I Fully Acknowledge My White Privilege. Now What?

by Don Hall

The terms "white privilege," "white fragility," and the concept of "white tears" have been so overused (at least on my FB feed and on Twitter here in my haven of diversity that is Chicago) that it has all become nothing more than empty rhetoric.  This is not to say these things do not exist.  There should be no question as to the necessity for acknowledging these conditions that exist in our fundamentally white supremacist institutionalized system.

I fully acknowledge that I am white and male and that so much of the privilege that I have in this society is unearned.  I recognize the unfairness of being the guy who can mouth off to police and have a far better chance of surviving the encounter than my black or brown neighbors.  I comprehend the lack of equity in the reality that I make more money than my female counterparts and that I am far less likely to be sexually harassed or objectified than them.

I've read "The New Jim Crow" and watched the documentary "13th".  I've researched the causes of this racist patriarchy and the consequences of it on generations of women and black citizens.  I can quote the stats, point out the flaws, and understand exactly where I fit in this system.

Now what?

I'm told by Jamie Varon that the next steps are thus:

  • Feel - she tells me all this acknowledgement will make me feel helpless, guilty but I should feel hopeful.  But I don't feel helpless and I don't feel guilty.  I'm a realistic optimist, a cynical idealist, so wallowing in the feels isn't terribly productive in my view.
  • Connect - mostly I should follow Black Twitter.  I guess I think following a bunch of teenagers as they spout pop culture acumen seems a bit silly so I'll pass.
  • Defend - Wait.  What if those on Black Twitter are offering solutions I think are counterproductive?  What if I believe deeply in civil rights but have found broad protests to be wholly ineffective?  Do I defend ideas and strategies  think are nonsense just to prove I'm "woke"?
  • Purge - basically, cut off all ties with those who I disagree with.  Enforce the information bubble.  Walk away from the conversations that need to be had.
  • Dream - Dream?  Are you fucking kidding me?  I thought we were headed somewhere and "dream" is the endgame here?

OK.  Jamie's a white girl so maybe her lens of privilege has blinded her from actually offering substantive advice on the subject.

Derrick Clifton is a black man.  Maybe he'll have better advice.

Derrick tells me I should do my own research rather than expect people of color to educate me.  Which given I'm reading his suggestions is a little confusing but I'll run with that later.

He tells me to avoid cultural appropriation.  No worries here.  I'm pretty much a jeans wearing, simple straight haircut, standard issue white guy with no cultural aspirations.  I don't dress up for Halloween and I'm not focused enough on fashion for any of this to be an issue.  Sweet.

"Demand your workplace, school and other structured environments ensure inclusion and equity at every level."  I can do that but my experience with schools, workplaces and other structured institutions is that demands are often dismissed (even by white guys) so, again, I'm not entirely convinced that this strategy is helpful but I'm in agreement that inclusion and equity are paramount.

"End or re-evaluate relationships with white people who consciously self-segregate from people of color or express racist attitudes."  Again with the cutting off ties with people I disagree with.  Not have conversations with them or work to find common ground or make persuasive arguments in favor of equity and inclusion.  Promote inclusion by using exclusion.  Not sure this is a really great idea unless building that information bubble is the goal.

"Hold public officials accountable for ending racial profiling, stop-and-frisk policies, police brutality and the shooting unarmed people of color."  Thank god.  A thing I can do that I completely agree with in terms of pragmatic tactic.

"When it's clear that preferential treatment is given to whites over people of color in public accommodations, call for fairness."  YES.  I can (and have) done this and will continue to do so.  Good stuff.  Also, his number seven (of seven) is good - "Support a federal study that researches the effects of slavery on blacks in America."

This is (mostly) stuff I can enact.  Supporting a bill that keeps getting shuttered is a bit out of my realm but I can write my Senator, right?  

Where things get sticky is when I'm told to simply listen and accept whatever POC say as fact due to their "Victim of Oppression" status.  I do listen.  And, often, I agree but when I disagree the standard retort is that I did NOT listen because I don't agree (which is a circular kind of logic that starts with that statement and ends with a dismissal of any critical thinking skills I may have due entirely to the color of my skin and my genitals - you know - my privilege.)

Terms now embraced by the online Left, like “tone-policing” and “white fragility,” are deeply satisfying to utilize, up to cathartically self-expressive, because they belittle and undercut longtime ideological adversaries; at the same time, they do nothing to advance a cause.

Consider this sentence from a recent article in The New Inquiry on building an antiracist movement, offering advice to progressive activists who are “able-bodied, have money, have resources, and are seen as white, hetero, and cis” (in other words, me...):

“Get involved on the most local level you can and offer generously. Your degree of humbleness and willingness to do menial tasks and uncredited behind-the-scenes work should increase in proportion to your privilege and your safety and your history of involvement in organizing....take that backseat, offer a share of your resources to help organizers and activists travel and stay sheltered, protect and stand with communities you are not from, but do not take up space. Humbleness is what fuels a courageous fight that does not center you as savior.”

Wait.  What?

1. Stay out of sight during all public events
2. Fund the movement
3. Shut up and pretend to be invisible in organizing meetings

The only white allies willing to go along with that are the least capable, least passionate, least effective allies.  Seriously - only those desperate for the approval of PoC would show up, pay for stuff and "not take up space."

As David wrote earlier, if there is a revolution in this country, no side will want me.  That can't stop me in pursuing the belief that the answer is not to somehow strip myself of privilege I didn't earn and have little control over but to work in my way to ensure that privilege is handed to everyone who doesn't look like me.  Change comes slowly in a country this size and the best I can do is to use whatever benefits I have to move the course of this ship as diligently as I can. 

I guess the question is answered by looking beyond the most easily offended and those who throw rhetoric to pump themselves up personally and find true activists looking to build a cross-racial coalition of people passionate about the ideas of civil rights and equity.  Find the adults in the room less excited about their own power of self expression and more excited about the pragmatism required to actually get things done.