18 Unpacking Privilege
“Oh God, we [Black people] are near despair. How can we possibly change our fate? How can we possibly persuade our society that we deserve to be treated with decency and respect? How can we possibly fight a criminal justice system that has been designed to ensure our defeat? How can we possibly combat the blindness of white men and women who are so deeply invested in their own privilege that they cannot afford to see how much we suffer?” –Michael Eric Dyson
To illuminate unconscious white privilege, read this EXCELLENT articulation of some of the personal experiences of a highly successful Black academic:
“When my older sister was five, a white boy named Mark called her a ‘nigger’ after she beat him in a race at school. She didn’t know what it meant but in her gut, she knew it was bad. This was the first time I’d seen my father the kind of angry that has nowhere to go. I somehow understood it was because not only had some boy verbally assaulted his daughter and had gotten away with it, it had way too early introduced her (and me) to that term and the reality of what it meant – that some white people would be cruel and careless with black people’s feelings just because of our skin color. Or our achievement. If it’s unclear in any way, the point here is if you’ve NEVER had a defining moment in your childhood or your life, where you realize your skin color alone makes other people hate you, you have white privilege. –Lori Laken Hutcherson
“Intentional forgetting is one of the main features of whiteness and of being an American, and of this story we tell ourselves. It requires a lot of willful forgetting, and we’re very good at it. We have lots of practice.” –John Biewen
“Those of us deemed white can’t just shed that identity in some easy way. We don’t get to be generic individuals, standing outside the race drama—we’re in it. We need to own our whiteness, including the ways it benefits us every day. The little ways, the life-and-death ways, the ways in which the very structures of society were set up to our advantage.” –John Biewen
“Recognizing privilege simply means being aware that some people have to work much harder just to experience the things you take for granted (if they ever can experience them at all).” –Gina Crosley-Corcoran
“You must admit that denial of fact, indeed denial as fact, has shaped your version of American history. This is how you can ingeniously deny your role in past racism. You acknowledge that bigotry exists. For instance, you will often say that separate but equal public policy was bad. You just don’t find too many current examples of the persistence of racism, like the fact that, given they have the same years of education, a white man with a criminal record is often more likely to get a job than a Black man with no record. Or that even when they commit the same crime, Black folk are more likely to do more time than a comparable white person. Or that a Black male born in 2001 has a 32% chance of going to jail – a one-in-three shot – whereas a Latino has a 17% chance, and a white male a 6% chance. Or that Black women are far more likely than others to be evicted. Or that police stop black and brown folk far more than white folk. Or that Black folk are frequently illegally excluded from jury service. Sure, there are no white and black water fountains, but inequality persists.” –Michael Eric Dyson
“White privilege is having your history romanticized.
Our history is whitewashed.
White privilege is having your appearance and description seen as the prototype.
Ours is seen as a dress code violation.
White privilege is being the status quo and not needing media outlets (b.e.t.) and/or organizations (black lives matter) to focus on your representation.
We NEED ‘special interest’ groups.
White privilege is being able to be unhappy and demand better without having your patriotism questioned and being told to get back on the Mayflower if you’re unhappy.
We’re told to stand for an anthem that brags about spilling the blood of our ancestors and pledge allegiance to a country that refuses to accept accountability for systematic racism and racial inequality.” –Courtney Chylane
Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person:
“It is a common thing for a group of liberal white people to want more diversity in their space. This is partly because we feel guilty and embarrassed about how white our world is, and we want to feel better, and we would feel better if people of color were around, both because it would be more interesting and also because it would ease our guilt in various ways–although a lot of people are unconscious about that. Black people often know this, and don’t like being used to make white people feel better. So when a white group asks a black/brown person for advice on how to be ‘more diverse,’ black and brown people may read between the lines and may feel annoyed that they are being used to soothe white people’s feelings, and probably tokenized.
I know there is good in there as well, I know white people who have cool things to offer like _______ want to be able to offer their cool thing to Black people also. But there is so much more going on within and under and around something awesome like ______, that white people are probably not aware of, but people of color are. Basically, the reason _______ is a white space is a result of white supremacy, and not a coincidence in the slightest. And recruiting a few black or brown people into the mix is not helping change anything fundamental, but is helping us white people feel less guilty/embarrassed about our whiteness and our country’s history and current reality.
Another thought to put out there is the whole thing about money. It’s a common mistake to conflate being Black and being poor. Yes it’s true that in general white people have the money and the resources, but it can be tricky because there are poor white people and there are wealthy Black people, so trying to attract Black people by offering financial support can be opening a can of worms. Really the only way to financially incentivize people of color to come to ______ is by addressing the problem more blatantly – basically saying: we acknowledge the problem of white supremacy and the history of our country, and we are offering reparations in the form of free tuition (although a more appropriate reparation could be to pay people of color to come, because of the service they’re providing a white space by being willing to enter it).”
