When I was a child, Grandma and I spent hours in Concord Baptist Church in Forest, Mississippi, at revival, in Home Mission and in Sunday school, hoping that we’d learn to walk with Jesus and protect our insides from what white folks had done, were doing and would do. But in far way more ways than either of us want to admit, in our healing spaces in Concord – the place where we were taught to love, honor and remember humungous parts of ourselves – we were also taught to become the world’s biggest fools to and for white folks and white supremacy.
We members of Concord were supposed to love white folks because they knew not what they did. We were supposed to heal them because they knew not who they were. We were supposed to forgive them because salvation awaited she or he who could withstand the wrath of the worst of white folks. We were supposed to pray for them, often at the expense of our own healthy reckoning.
Grandma and her church taught me that loving white folks in spite of their investment in our terror was our only chance of not becoming them morally.
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Our burden as White people is to work to highlight and expose, as much as we can, the many ways that the system in which we live is fundamentally, at its core, racist. This burden is ours not because anything in particular is our individual fault, but because it is our responsibility, and we are up to the task. (To put it another way, you obviously never owned slaves, and you might have been born after the end of de jure segregation, but don’t get too smug about all that.)
It is also unfortunately true that a great many of our fellow White people are much more likely to listen and understand this issue if the message comes from one of us.
This is why I don’t like the story of the good samaritan. Everyone likes to think of themselves as the person who sees someone beaten and bloodied and helps him out.
That’s too easy.
If I could re-write that story, I’d rewrite it from the perspective of Black America. What if the person wasn’t beaten and bloody? What if it wasn’t so obvious? What if they were just systematically challenged in a thousand small ways that actually made it easier for you to succeed in life? Continue reading
As many beautifully-snarky people have pointed out in recent years, it’s getting harder and harder to be White, male, heterosexual, and/or cisgender in this country these days without having to occasionally think about one or more of these identities in ways that might make us uncomfortable. (Full disclosure: I am all of those things listed in the previous sentence.) I have the utmost faith that we can handle it, though, and that we will emerge better for it.
I only recently (i.e. in the past 4-5 years) came to understand the extent to which I do not have to consider how my race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. affect my daily life. Other people do not have that luxury.
I’m not talking about any great epiphany that I had. Really, the most important thing that I have come to understand and accept is this: with respect to people whose lives are not like mine, I don’t understand their daily reality, and I will never fully understand. To put it another way, I get that I don’t get it.
I’ve had numerous discussions on social media and in real life (yes, IRL conversations do still happen, even with people who live glued to a computer like me) recently about how to recognize and understand our various forms of privilege, and how it can be difficult because of the way our society tends to view most of my attributes (White, male, etc.) as the “default” setting.
As a sort of confession, I used to be of the mindset that racism, sexism, etc. were not my fault, because I never owned slaves, I hadn’t even been born when Mad Men took place, and so on. It’s a seductive view for someone who wants to be on the right side of history while keeping a perfectly clear conscience, but it’s not true. Continue reading
In America, class lines run parallel to racial lines. At the very bottom are people of color. The Caucasian equivalent is me—an Appalachian. As a male Caucasian in America, I am supposed to have an inherent advantage in every possible way. It’s true. I can pass more easily in society. I have better access to education, health care, and employment. But if I insist on behaving like a poor white person—shopping at secondhand shops and eating mullet—I not only earn the epithet of “trash,” I somehow deserve it.
The term “white trash” is class disparagement due to economics. Polite society regards me as stupid, lazy, ignorant, violent and untrustworthy.
I am trash because of where I’m from.
I am trash because of where I shop.
I am trash because of what I eat.
– Chris Offut, “Trash Food,” Oxford American, April 10, 2015
Dear Antivaxxer: This is why I do not care for you, Skewed Distribution, March 26, 2012
Over the years I have heard many plaintive cries from the anti-vax movement about those who would dare to confront them. They ask for respect for their opinions and don’t understand why I am so “mean” to them. Here you go, anti-vaxxer. Here is why I am the Honeybadger, and you are the cobra.
