When Hit Dogs Holler: White Privilege and the Denial Thereof

And here I am again writing about something which I had no real intention to write about but circumstance seemed to necessitate otherwise.

My original post this week wasn’t going to be about race. I was actually going to address something a bit lighter, but I had a bit of an awakening of late that has led me to understand something:

On the matter of solving modern American racism, a lot of white people would prefer to ignore it away, derail the conversation so that all the two ways white people are at a disadvantage are the center of attention, or only talk about race in a manner that does not make them look or feel bad.

Uhhhhhh…

I mean I wasn’t completely lost on this notion because I wasn’t so naïve to think that my views (established by my lived experiences) were of universal understanding in the white community; but boy I certainly did not expect the manifestation of deep-seeded racism that quietly paints the inside of the minds of some of my white “friends” last week.

It all came to light when I posted this really great article from Thought Catalogue by Macy Sto. Domingo on my personal Facebook wall. I did it absentmindedly without any of my own commentary because I felt it was thorough enough already. My main goal was just to share it with some of my friends who I thought might find it interesting. I did not at all anticipate the 263 comment thread that was to ensue over the next two and a half days, but my did it get nasty. The first comments, from people I don’t even talk to on a regular basis, started it out pretty rough (also note the ‘likes’ on the dissenting statements).

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And then it went downhill from there.

There were accusations of reverse racism…

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…there was the detailing of white plight, flat out white privilege denial and more reverse racism claims…

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…there were attempts to trivialize the experience of the article’s author as a person of color and more white plight and to further diminish the urgency of racism’s affects on modern society (and perhaps justify it) with evangelist doctrine…

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…and the overall policing of potentially productive social justice conversations.

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This is usually my approach to social justice–simply confronting problems we face, such as racial inequality, with straightforward, yet amicable conversation; but I see now that this will be more difficult than I anticipated. Some of the other social justice advocates I follow and interact with had all already arrived at this understanding: when it comes to addressing modern-day American racism, some white Americans, a lot more than I want to admit, cannot function in a conversation about race without attempting to highlight an “equally relevant concern” that somehow their opportunities, rights and freedoms are being infringed upon as more and more people of color strive for true equality in the eyes of the white majority, the federal government and the American justice system. They seem unable to grasp the concept that the elevation of people of color through laws and social programs does not mean their imminent decline in social status in any regard, but remains a (sometimes feeble) attempt to rectify widespread injustices leveled on people of color by an overwhelmingly clueless white majority, all of which is well-documented (and equally ignored or denied) throughout history. We (people of color) didn’t start this fire despite being consumed by it time and time again.

Needless to say the negative attitudes in response to the article, the adamant denial of the privileges white people inherently possess as a condition of their majority status and the history of racism, only proved that white privilege exists and how detrimental it is to our society in regard to achieving social harmony in America and abroad. I understand how members of the young white generation, most of whom may not actively participate in racist activity, see a social justice agenda and catch a feeling…

We get it. You are not your parents or your ancestors’ mistakes and crimes.

You do, however, benefit from the power they usurped from those they exploited early on in the history of world and in some ways continue to do so.

White privilege is a very big part of what enables white people to live in a world where they are largely unaffected by routine, widespread discrimination, institutional or otherwise, the likes of which is faced by people of color everyday around the world. As civil rights activists Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton wrote in their book Black Power: Politics of Liberation in America  “this is not to say that every single white American consciously oppresses black people. He does not need to. Institutional racism has been maintained deliberated by the power structure and through indifference, inertia and lack of courage on the part of white masses as well as petty officials”. So while racism seems unlikely to be eradicated anytime soon, a huge step in that direction can be taken should white people, not necessarily relinquish any rights or privileges, but begin to see the world through eyes that are alert to the advantages they have in various strata of modern living and choose instead to live in such a way that breeds a more natural equality, that puts us all on the same playing field. I think it’s at least worth a try, but ultimately this decision is not left up to me. That choice, that power is with those white people who are open-minded enough to will racism into nothingness.

Here’s to hoping we can move in this direction and I can begin to write about something less daunting!

