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Look At Me, I Have White Privilege!!

Article by Kameelah ( http://kameelahwrites.blogspot.com/2007/08/safe-terms-euphemisms-distracting.html)
For those who want to deepen their understanding of racism/white supremacy
Safe terms, Euphemisms, Distracting Discursive Projects: "White Privilege," What's in a Name?

Racialicious pointed me toward an awesome blog called the North Star which is "an online forum of discussion and debate maintained by black activist and justice-minded students at Yale University. By creating an easily-accessible online library of social and political commentaries, we strive to foster a community voice that calls for positive change at Yale and across the world."

I came across their recent post written by Naima and they put words to a lot of frustration I have held about the term "White Privilege" and those who use it so haphazardly. It is entitled "it ain't privilege, it's injustice" I have pasted a few parts here, with my response following the block quotes.

"however, the fact that most white students at yale (or in this nation) do not think critically about the relationship between their whiteness and social power does not mean that those white, self-professed progressives who recognize their social and economic privilege have accomplished anything more than a certain degree of honesty about history."

This here is an excellent point. I have actually grown exhausted with such
"self-congratulatory" declarations of "I have White Privilege." While such a declaration requires some introspection, for many Black folks it is a "duh" moment-a reality Black folks and other marginalized people have asserted for decades if not centuries. Sometimes I feel as if the "courageous," "I have White Privilege" declaration is supposed to be followed by high-fives or gold ribbons or an award ceremony hosted by Black folks who have been awaiting the day some White people begin to acknowledge in some part that life isn't peachy for all of this. Or maybe, after such declarations of "I have White Privilege" we are supposed to hold hands and hold a joyful funeral for the death of racism.


Declaring that you have white privilege does not make it disappear, nor does it make the lives of marginalized people any better. The problem with the self-congratulatory declaration of "I have White Privilege" is that sometimes-dang, all to often, after such a declaration, some White liberals will believe that their work is now done when all they have done is put together a truthful statement together. This is the danger of empty rhetoric and token sloganeering in anti-racist work. Of course, such a declaration does require some form of racial apostasy in the eyes of those who believe that slavery never existed and all the wealth and success held by White folks was gained from merit alone, but I challenge these people on the "privilege" tip to go a bit further. Now, maybe I am being too harsh, too critical, too acerbic, but at the end of the day, the term "White Privilege" does not even begin to address the relational power dynamics and the marginalization of people of color as Naima addresses with the following comment:

"news to the aforementioned self-congratulatory white Leftists:

the much-beloved term "White Privilege" fails to capture the reality of racial injustice in this nation. moreover, unquestioning and incessant talk about the special position that white people inhabit in society reproduces racial divisions in progressive movements and upholds the logic of White Supremacy.

not exactly revolutionary... "

"White Privilege" is a misnomer for it suggests that white people enjoy socioeconomic advantages and benefits beyond a standard level of rights and opportunity (which presumably non-white people are afforded). however, the term does not account for the exploitation and disfranchisement of people of color that is a consequence of "White Privilege." people of color do not possess the freedoms and protections of full and actualized citizenship. the legal and social structures of this nation do not merely demonstrate partiality towards white people but also simultaneously deny people of color the most basic of human rights, such as housing, health, education, justice, peace. the corollary to what some would term "White Privilege" is "colored degradation."

Safe terms, euphemisms, distracting discursive projects... these technologies are at the root of the term "White Privilege." White Privilege has become a seductive phrase because it has a distracting and perfunctory purpose of dancing around the core issues of violence, injustice and continued repression that make "White Privilege" a reality. The term "White Privilege" like when folks use the term prejudice instead of Racism is a euphemism for something bigger, more destructive, more violent, and more divisive than the term "White Privilege" even begins to illustrates. "White Privilege" like the term "Diversity" (versus marginalization) signifies no active project of subjugation-no historical situatedness, rather it is more closely identifies an ontological state with no relation to the "others." For someone to possess "White Privilege," someone else (ie. me, my neighbors, etc.) have to be put at an extreme disadvantage.