1. You believe that your opinion should be respected no matter how ridiculous it may be.
I must quote Poland and Jacobson to begin with. “Ultimately, society must recognize that science is not a democracy in which the side with the most votes or the loudest voices gets to decide what is right“. Anti-vaxxers, your opinions regarding vaccination are not based on science. They are ill-formed things with little basis in any reality and are due no respect whatsoever. I do not know where the idea that all opinions must be respected came from, anyway. Should I respect the opinion of a racist or a bigot? No, I should not. And I do not now, nor will I ever, respect yours. Just because you state your dangerous antivaccination views “politely” on an internet message board does not mean that you are due any kindness. It’s like putting a pretty red bow on a turd. The underlying basis of your belief system is about as rude and harmful as can be imagined; therefore, I do not feel compelled to be “nice” to you for any reason.
[Emphasis in original.]
My week in the right-wing lie machine: When Fox News, Twitchy and Montel Williams declared war on me, David Masciotra, Salon, December 18, 2014 Continue reading
Fox and Friends had a sad over the DOJ mentioning white privilege at Ferguson talk, Robyn Pennacchia, Death and Taxes, December 9, 2014
Co-host Brian Kilmeade felt that by even acknowledging the fact that white privilege exists, the Department of Justice was “taking sides,” when it was supposed to be neutral. And the neutral position is that white privilege does not exist. At least for the co-hosts of Fox and Friends. Who are all–by sheer coincidence, I’m sure–white people.
How is it taking sides to discuss the very real fact of white privilege? There are sides in this? How are there sides?
It’s like a small child closing their eyes and telling everyone “You can’t see me now! I’m invisible!”
You know, this, and the way they talk about “pulling the race card” and “race baiting”–it’s as though they’re thinking “We simply cannot let black people find out about racism, or they are gonna be so pissed.” or “Maybe if we pretend racism and white privilege don’t exist, all the black people will think they’re just imagining it, and then we can all pretend that everything is just fine.”
[Emphasis in original.]
One University Found a New, Awful Way to Talk About Jennifer Lawrence’s Nude Photo Leak, Jordan Valinsky, Mic, December 9, 2014 Continue reading
Over the past couple of days, I have participated in several heated discussions on Facebook regarding white privilege, largely inspired by these two articles:
- The 5 Stages of White Privilege Awareness, nance, The Rusty Life, March 1, 2014
- Recovery From Privilege, Doug Muder, Free and Responsible Search, March 18, 2014
Some people are politely skeptical of the idea, while other are very actively hostile towards it. All I’m really trying to say is that as a white person, there’s a lot I don’t know, and we should all try listening now and then. Maybe I’m still stuck in Stage 3 as described in nance’s article, or maybe not. I’m just going to reprint some of my comments from Facebook below without any further editing, in case I need to bring them up again.
No one is saying that people with privilege should feel guilty. In fact, the only people who routinely mention “guilt” are the privileged people insisting that they refuse to feel guilty about the circumstances of their lives, which makes me think they doth protest too much.
You are focusing on your intent, which might not be in any way malicious–but that doesn’t mean that well-meaning people with privilege can’t cause harm. (In fact, the well-meaning can often cause great deals of harm.) You have to look at it from the point of view of a person being harmed. Would you care if the person actively harming you was being malicious or not? Probably not–I know I’d want the harm to stop first, and maybe then we could all chat about it.
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One of the most difficult concepts for me in coming to understand my own privilege (PDF file) is the idea that you can have privilege in society and still be miserable. I don’t even have much of anything to complain about from society’s standpoint—I was born a white, mid-to-upper-middle-class, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, reasonably-conventionally-attractive male. (I had never even heard the word “cisgender” until about two years ago, and my iPhone autocorrect still doesn’t seem to know it.) The only areas where I might lack privilege (atheism and mental health) are not immediately apparent to people who don’t know me, and haven’t seriously impacted my life (mostly because of the areas where I am privileged).
Whatever struggles I have had in my life, I’ve always had the benefit of financial support, access to good health care, and everything else that comes with the various categories I listed above. I’m not saying this to brag, but rather to say that I’m very, very lucky, and to illustrate that the challenge for me and others like me, when it comes to privilege, is understanding and acknowledging all the ways it has helped me while doing what I can to make things better (or at least not make them worse.) This mostly involves shutting up and listening.
A blog post by Gina Crosley-Corcoran entitled “Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person…” (h/t Elizabeth) captures the seeming conflict between white privilege and actual lived experience: Continue reading