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5 thoughts on “When Hit Dogs Holler: White Privilege and the Denial Thereof

  1. I think… the problem people have with white privilege is… three-fold. The first is the frustration of being constantly bombarded with all the ways in which they are unfairly advantaged, but never being given any real recourse for what to do about it. The most frustrating thing is to be told all the ways in which you are the problem without ever having any kind of hope for a solution. It becomes a kind of situation in which the person’s very existence is the problem, there is no solution. To counter all the multitudes of lists of what white privilege is, it would be nice to see a list of “and HERE is how you can use it for good” to be somewhat cliche. That removes, or at least reduces, the level of frustration individuals can feel over the fact that, let’s face it, most individuals really can’t do anything about the items on those lists to begin with.

    The second problem is that often the lists contain one or more things that is either hyperbolic, fallacious, or really not ultimately a problem of white privilege. Such as lists that say things like “I can arrange to be around people like me if I want.” Most people can. Minorities can very much chose to live within their own closed communities if they choose, so that really isn’t a product of privilege but of choosing who our interactions are with. Rather it would seem more accurate to the idea of privilege if it was worded like – “I am not left *at a disadvantage* if I choose to be around only those who are like me.”

    Third, and really least in some way, is that it ignores that white privilege is only one of a myriad of privileges that any given person could have, and it is hyper-focused on a time and place rather than global or historical realities (though, admittedly, most people are pretty ignorant of those anyway.) It makes the person in question feel that they are being unfairly targeted and they want to argue with such things as slavery being practiced by Africans as well, or that Irish were slaves in the Americas, so why should they be getting all this negative flack for something that everyone has done or has had done to them.

    As with the above example of being around those ‘like themselves’, a person who lives in a country in which Europeans are a non-powered minority would be denied a fair number of the things on that list, and yet they would still have to a large degree the benefits of white privilege. That makes the lists again seem both inadequate and frustrating, when you can use them as a checklist to say “no, no, no” it only makes it seem that the idea of white privilege is easily dismissed.

    Rather, it’s a kind of power privilege that is, at present, held largely by white people but is not *inherent* to white people. White people are not any more or less evil than any other group of people. Europeans mostly hold the distinction of being the most *recent* and thanks to technological advancements made just at the right (or perhaps wrong) time, the more efficient among those who have done so in history.

    So by acknowledging that these privileges are less about being white itself, and more about being part of the ‘power’ group which is currently held by white people, it can help reduce the instinctual reaction to reject them or the feelings of being helpless against it. We can say that society is currently structured to benefit people who are white more than others, but that being white itself is not the problem. Just like male privilege is not about saying being male is the problem, it’s about understanding that society as a structure conveys certain benefits to being male, and that these societal structures are so old and so ingrained as to be nearly invisible. It is then no wonder that those who aren’t negatively affected are the least likely to see them. The rich don’t realize just how much more they have than the poor, men don’t realize how much less they struggle than women, and white people often have no idea just how unbalanced society is toward them.

    Now obviously no matter how it is stated, no matter how gentle or encouraging something is, there will always be those who fight it or reject it or just don’t care at all. But I think where we are today is there are still so many people for whom this is an entirely new concept, who may for the first time ever be hearing that they were born… not with privilege they shouldn’t have, but rather, have privileges that are unfairly denied to others. And yes, I admit, it isn’t fair that the feelings of people who are already better off should be considered in such conversations, but when was the last time that you were in a conversation where your feelings were not only disregarded, but derided, and yet you felt compelled to remain part of the conversation?

    Ignorance is not a crime, I would rather say it is a crime to keep someone in ignorance. Previous generations have committed this crime, and people alive today are as much victims of that as they are unwitting perpetrators of it. When you have been taught since you were old enough to understand that racism is in the past, when this is something that you learn at school, that your parents tell you, then being ignorant of the reality is part of a careful conditioning, not a willing blind eye. And you don’t need to give someone a black eye were a pair of glasses would do.

    I guess all this is just to say… lists are all well and good, so long as they are fully accurate to what is actually being discussed and that they offer a way forward instead of just a club to the head.

    1) You see people who reflect your ethnicity and culture in media. Be aware that many people don’t, or that these reflections are negative or singular stereotypes. Be conscious of it, so that if you find a particular show, or author, or movie, that is more inclusive, you can support them with your patronage. Don’t support those who are continuing the act of exclusion or perpetuating unhealthy stereotypes.

