Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Dear White People: A Perspective On White Privilege

Dear White People:

This word 'racism' is being thrown around a lot lately, and I know it makes a lot of y'all angry and resentful.

And I understand that. It hurts to have a word like 'racist' applied to you, especially because you don't hate black people and you don't think you're better than black people and you have lots of black friends, and you believe in equality for everyone.

But 'racist' in the meaning it's used in today does not mean 'KKK member' - it merely means that in our society, there are difficulties that black folk face that white people are not even aware of.

It does not mean you are an asshole or hate black people.

It means this: that there is something called 'white privilege' that most white people don't notice in their daily lives. We don't notice it precisely because it is a privilege. Doors are open to us that we take for granted, and that we assume are open to everyone. We may think that if someone isn't succeeding the way we are, that it's because they aren't working hard enough, or expect things to be handed to them. Or if they succeed when we don't, it's because they got something handed to them that white people don't get - a free pass 'just because they're black' - i.e. 'affirmative action'.

Just because we don't see the signs of racism doesn't mean they aren't there. One example I use is being a white mom. I am a mother of sons in their teens and early twenties. But black mothers have a fear that I don't have. Rich or poor, all black mothers of teenage sons have to worry that someone may mistake their child for a criminal and kill them - for wearing the wrong style of clothing, for looking 'menacing' or looking like they're in a gang. There's no amount of money, status, or prestige that can insulate a black mom from that fear - a fear that even very poor white moms do not have to carry around because of skin color. In other words, poor white moms have their own fears about their sons, but it's not their skin color alone that is the determining factor.

When you hear the word 'racist' applied to white people as a group, this is part of what they're talking about. But it doesn't make you personally a hater. It does mean that we have biases that we may not be aware of, and we can help eliminate racism by taking a deeper look and listening to what black folk are saying about their own experiences, not project ours onto them. We don't have to be defensive. We're not being attacked personally.

We can be part of the solution.

I hear from so many white people - good-hearted, well-meaning people - that they feel insulted by being called racists (or think that dicussing racism is pointing the finger directly at them and calling them racists).

I am not talking here about the intentional racists - who ARE hateful assholes - but people who genuinely believe in equality, and just don't get that there is anything in society that is still racist, because they themselves don't see or experience it. They see any discussion of racism as someone attacking them personally and saying "you are a bigot who hates black people." I wish that instead of being offended, they could say, "Hey - I did not know that. I never thought of it in that way. I wasn't aware that this is how you feel" and maybe think through it, and maybe look at themselves to see where they could change their perspective. There's nothing 'attacking' about that.

They don't realize how 'white-centric' their world is, because they've never known anything else. It does not mean that individual white people have never struggled or had doors closed to them, but that society as a whole is still skewed in favor of white people. It just is. And understanding and acknowledging that is not saying "I'm an intolerant, racist asshole who is trying to put black folk down" - it is the first step in maybe making things better.

As a white person, it is not my place to speak for the black experience. But I hope that I can get my white friends to understand how and why it is that black folk are still marginalized in our society, and that being aware of that marginalization is not 'putting down white folks'. It's not a matter of 'white guilt'; it's a matter of 'if you know better, you do better.' Everyone wins in that case.

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