White Privilege

Why am I so bugged by the various posts explaining White Privilege?

I’m thinking maybe it’s the time old problem of an old person (71) not liking being told how it is by young ones.  This example from a 19 year old:

White Privilege, Explained in One Simple Comic

And this the one that got me started:

The first thing I was struck with when I first saw this is actually how cool it is.  How amazing it is to me that in our society, today, this needs to be explained.

It wasn’t like that when I was growing up, there was no need to explain white privilege.  It was obvious.  There were no blacks in the good high school I went to, there was one black kid in the Ivy League college I went to.

When I visited the South in the early 1960s, well I’d heard there were separate restrooms for colored, but it wasn’t until I went there that I learned there weren’t four, but three restrooms.  Two nice ones on the side of the gas station and one filthy unmaintained colored restroom in the back.

I visited small Southern towns where the inhabitants viewed black people as little better than animals, not in a nasty way though, these were good people who would no sooner mistreat a black person than their dog, but who, in their experience, saw them as closer to animals than civilized humans.

And given how the blacks lived, well they were right. The blacks lived in small rickety shacks, with no plumbing, no electricity.  They were uneducated and barely clothed, really, in the eyes of a white child growing up there, not much different than dogs.

No one needed to explain to any of us white people that we were a lot better off than black people.

It says a lot about how far we’ve come that today the problems of racism in our society have gotten subtle enough that it needs to be pointed out with screaming videos and cartoons.

I’m annoyed by the historical references when talking about ‘White’ privilege.  It’s a bigger, more general, issue than that. It’s people.  People have always sucked in that regard, not just white people.  Throughout history, and across the planet, there has always been significant privilege associated with being a member of the dominent culture.

Much better to be a Roman in Roman times.  And a Mongol under Ghenghis Ghan.  And a Muslim as that religion spread all over the middle east.  Want to try being a Sunni rather than a Shia in Iran?  And Africa? would you rather be a Hutu or Tutsi?

Yes, today the dominent USA culture is white, and mostly Northern European white, and yes, life is much easier if you’re part of that culture.

And yes, as with most all dominent cultures, our dominent culture doesn’t try real hard to make life easier for those not in our culture.  It takes leaders like Susan B. Anthony, or Martin Luther King to push for change.

I’m tired of being blamed for slavery, because I’m white. Yes, white people enslaved black people.  And it’s horrible.  But again, it’s people, not specifically white people.

The Old Testament of the Bible recognizes slavery as being OK and gives guidance on acceptable levels of mistreatment of slaves.  It’s how the pyramids got built.  It’s a human problem, humans have always been willing to enslave other humans.

And yes, those slave traders were awful.  But they bought the slaves from black tribal leaders who were capturing them in other tribes.  Another privilege example?  much better to be a member of the tribe selling slaves than the tribe being enslaved.

And my ancestors?  White people today say they shouldn’t be held accountable for the sins of their ancestors.

What if my ancestors were abolishonists?  What if my Northeastern ancestors were the ones who created so much political pressure that Congress made it illegal for slavery to extend beyond the South?

What if my ancestors went to war to end slavery?  What if some of my ancestors gave up their very lives fighting to end slavery.  Those ancestors were white.

(Oh, the Civil War was about state’s rights? Well I’ve read Jefferson Davis’ (president of the Confederacy) account of the Civil War. The whole first chapter is a history of slavery and slavery laws, and what should and shouldn’t be.  Yes, it was about state’s right, but there is only one state’s right that they cared about, and that was the right to own people as property and buy and sell them and make money.)

(This is the complexity of racial issues.  Reading Jefferson Davis one is taken with the intelligence of the man, the education, the fairness even.  He was clearly a remarkable man.  The disconnect was he simply didn’t see black people as human.  They were property, like horses.)

OK, fine, my ancestors also came over here and destroyed Native American cultures.  Yup, well, it’s what people have done to other people since forever.  (Have you ever read the chapter in the Bible about Joshua?  It praises genocide.  Joshua didn’t just take down Jericho, he took down over 30 cities and put all the inhabitants to the sword, because God told him the Israelites could have all that land.  These were peaceful cities whose inhabitants were scared shitless at the approach of the Israelites.)

And the beautiful native people of Hawaii, such a peaceful community, got that way by killing all the members of the tribe that was competing with them to live there.

So yup, agreed, there were awful things done by our ancestors.  We took the land from the Indians.  We feel bad about it, but you know what?  I’ve heard a lot of people say how horrible it was but don’t know a single family, white or anything else, that’s offered to give their home to a Native American family.

But I do agree, it’s good to continue to explain white privilege today, as, well yes, I and others probably aren’t that aware of it. It doesn’t affect our every day lives.  We might be out of touch, and it’s good to be reminded of the various statistics, and the unfairness they reveal, although those statistics are readily available and often presented in a less harsh manner in the mainstream media.

I am very much aware that I was born in both a time and place, in a culture and of a gender, in economic circumstances that made it easy for me.  Anything I read about almost any other time or place in history makes me feel very lucky in that regard.

I’m currently reading about the French Revolution.  Wow, the ‘haves’ then really had, and the ‘have nots’ really didn’t.  Much better to be born into that ruling class.  For a while.  Then much better to be in the other.

So how to raise my consciousness? I remember two instances where a prominent black, in one case columnist, and the other comic, hit me on a more emotional than intellectual level.

One was Leonard Pitts, my favorite columnist, who simply asked if a white father, teaching his teenager to drive, tells him to always keep both hands visible if pulled over by a cop.  Oh.  That brings it home.

The other was Richard Pryor, describing how the scariest thing for a black person to hear is some good ole boys going “Eeeh yah!”, cause you know someone is gonna get lynched. Same. That just-having-fun sound suddenly took on a much darker meaning.

I have a recommendation for those educating us about white privilege, and it comes from the idea behind Non-Violent Communication.  It’s designed to make it easier for people to talk about difficult issues, without resorting to yelling, shaming, and name calling.

It’s based on four simple steps:

1- non-judgemental observation of a situation. (Key, don’t blame, or accuse, just here’s what I see.)
2- how one feels about that situation.
3- what one’s needs are.
4- and a request.

What’s interesting about the two rants above is they only really cover the first, one can maybe intuit the next two, but, here I really do plead ignorance, I don’t see the fourth.

Here’s how the rants appear to me:

1- non-judgemental observation (clearly stated): there are a lot of benefits to being white in this country that are not there for non-whites.  OK, certainly true, no argument.

2- feelings (I’m inferring): that makes me feel as if our society is unfair.  OK, yes, it would, and should make you feel that way.

3- need (I’m inferring): I need to live in a society that is more fair and equally available for all cultures, races, religions, genders.  OK, very reasonable, I’d like that too.

4- request (I’m clueless here): So what I’m asking is for you to….  Yes?  Yes?  What?

Instead these rants seem to just want to tell me how ignorant I am.  There isn’t a call to action.  Instead one ends with “fucking educate yourself.”

Well you know, that just doesn’t give me a warm feeling, that just doesn’t make me want to do what needs to be done to make our society any better, it just makes me want to write a post like this one and say, “oh yeah, why don’t you go educate yourself.”

And that’s the sort of discourse that has replaced reasoned dialog in our culture today.