    This example gives you the basic bullet point, but also explains why this is part of the problem of privilege, and a way to move forward to address it. The alternative far too often *comes across* as this in people’s minds:

    1) You see people who reflect your ethnicity and culture in media. You should feel ashamed. You can’t do anything about this, since you don’t have any power to actually affect the people producing this content, but we’re going to constantly remind you that it’s wrong and that because of this, you’re a bad person.

    … this is way more than I thought I was going to write when I started… so I apologize for ‘wall-o-text’ing your entry.

    • I’m going to try to be as succinct as possible in responding so I apologize in advance if my deduction and reasoning seem a little lackluster.

      The first fold of the problem…in this specific blog post I made a point to recognize that “being pointed at as the bad guy” isn’t necessarily going to be a great feeling. I understand this completely. But what you have to understand is that because the ascendants of modern white America screwed people of color over royally, modern white America has been handed this legacy and they are who is responsible for cleaning up the bulk of the mess. We’re all in this together, but it’s kind of ridiculous to ask people of color to hold white people’s hands and guide them to a mindset of sensitivity and sensibility, namely because they have been doing so since colonialism, since the rise of abolitionism, Reconstruction era, Civil Rights Movement, and so on and so on. Most of this “how-to” list you would like provided is common sense. Take wealth for example. It’s common sense that people who make more money should be taxed more than those of us who do not make a lot of money and yet through political influence the wealthy still managed for a long time to evade harsher tax codes. The wealthy in this scenario had all the resources in the world and almost as much reason to pay their fair share, but of course, because of greed, they decide to fight tooth and nail for higher tax rates. The same goes for race relations. White Americans have a laundry list of reasons provided to them through various resources (i.e. books, movies, family history, friends of color) to examine their privilege, but because of their pride refused to do so. There’s no excuse. People of color, as they have forever, are saying, nay SCREAMING, “wake up”.

      The second problem you mention…is valid, but not as big a deal as you think and actually borders on the attempt to diminish the experience of people of color much like many white people do in race conversations. There are probably exaggerations in every argument, but in the argument made against white privilege there is not much I can deem to be “hyperbolic, fallacious or really not ultimately a problem of white privilege” as white privilege is essentially a social norm that is written into the very code of culturally/racially mixed populations and is felt, in some way, by people of color. As for minorities choosing to live in closed communities, there is a reason for that…because that’s where one is more likely to find support and resources for them to have some semblance of a life instead of outside that community where you are affirmed that the color of your skin, your otherness, is not as desirable or important as that of white people’s. For those of us who dare venture out, it’s not necessarily because we want to because a lot of us from an early age realize that the world doesn’t take kindly to people of color…and yet many of us press on. We make do. I attended Auburn University (PWI) over Tuskegee University (HBCU) for post-secondary education. The two universities are about 20 minutes from each other, about equal distance from my hometown, but when it came down to what I wanted to study (architecture at that time) Auburn was clearly the better choice both in quality (the architecture programed is nationally ranked with the likes of MIT and Cornell) and financially (Tuskegee is a more expensive, private university). I made my choice knowing that the overwhelming majority of the people at Auburn would be white people therefore I had the disadvantage of having to get over being a minority in school (something I was used to, but never will make peace with) for the sake of pursuing an education that I could not get anywhere else. White people on the other hand do not have to make these tough decisions. They go to HBCU’s for scholarship money perhaps, but they never have to concern themselves with the decision of “stay with my people or get the best education” because America has decided that most of the best universities in the country are already populated by mostly white people. Look at the perks of being of the majority. See my earlier post for more thoughts on this.

      When were Irish people slaves in the Americas?

      Again, no one is saying “no, no, no”…what we’re saying is “look, look, look”. But why do that when the looking is really deep introspection that reveals how you’ve neglected the humanity of a whole “race” of people? You seem to try to make the argument that white people, stripped of their privilege, are innocent, but that simply is not true. If you want to view them as simply human, fine…go ahead…do so…but part of being human is cognizance and operating under free will. That being said these humans, who happen to be white, thought, without hesitation, that they were better than people of color and willed it to be so. Is it human nature to assume superiority over another human group? Furthermore is it human nature to do so based on skin tone differences?