I like the point the Naima makes because "White Privilege" implies that everyone else's needs are sufficiently meet while white folks get a something extra on the side little. Like everyone in the world has a three piece Popeye's chicken meal and White folks get an extra biscuit-everyone's has something to eat, White folks have just a little extra. (I apologize for the fried Chicken analogy... ) This arrangement while disturbing, is less discomforting then saying that a majority of marginalized people do not have their basic set of rights meet at the same time that white folks enjoy increasing levels of socio-economic advantages. So if we want to break it down to the Popeye's analogy, that means that people of color are working with a one or no piece chicken meal because White folks are having a feast with extra sides, wings and biscuits. It is not my intention to distill this issue down to chicken and side dishes, but thought it would be a good visual analogy for our visual learners out there.

It is not the least bit revolutionary to latch on to a declaration that does not force you to confront how your privilege is connected to the continued degradation of others. The point is that before the "We've got White Privilege" crew goes running to collect their certificates for being "down," I suggest that consider another point raised by Naima:

"and so the white Leftists who think they are down because they have got the courage to lamentably declare, "We've got White Privilege," it would be more accurate and truthful to say instead, "We are beneficiaries of racism," or "We participate in a racialized system of oppression."

how much more reluctant is the race conscious white activist to admit that his "privilege" has a consequence, that his whiteness is more than merely a personal reality about his own social power but is also an agent of violence.

Let's see how many folks will walk around declaring "I am a beneficiary of racism."

part of the project for white activists in recognizing their "privilege" should be the rejection of it - one must repent from, rather than embody an identity that represents oppression in its representation of privilege. "White Privilege" ought not be considered permanent or inherent, as if it inescapably resides in a white activist's skin.

[... ]

it is a great contradiction and injury that so much of white Leftist culture hinges upon the use of "White Privilege" as a badge, shield, or excuse. such toxic rhetoric and action naturalize and uphold the racial injustice that undermines the integration, equality, and solidarity we profess to seek."

Here, again, another meaningful point. Often the "I have White Privilege" declaration is stated in an immutable way as if it is an inescapable identity, an unchangeable ontological state. Such a posturing removes responsibility from White leftists. While the White Privilege declaration is problematic and discursively (as well as materially) violent, such a declaration should at least be followed by a sincere and well thought out project to exorcise this Privilege, not carry it around like a clutch purse or backpack that seems to be tethered to your body because to carry without unpacking naturalizes and normalizes the power dynamic, rather than problematizing and smashing it.

homepage: homepage: http://thefreeslave.wordpress.com


hmmm 07.Aug.2007 00:50

fireweed

just wanted to point out that there have been zero comment posts thanking the author of the original post for anything they said

i mean pure thanks...there are a few "thank you- BUT!"'s w/the but much bigger than the thank you

it just goes to show it's NOT always easy to talk about the problem...and be heard...

the rest of y'all raise very valid problems as well. Beings other than humans need to be respected as good in and of themselves w/out being subjected to humans' needs, people can definitely ask to be asked to change in a way they find doable

there are some doable actions, in a shift of words and mindset used by white activists, that Maxjulian is asking for, so there ARE solutions on the table...if I'm getting this right, Max? Easier to change words than mindsets, and I'd love to hear more examples of white people embodying mindsets to avoid and to emulate...and that can come with the discussion...hopefully...so long as people's openness shows up and/or Maxjulian's strength to speak (or anyone else's) continues

A challenge- surely there are many things, critiques aside, about this post to thank? For one, we're discussing this now. If all oppressions are interwoven, could we possibly hurt our liberation by giving equal space to thank and critique?

Thank you all so much for caring enough to write. That in itself is something.

Thank you for keeping these other oppressions in mind, and contributing to a discussion that interweaves class, speciesism, and tactics...

I'd like to see more interweaving, rather than each person coming to the table with the one oppression most urgent to them

I am grateful that we see differently enough to challenge each other towards a deeper level of support

a 07.Aug.2007 13:59

dude

great article. thought provoking and in my opinion a positive contribution to greater understanding

the writing about the term 'white privilege'? spot on!

thanks

i have been spoon fed and i now i can't see... 07.Aug.2007 17:07

--------

thanks maxjullian. another great article.

the discussion of racism is not a platform for animal rights. I have actually seen animal rights activists target the one person of color in a group, the one time any issue of race comes up. and more than once. one more piss poor depressing dynamic.

let the discussion of racism stand WITHOUT ATTACK. otherwise it just smells like you have hostility for other reasons.

