White privilege

17 Aug

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I spend a lot of time calling out white privilege on Twitter. As it isn’t the job of racialized people to teach us white people about how we’re maintaining a system that keeps (some of) us up and (many of) them down, I do what I can to take this issue on, where I see it.

To appreciate this post, you’ll have to imagine a Twitter flame war i had last night: four white folks. Me, a classmate and friend of mine (let’s call him Kye) based in a mid-sized town in a square-shaped province, the daughter of a mayor of a provincial capital (let’s call her Missy) and a hopeful candidate for a city councilor position in the same city (let’s call him Mr. Smith).

I’ll spare you the details of the flame war and leave it at this: Kye argues that white privilege exists. Missy’s brain leaks out of her eyes at the suggestion that she didn’t work harder than everyone else in the world to earn her nice material objects. Mr. Smith comes in at some point saying that the system isn’t as racist as Kye says it is. I agree with Kye and use the most obvious example of white privilege and supremacy I can think of: Canada’s prison system. Mr. Smith says that people go to jail as a result of bad parenting. I point out that he’s suggesting that racialized people must then be worse parents than white folks, which is a racist assertion. Conversation dies off.

Nothing is really resolved and it was probably a huge waste of time. A huge, but important waste of time.

White privilege is only invisible to white people. If you can’t put your finger on racism, you’re experiencing white privilege. Unlike racialized folks, white folks can go through life not really thinking about race (like, I just don’t see race, you know?) We can do this because our dominance renders our “race” invisible.

But, as Jesus teaches the children, just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

When I get really annoyed with an issue, I resort to making a list, so, to help white folks understand what is white privilege, here’s my angry list.

(Disclaimer: there’s a ton of well written and accessible things out there that are better than what I write. If you’re genuinely interested in this, please Google the topic and read through what you find. Unless it’s on a racist blog or Sun TV.)

Some signs that you benefit from privilege:

1. Your white skin has never caused people to pause and think, damn this person may be (fill in the blank for whatever societal ill or stereotype you can imagine: lazy, slow, unemployable, a janitor, a nanny etc.)

2. You’ve worked jobs (even if they’re shitty jobs) because of a family connection. You know that time you filed papers in your father’s law office for a summer? That’s an example of privilege.

3. No one in your family experienced the Residential School system.

4. You don’t experience racism daily.

5. None of the comments on a mainstream news source’s website are targeted at an identity you hold.

6. You actually believe that your success is the result of your own hard work (hint: it’s not. Ever worked a low-paying shit job? You’ll work twice as hard). I don’t want to rain on your parade, but the folks who made you your coffee are working just as hard (or maybe even harder) than you. Deal with it.

7. When you speak with authority, people *might* criticize your opinion but never who they perceive you to be.

8. You’ve mostly had white teachers, professors and doctors, your whole life.

9. You have a hard time thinking of the last time you witnessed something that you would consider to be really racist.

10. Ah come on, if I haven’t made by point by number 2, you’re not going to be learned by this blog.

I’m really struggling with how to write this properly, because it seems that nothing I say here is good enough to convey some of the points that I’m hoping to make. So I’ll resort to another list.

Things to remember:

1. No one’s blaming you personally (unless you have said or done something that was racist). White privilege isn’t insidious because white people sometimes do racist things. It’s the system. It’s the system that can ensure that Black boys in the GTA drop out of school at a rate of 40%. It’s the system that makes it such that the Aboriginal population in prison in Manitoba is 71% and Saskatchewan is nearly 80% (eighty-fucking-per-cent).

2. When confronted by someone about your white privilege, chill the fuck out. Before allowing your ear juices to pour through your nose, walk away from the computer and suck that shit back in. Think about how your whiteness is playing a role in the situation at hand.

3. It does become your fault when you deny that these facts are indicators of a system that privileges some over others, based on race.

4. When you come to terms that you benefit from white privilege, this does not give you a pass to feel really, really guilty. You’re not the victim and you’re not personally to blame. Convert feelings of guilt into passion for action and confronting this system when you can.

5. Every time someone experiences racism and you don’t, you come out ahead. Think of it as like a star in Super Mario. If you don’t have to contend with that and your best friend does, they have to work harder to keep up with you while you’re givin’er with that 6 seconds of fast-star-juice. Think about that multiplied over a lifetime.

I’m really conscious of wordcount and so I’m going to leave it there with the commitment to return to the issue. White people: use caution when you’re operating in the world. Think about your actions, think about the unintended results of your actions and act to change this system.

I promise you, your life will be enriched when everyone benefits equitably and when everyone is actually equal.

[photo was stolen from these fine folks: http://howistrike.tumblr.com/post/22121884200/i-strike-because-my-class-and-white-privilege]
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2 Responses to “White privilege”

  1. Nora Loreto August 17, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    This is from Sheelah McLean who got at me on Facebook (had some difficulty posting a comment here)

    Sheelah McLean
    Hey Nora – I have been enjoying your blogs! I’d like to share some things I have learned over the past 8 years as whiteness is a big part of my study. These are understandings I have gained from scholars of color and white anti-racist. Ever
    yone is racialized, The concept fo race is socially constructed and relational, so that whites are racialized as superior, and people of color as inferior. The construction of whiteness as a racial group is also interconnected with other identities such as sexuality, gender, class,ability etc. So there are ‘shades’ of whiteness which have determined a history of social, political, and economic power. However in Canada, white supremacy has been maintained. That means white-settlers have maintained control of every institution, all lands, and resources. Whiteness as a racial construct is denied while whites aggressively and violently maintain power. So I think rather than talk about white priviledge, it is more accurate to discuss a context of white supremacy. All whites benefit from racism. I have also been studying white terror, understanding how everyday acts of racism, and living in a white supremist context constitute violence in various ways. There are many overt examples of this such as genocide, slavery, and residential schools, but Fanon and bell hooks discuss subtle violence such as a look of distain or constant fear. Also check out Zeus Leonardo’s work. I agree with him that whites know a lot about racism. White people deny racism to maintain a system of power…this is not innocence or ignorace – the outcome of racial inequality and racism is obvious and clear.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Bizzaro racism « Dulce et Decorum - August 23, 2012

    […] writing my last post about white privilege I figured it was time to talk about the usual, predictable corollary to that discussion. So […]

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