it is white racism that is causing folks to cross party lines and hold this back. Just dont tell anyone that i told you or the kochs will black ball me.


      • Well yeah, but the Ohioans Are Dicks explanation doesn’t explain why AK reps and Senators can’t get Congress to pass a quick bill allowing the Board to bypass its rule this one time. Or at least, it doesn’t at first blush with me. (Is it a party/primary thing?)

        Like , I don’t know the politics, either, but I imagine it’s much harder to pass a law–even if it’s a “quick bill”–than it is simply to put language in a pending bill that prevents the renaming [ETA: especially if the bill doesn’t even need to pass to have this effect]. In the first case, the “quick” bill is probably the right thing to do, but so low on people’s priority list that few are going to want to spend the political capital just to change a name (meanwhile, the AK reps get credit for sponsoring the bill, even if it goes nowhere). In the second case, it’s relatively easy for some petty Ohioan politician to insert that language and stymie the existing effort.


  15. NYC renamed the Triborough Bridge the RFK Bridge. It hasn’t seemed to stick. I haven’t heard any complaints about it from a cultural or political level (not that I’m particularly tied in to circles where it’d be discussed), but please are slow to change.


  16. Like many here, I’m not so sure white privilege is the right way to frame this issue. It makes more sense to explain why the name was change dint he first place, but less sense to explain why the change back is being blocked.

    It seems like the issue could be just as easily framed as an overreaching federal government using legal chicanery to block the will of a state government.


    • It seems like the issue could be just as easily framed as an overreaching federal government using legal chicanery to block the will of a state government.

      From a functional pov, that’s exactly what’s happening: fedrul power trumping States’ Rights!!! That framing, however, while accounting for the power dynamics in play, fails to attribute a reason for the exercise. So unless you want to say that the rationale behind blocking the name change derives purely from a desire to preserve Fedrul Power – which seems not only inaccurate, in my view, but question begging without additional argument – then it seems reasonable to view all this according to another frame: that federal power is used to lever another interest. White privilege seems to account for that other interest quite nicely (even if we concede transparently self-serving Vote Gettin behavior on Regala’s part) given the dynamics in play, seems to me.


  17. At the time [ca. 1897] William Jennings Bryan, an opponent of both McKinley and the gold standard, was making real inroads with public opinion on the pro-silver stance….And thus in 1917 did Woodrow Wilson sign into law the Act to Establish the Mount McKinley National Park in the Territory of Alaska, which instructed the US Board of Geographic Names to change Densmore Mountain to Mt. McKinley on all current and future maps.

    I still have to read the comments, but I just wanted to point out an irony here: Bryan was Wilson’s secretary of state, although he (Bryan) had resigned by 1917.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *