Thursday, October 16, 2008

Whiteness Isn't Bad, What's Bad Is When People Don't Recognize It As A Degree of Privilege

Stop for a second and just read these images.

Recognize the privilege in your bottled water

Recognize the privilege in your produce

And recognize the privilege in U.S. conceptions of "terror"

The privileges involved include whiteness, although they are much broader. They expand into notions of Western privilege, first world privilege, capitalism, and U.S. national sovereignty.

So I got a hate comment on an old post, "Consciousness of White Privilege Has Great Potential" today.

It always turns out that people who send me hate mail/comments always misread (or probably don't even bother to read) my writing. They see a few words here and there and immediately react. To me, that is not only a mistake, it perpetuates ignorance. Why? Because it's NOT READING. To me, reading is an active pursuit to discover; it necessitates that you recognize your uncertainty. You don't know it all, therefore you read...but I digress.

From the hater's comment:

"You have obviously never been a white person in the middle of a black bus or community."

Um, actually I have. Why are you telling me what I have or have not experienced? If we are to get technical, well, I am what is technically referred to as a "White Hispanic." I have volunteered substantially in a local continuation school for "at risk" youth here in the Berkeley area...and I have been in a classroom full of black youth. Like it or not, people with any degree of whiteness need to be conscious. I'm not saying they're not, but I'm saying that many aren't conscious enough. I'm not a black man, nor am I an indigenous Chicana...I'm a light skinned Argentine-American. I have to come to terms with my identity so that I can better understand the problems of this world.

And in the past, I know, I have thought of myself as a person of color. What is wrong with this? Just as I have degrees of whiteness, I have degrees of color. I am sick and tired of the misconception of race that is tied to exclusive notions of categories. I am both white and of color. I am both Latina and European. I am American and Argentine. But never one more than the other...they are layers of me.

To continue on this hater's comment... here's another snippet:

There are just some things we ice people are better at.

Why is that so upsetting? Because its been abused in the past?

Privilege? Look at S.A. Its the most violent place on Earth since the change to black power. Look at Katrina. Look at Nigeria. I mean when black folks run things, people die in large numbers.

[...]But I do ask you no matter what your ethnicity, to consider giving up crossing the gaps that can't be crossed and let's work out our problems together.

First, there are not some things "ice" people are better at because they are white. The only reason I can see why someone would come to this conclusion is because they see the effects of privilege without seeing their causes. You got the majority of doctors and academics in power who are white...well, did you ever stop to think that this can be traced back to them being toddlers who receive kindergarten education (at higher rates than blacks and Latinos by far), thus beginning with far more advanced cognitive skills? AP classes in high school, SAT's, community service...these are all great determinants of one's competitive college applications--and too many urban youth of color are denied these resources in their under-funded schools, they can't afford SAT prep classes because they are poor, and they can't afford to volunteer because they have to work part time aside from school. And their parents come from similar circumstances--they are consumed by hard labor and low wages, overall lack of higher education, and a lack of political leverage and cultural capital. PEOPLE ARE NOT ALL BORN UNDER EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES. And your comment about black, I can't begin to address that.

Second, the examples given are full of fallacies. Lots of people have had advanced societies in this world...but your conception of "advanced" is loaded with Western conceptions of capitalism and imperialism. Africa, Asia, and Mesoamerica have all had advanced civilizations, but for a variety of reasons collapsed. Katrina? What are you talking about? That was a natural disaster exacerbated by the Bush administration. Black people in power? Look, I'm not denying there are "bad" black people in power, but there are FAR MORE bad white people in power. Throughout history...I mean, do I have to spell this out? I'm tempted to, but to say Hitler is obvious and cliché and to say Reagan depends on one's level of enlightenment...

So, rather than building bridges of understanding between communities, we should try to "work out" our problems by yelling across the wide expanses between us? I'm sorry, but that's not right.

Also, you mentioned reverse racism in your comment...I have a real problem with the words "reverse racism." Not because I don't think there is racism against white people, but because you can't "reverse" the racism experienced by people of color. Every racism is unique and carries heavy historical and political meanings that can't be transferred in meaning to other racial groups.

In the end, this person doesn't even get it. White people need to become conscious of the privileges that their whiteness is rooted in (historically and institutionally). This way, they become powerful tools for social change. I'm not hating on them.

My problem is not only when they fail to pursue this potential, but also when they refuse to acknowledge that they even have it.


  1. I think you handled this hater extremely well. But then, there's SO much catching up for a person like that to do in terms of race and/or privilege awareness, isn't there? It's hard to know where to start!

  2. thanks macon d,

    yeah, I feel like no matter how much one might try, you can't give a decent lesson on all these matters. In fact, I'm still learning myself...

  3. Great post Sarah. How come this isn't up on DC?

  4. oh my god, hahaha i totally forgot to cross post!!! I am so sorry, I hope it's okay to put it up now...sorry Jack, I got out of my groove after the LSAT.


  5. Great post. I am from Argentina, too! I found you on the blogroll for "No Borders or Binaries" and I think I'm gonna be stopping by often.


  6. Hola Matias! Thank you very much. I am glad that you like the post. Mis padres son de Buenos Aires, y vos?


  7. Ciudad de Luis Guillon, partido de Esteban Echeverria, Gran Buenos Aires..that's a mouthful huh?