      You cannot separate the “white” from the “privilege” in regard to social equality because the systems, those that white people instated, do not function that way. You’re forgetting how white supremacy has played a role in all of this. White people had first to believe and teach that they were better than anyone they came in contact with based (actually on several factors but in most cases) solely on the color of skin. The INSTANT white people began to believe they were the superior race was the INSTANT white privilege was created because from then on out to be born white was “Thank God” and to be born anything else was “Well this sucks.” What else is there to get? How out of touch, inhuman, do you have to be to realize this in modern times and act in a way that works to close the privilege gap? Africans and Native Americans didn’t know what inferiority to pale skin was like until white men came along in the form of genocide and slavery. They were not colorblind as you wish me to be now…so why are they and their descendants being told now that “it’s not because I’m white that you’re feeling less than me”? What is it then? Because white people are better at being humans? What the heck…?

      If I, as a man, am educated at some point that women who work make less than me, how long should I have before it kicks in that “Hey, I should help do something for pay equality?” Not long at all because it’s the right thing to do. I don’t expect anyone to make excuses for my manhood. That’s insulting to my ability to reason. When you know better, you do better and white people have known LONG before now their privilege exists and have WILLFULLY IGNORED them as a problem. Kanye West said brilliantly “no one man (race) should have all that power”. Is this not an agreeable statement? If so then why do white people persist in the upper echelon of global society?

      And you’re right, it is unfair that the privileged’s feelings are being touted in the face of those less privileged, you could’ve stopped right there. I have very little sympathy for them. I’ve been called all kinds of names and made fun of because of my views, those informed by my life experiences, and persist because I know any progress made will result in the improvement of the lives of millions of people of color around the world. What is a privileged person’s stake in an argument like this? Their pride? Pft. Spare me. And don’t try to make some appeal to me based on how you think white people, especially the young generation, don’t feel empowered enough to make a change in racial attitudes. That sure as heck wasn’t the sentiment during the Occupy movement OR the “Stop Kony” phase.

      I’m going to stop now because I’m realizing that I’m beginning to repeat things I’ve said both in this and other posts.

      Ultimately, what I gather from your comment is that you want to make excuses, you want a pass, for white privilege, and a crutch to help white people navigate the waters of racial reconciliation. I don’t think you’re going to find any such thing in the community of color. We’re tired of bearing white weight.

      Riddle me this…if it was so easy for white people to dehumanize people of color (and other white people) for their otherness in the past, why is it so hard for them to do the opposite now, in the most enlightened time in history and embrace the wealth of said otherness without exploiting it and continuing to perpetuate its otherness over oneness?

  2. Wow. The sheer ignorance of your “friends'” responses is quite blinding.

    I don’t have many (nice) words to say in response to those people, but honestly, it’s seriously distressing.

    I too, saw that post when it started to go viral, and while I wasn’t particularly shocked by anything that woman said, I WAS surprised that most of the people who were posting it in my Facebook newsfeed were white women (who I went to undergrad with).

    What can we do about privilege?? It seems some people are open to understanding their privilege and others are not, but two things that have helped me help white people “see the light” are

    1) that in America, because of our individualistic culture, we can’t seem to see past a particular personal experience or person (I.e “well, *I* am black and not poor, therefore black poverty is not a real issue”) I try and get people out of this frame of thinking and into a wider social context.
    2) explaining to people that just because it is no longer 1960 or slavery is over doesn’t mean racism is over; racism these days is implicit with coded language and economic disparity masquerading as “cultural laziness” or something of the like. I have some great stats on the economic disparity of blacks vs whites in America. So those who argue that “it’s not about race anymore, it’s about class” are dead wrong, and I can easily prove it.
    3) remember that, in such discussions like the one above, your arguments are not for the person you are arguing against, they’ve already made up their mind. So if they don’t want to listen to reason, remember that you are writing for a neutral person who either doesn’t already have a position or is open to learning from reading a comment thread.

    Good luck to you! I am also here in support of you and all those speaking out against racism! It’s a hard sword to fall on everyday.

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