Friday, September 12, 2008

White Privilege Denial: Mini Wall of Shame

You absolutely must check out the radical blogging being done at Feministe right now. They've got a collection of powerhouse posts today on the issue of privilege.

It's always interesting, and often excruciating, to observe the responses of white commenters to bloggers like Renee of Womanist Musings. If you're a white person, or any person really, who isn't ready to start accepting the privileges you've been afforded by virtue of your race and class background, you're going to be made uncomfortable. Actually, you're probably going to be a little uncomfortable no matter who you are. Her posts are provocative and searing, and frequently accuse the reader directly. Make no mistake: she is talking about you.

The thing that's difficult to watch, in the comments, is that people have a really hard time shutting up and listening. Below is a miniature 'wall of shame' of white posters who will do pretty much anything except accept the idea that they have benefited from white privilege.

Watch as this self-described white woman scrambles to deny that privilege even exists, and then lets slip her fear that rich people might be forced to sacrifice something:

Something always grates me about privilege conversations, and this post asking us not to feel guilty maybe gets somewhere in there. I think what it comes down to, is that I don’t feel that people have privilege, others are oppressed. ... I don’t want to see the end of privilege, I want to see everyone have it. I think this is why people resist the notion. In fact, the notion that in order to make all people’s lives good, current rich people must suffer is possibly the biggest barrier to making it happen. I reject that both philosophically and practically.

Watch as this person, in his/her realization that s/he doesn’t know how to help mitigate privilege, has a complete freak-out about guilt and accuses Renee of ‘demonising’ him:

I agree that it’s really important to talk about and acknowledge our privileges but I can’t agree with your point that despite the work we may do to mitigate any privilege, "This will never absolve you of said privilege."

Why do privileges need to be absolved? I have not done anything contemptible by being born cis or able-bodied or whatever. Are you really implying that we should feel guilty forever for being born with privilege? That is rather useless as it goes nowhere to remedying inequality. Also you state that by having privilege we all "owe a debt that must be repaid" but how and to whom? How can we rack up a debt simply by existing? Can we not just accept that we have a responsibility to own up to our privileges and work towards making the situation more equal? Why do we have to be demonised for who we are?

Reader Dave just wishes Renee would change her tone. If you'd just change the TONE in which you told me about my white privilege, Renee, I'd be able to listen! Jeez.

conflating those who act with the audacity of which you speak with all white people is disrespectful to allies and other white folks who work against this sort of privilege and behaviour. ... just wanted to write in and say i’m enjoying the dialogue but i think it’d be more engaging if approached from another angle. and to be frank, this sort of writing is hurtful.

Watch as Emily Rutherford at Pushback dedicates an entire mini-post to accusing Renee of – you guessed it – reverse racism!

[Renee] takes issue with white people who behave in a racist manner and who aren’t appropriately understanding of their privilege in comparison to people of color. While this is undeniably a very important and problematic issue, I have my concerns about the way it is presented in this post.

When the issue at hand is racism, which often includes one group of people labeling another with an untrue and unfair stereotype, it seems a little odd for an argument that criticizes racist behavior to take the same approach. It doesn’t strike me as particularly constructive to say that racist behavior is a characteristic of “whiteness,” or even that an adjective descriptive of skin color could also be used to describe a type of behavior considered offensive. You see, though it’s quite possible that I’m not aware of the offensiveness of some of my actions, I believe myself to be a white person who doesn’t intentionally behave in a racist way. I am eminently aware of my white privilege ...

My preschool taught me that everyone should be treated equally, regardless of the circumstances into which they were born or the way they live their lives. I think that means that I should strive not to let someone’s skin color inform my feelings about them, and that other people should do the same for me.

Um, yeah. I guess everything we need to know, we learned in preschool. But since my preschool, and indeed my entire pre-University life in suburbia, did not expose me to ANY radical voices of people of color, I’m willing to get schooled by powerful, challenging writers like Renee.

Yes, it’s challening to read a post entitled ‘The Audacity of Whiteness’. Yes, the extent to which we white folks have benefited from being white is overwhelming and guilt-inducing. Yes, it’s hard to know how to tackle it best. But guess what? Renee, and other bloggers of color, have some goddamn advice on how we could start addressing the problem. It’s not easy to shut up and listen, but to all the wounded white sensibilities out there, that is my best advice.

1 comment:

Zenobia said...

Some of these responses just make me think 'boo fucking hoo'.

How selfish do you have to be if you can watch non-white people put up what they have to put up with (overt, intentional racism being only the tip of the iceberg, and really intention doesn't mean very much), and then go 'oh but why should I be made to feel bad about it?'

And 'everyone should have privilege'? But that goes against the very definition of privilege, surely - privilege means you have something that everyone else doesn't, it implies inequality.

Obviously, everyone should have an equal, decent standard of living, and the same opportunities, but that's not privilege - that's human rights.

But all this 'but it's so criminal that rich people should be made to feel bad'... I mean, nice way to illustate Renee's point there.