Well jesus christ - I think if the original poster 07.Aug.2007 18:08

ooo

hadn't put a tortured chicken on every person's plate (see quote), the issue of animals wouldn't have come up. So if in the course of some other progressive issue I nonchalantly start talking about dead black slaves, as though it's just part of the natural order, I expect you to not speak up about it. Yeah, I get that animal issues are a nonissue for most progressives (because you like your meat) - but if you don't want to hear about it, then think about the words you use so that others don't feel that they have to speak up because you just said something completely fucking offensive.

If the "one person of color" in the group you speak of was promoting speciesist ideas, I would expect that someone would speak to them, the same way that people would speak to feminists who were racist, or black people who were homophobic. I doubt you have a problem with that. Check yourself and your lousy attitudes towards species other than human.

christ? 07.Aug.2007 21:39

-----------------

I actively support animal rights and do not eat meat. You have to understand though, that your commments in this context can be read as race baiting. I have noticed that the subject of racism illicits a knee jerk reaction from (some) animal rights activists. I think the theory is: "how can you talk about injustice between humans when animals have it so much worse"? I hear that, but it reminds me of a lot of other "great white hopes", where some rightious crusade is distorted for the purpose of maintaining the status quo. Your timing is bad, your critique misplaced.

to person who made the christ comment... 08.Aug.2007 00:44

Peter

I think what spurred the animal comment was the "everyone is eating Popeye's chicken" thing. I see that as a very speciesist comment and it is right that it was challenged. I'm wondering (seriously) what you think would be the way to challenge that that would be acceptable? I personally don't think there's a way to do it without having people who are speciesist overreact (because their worldview is challenged), but I'd sure be interested in hearing your suggestions!

Question 08.Aug.2007 09:24

fireweed

I second Peter's question- though would also very much direct that question at everyone who comments solely on animal rights. Is there a good way to raise racism issues? What is that way, if so?

One possible awareness is that people who are other than white (or even olive) get disproportionately blamed for the ills of both their own lives and of white society. I liked the question about whether or not black people actually consume more meat than white people, and would add to that a question of habitat loss- how big is the average black family's ecological footprint, compared to a white family? Or an average poor family's footprint compared to a rich family? The categories are not the same exactly, but black people are overall getting poorer again compared to white, and from a green perspective, habitat loss is still the greatest DIRECT cause of species extinction.

This doesn't, to me, mean that black or brown people don't have responsibility, just to beg the question of how to behave in a way that seeks out, let alone demonstrates that awareness?

Indirectly, I think disrespect of other living beings drives habitat loss. I also think respect is easier to talk about than to act out. I had a stand-down with a cougar, possibly because I had been camping in one of its few remaining forest corridors? (but that's just a guess). I thought I was going to the woods to respect the woods, but in reality, there was so much I didn't know. I'd also draw that analogy with racism...as a white person coming from a lily-white background, there is a great deal I don't know & would need to learn to even begin to know how to show awareness, let alone respect.

I like the direction Peter's question is going in because to me it's impossible for respect to be worth much w/out integrity. And Peter, it seems as if you're asking how to show respect from a place of integrity- is that right?

White Privilege 08.Aug.2007 21:26

ndn

I thought this was a discussion about white privilege? Here is a good example of how white privilege works. Whitey gets on a forum challenging their white privilege and therefore they have to distract it with some other "superior" ideal, such as what is that bullshit?...speciesism.

But you see, here is the thing about white privilege. People are being killed so you all can have it. People on the rez's, people of color in your neighborhoods, the Jena six will get decades in prison for a school fight, the aborigines in Australia will have a nuclear dump forced on their land and their children are currently being sexually abused by the state, and you vegan folks (by the way, I hate vegans) undoubtedly white or white-identified, come here with your superior attitudes to talk about speciesism to distract from what the subject really is about, and that is YOUR white privilege. What are you all afraid of...that we all might do the same to you that you did to us? We ain't you! We want justice. Real justice! Not this American BS alleged court system.

