Thursday, July 30, 2015

Privilege

I've written directly about race exactly twice on this blog: Once in a post called "White Privilege and The Limits of Denial," and then more recently in a post called "Why My Opinion of #BlackLivesMatter Doesn't Matter."

I'll make it an even three, because it's also inherent to white privilege to be part of a default privileged race, and not have to be conscious of my race in the way people of color are forced to be in America and around the world. So I get to just write about this issue a few times and be done with it, instead of living it every day, and that in and of itself is the essence of privilege.

But I digress.

White people get very defensive when we talk about "privilege." Someone said to me recently, "people can't help being born white or privileged. But to call them out as bad or racist because of it isn't any fairer than saying someone born into poverty chooses that and is a taker because of it. Isn't it up to us to acknowledge that we do get treated differently and it isn't right, rather than assuming that everyone is either ignorant or abuses the privileged situation purposely."

I totally agree with the part of this statement that I highlighted above. But I think the rest sort of misses the point.

In my opinion, white people inferring that they are being called racist or bad when their privilege is noted--even if they ARE being called that, and whether it's true or not--is basically just a self-punishing and defensive inference and reaction that distracts from the task at hand. That task is to listen and focus on what black people are saying and experiencing right now, instead of always turning the "conversation" back on ourselves and bristling at our own reactions and guilt.

It pains me to use the pronoun "we" and "our" here, but it's the truth. Yeah, I am white and privileged and I "feel bad" about that, but who cares? That's not really the point of the conversation. White feelings are not the point. Saying "it's not fair to call people out for privilege" is one step removed from the whole #AllLivesMatter malarkey. It's all part of the same white-centric perspective that directs us to always turn the dialogue back on ourselves, and make it all about our experiences, rather than focusing in a very direct way on what should really be happening among white people: a whole lot more listening to black people, and a whole lot less defending ourselves.

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