“Which brings me to another thing, that white people don’t quite acknowledge, but when we say that we want to include or attract or welcome people of color into our white spaces, we often mean ‘as long as they act white.’ We either don’t know or don’t admit or some combination of other things, that if somehow ______ was half Black, we would be scared their culture would be clashing with our culture, their social norms might be different than our social norms, etc. So it is humbling but I think important to admit that when we say we want Black people in our space, we usually mean (whether we know it or not) that we want Black people in our space as long as they basically act white.
I don’t want to discourage you or anyone from asking these questions – How can I diversify this white space? Why is this space so white? How do I need to learn and grow and make the world better? How can we ‘be the change we want to see in the world?’ etc. But I think it is a way deeper, more pervasive problem then just attracting or welcoming people of color into a particular space. Especially because it is so easy to see how the white people benefit from diversity, and not so easy to see how black and brown people do.”
–Amy Childs, excerpted from a response to a client’s inquiry
Some common white-woman characteristics:
“Avoiding conflict, on its own, is a communal strategy that white women use which simultaneously protects us from men and maintains our power over women of color.
White women’s communal identity is so weak that we have no agency over it, and avoiding conflict has itself become a desired trait for survival as a white woman. We praise it, we celebrate it, we reward each other for being nice and agreeable and patient, because when we are not we get hurt – at an individual level.
You have your own individual style of conflict, yes. But white women have a style of conflict as a community – and it’s really twisted and sad.
AND, here’s the kicker… because we also play a role in maintaining the power structure, it isn’t enough to support women of color or supplant them as the dominant power… it doesn’t work.
All of this ‘we’re so sorry we feel awful, put women of color in charge and we’ll just do what they say so they stop yelling at us’ performative allyship still places them in greater danger, overall.
The responsibility is on us to find our voices and break the systems of power that we uphold, not to put them in charge of breaking them because we’re afraid of conflict. And we have to do that as a group, because when one white woman gets ‘assertive’ other white women label her and dispose of her because she threatens our safety.”
“White women have romanticized the notion of investing time and energy into race relations and feminism to the point where all they have to do is stitch up a few hats and deposit a few bucks in some Sister’s PayPal to be considered employed in ‘the work’. The fact alone that no one ever asks these women ‘Who is benefiting from the work you do?’ and, more importantly, ‘How is your standing with Black women?’ enrages me….
I’m not suggesting that white women stop payment on their financial contributions, drop out of their affinity groups, and stop striving towards de-weaponizing their whiteness. Rather, I’m suggesting that they take these acts out of the ‘work’ file and place them in the more appropriate, ‘human decency’ section.’ –Tamela J. Gordon
“Efforts to work with the white left have thus far been as fruitful as those to protect the West African Black Rhino or the Baiji Dolphin from extinction. History tells us that the expectations that we will secure progress of any substance through such efforts are as realistic as the idea that police will unequivocally and universally hold each other accountable for murdering unarmed people of color.” –YahNe Ndgo
White people tend to use stories or personal anecdotes to refute the concept of institutionalized racism. For example:
“The problem with schools is the parents these days. They’re just not involved.”
Response: At schools in challenged neighborhoods a lot of parents just don’t have the time to deal with being involved at the level that more-privileged parents do.
“I worked full time and managed to find the time!”
Response: That’s great, but they might be dealing with a lot more than just one full-time job. Plus they need transportation to the school, which they may not have since the buses here aren’t great.
“If they wanted to they could!”
“I think of how my parents grew up in the Depression and raised three kids, one that went to MIT!”
Response: That’s great for them. They probably didn’t also have to deal with redlining and being turned away from housing loans, which made it easier to create stability.
“Oh, they bought a dump and my dad learned plumbing! They worked so hard for all of it! You don’t have to buy a fancy house!”
“I mean, kids are just BAD in schools!”
Response: When you’re dealing with not having enough food to eat because the minimum wage is so low, and their grandparents weren’t able to own homes, so their parents are constantly fighting to make rent, it’s not surprising that they can’t pay attention in class.
“Yeah, they really need to be tougher on kids.”
–excerpted from Jody Jane
10 Ways to Check Your Privilege:
Voter discrimination doesn’t generally happen in privileged areas:
“A predominantly black county in rural Georgia is facing a nationwide backlash over plans to close about 75 percent of its voting locations ahead of the November election. County officials say the locations are inaccessible to those with disabilities; critics say the closures will disenfranchise black voters ahead of an election in which a black candidate is running for governor for the first time.
The Randolph County elections board is considering a proposal to eliminate seven of nine polling places in the county. The seven precincts in question don’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, county officials and an independent consultant say.
Longtime Randolph County attorney Tommy Coleman acknowledged in a phone interview with The Associated Press that the timing of the move could appear strange. The polling places were used during the May 22 primary election and July 24 primary runoff, and officials have known about ADA compliance problems in the county for at least six years.
Civil rights groups have publicly opposed the plan, saying it will cause confusion and make it difficult for rural voters without transportation to get to the polls. Census figures show the county’s population is more than 61 percent black, double the statewide percentage.”