This is a discussion about white privilege, whitey! This ain't about animals whom you consider above people of color, and yes, I mean that like it sounds and I am saying it because it is true. It's not white people you think of as being beneath animals. You don't discuss white privilege on forums about racism and white privilege, you discuss speciesism you RACIST bastards.

And, as usual, I will make my usual statement to you vegans, whom I loathe with to the depths of my soul: "Being a vegan doesn't make you holy...it only makes you vegan."

Get off of your high white privileged horse and get to really discussing your white privilege because your white privilege IS KILLING PEOPLE!

White Guild 09.Aug.2007 07:15

ndn

White guilt is a continued excuse to do NOTHING! Asking us for answers is a continued excuse to do nothing. That way you can say, "see, people of color don't have the answers either, therefore I don't have to do a thing to change or even attempt to." I would say that it is a process.

I, as a person with a job, have a privilege. Having a job is an actual human right. In this society it is a privilege. I have the use of technology, again, a privilege. In Indian societies I am more openly accepted because I LOOK Indian (though I am hardly connected with my culture). I am a male and therefore privileged above women...I don't have to walk down the street and worry of someone is going to attack me.

As a person having these privileges, I try to speak out on what those who don't have to go through and that we as a society, who benefit from such privilege (privilege meaning others have to suffer in order for us to have more). I try to take actions, but rarely do. I have always believed that to take effective action means getting the masses together to do so. I could show you pictures of great amounts of suffering WORLD WIDE, yes, including these alleged great United States. Still, ain't gonna be anybody doing a thing. I could bring up the fact that CEO's, like David Lesar, make decisions that destroy lives, kill people, and commit genocide daily, still, no one is gonna do shit. I could take action on my own, but how effective would that be. People don't gather enmasse over the killing of other people. The closest they get is anti-war rallies. No body goes after such folks like David Lesar.

Racism is a tool of this type of system. It is an effective tool to keep us separated in order to keep the ultra privileged from having to face justice for their genocidal and criminal decisions that create the suffering of millions WORLDWIDE. Racism is just one of those tools to keep us separated and to use as a weapon against folks like Iraqi's. It is a tool people will continue to use to keep us separated instead of examine and work AS A PROCESS to change and to create community across racial lines to bring down the monster of empire. There is no one answer. It is a process. Sexism, classism, destruction of environment, etc., are all tools this society uses to keep the status quo of the ultra-privileged. We here at the bottom (often referred to as "beasts" by the ultra elite), spend our good FIGHT energy fighting amongst each other instead of going en masse to David Lesar's house, camping out and never letting that monster feel safe making decisions that kill thousands and oppress millions ever again.

In other words, the "Man" doesn't need the FBI, CIA, or the Police to stop us. We're pretty effective at doing that ourselves, thank you very much.

If I believed it would do anything, I would give up my privilege, my SAFETY, and do what I needed to do. But, "the man" has effective tools to make it look like whatever I did was useless or unjustified and business will continue as usual.

And racism will continue to be a tool to keep us seprated, like sexism, classism, fear, WMD's, allegations of terror, state sanctioned terror, etc.

What do we do? What are you going to do about racism, classism, sexism, terror (state sanctioned and otherwise), etc.?

to ndn 11.Aug.2007 02:11

fireweed

I'm going to speak out, and act, and fuck up, & deal with and get over it.

I'm going to widen my circle of awareness & build friendships and shut up and listen. Shutting up and listening is sometimes the hardest part, especially because it's usually but not always the best thing to do. Sometimes it's the worst.

I'm going to remember I'm more than any isms, but give up trying to define what is an ism and what isn't by myself. I'm going to learn how to dynamically define my isms & myself by continually reaching out to the same and to different friends, acquaintances, & strangers in the same and different ways.

I'm going to remember that we're all dealing with some excellent parts of life and some really messed up ones.

Hopefully that will be enough.