White Privilege: Finding Pragmatics Apart from Spiritual Dogma
A while back I wrote a piece about my acknowledgement of my own white, male privilege with the simple question: now what?
I am not only aware but well aware of the privileges I have lived with in American society. I won’t feel guilt for them as I had no control over being born in a predominantly white culture (which is scheduled to change dramatically in the next 20 years, dontcha know...) If acknowledgement of privilege is the first step, what’re the second and thirds? I still don’t see a pragmatic answer to the question. I mean, I still see lots of handwringing and bloviation about white privilege and how oppressive it has been and is, but I guess I’m missing what I’m supposed to do about it aside from acknowledging its existence.
I hear a lot of connecting the obvious privilege to the proliferation of white supremacy which is like saying that all Germans were Nazis and all sailors are pirates. The logic behind the assertion is similar to “believe all women," which is just as ludicrous as "all women are liars." There is quite a difference between living with privilege baked into a system designed by others to keep that privilege esoteric and the act of supremacist thought and open bigotry.
It still feels an awful lot like admitting to original sin to the Catholic Church and being told to feel shitty about it but offering no actual active recourse to wash that shit off. The implication is that, by no other connection than birth and skin color, the specter of slavery will hang on me until the day I die. If I was apathetic to the horrors of being black in America, it wouldn't make much difference to me. But I'm not apathetic, I'm invested in the rollback or reparations necessary to equal the playing field for all people.
I took a look at a series of prompts on Instagram and YouTube recently (#MeAndWhiteSupremacy: A 28-day truth-telling journey of what you have learned about your personal complicity in white supremacy) and it reads like religious indoctrination.
Here’s an example:
No solutions. No absolution available. This sort of demagoguery is designed to create a permanent sense of shame and guilt in the listener. It is the use of solid progressive ideas to manufacture a sinner mentality in anyone willing to buy into it. Exactly like religion. “You are a stained and evil creature,” the Cult Leader insists. “There is no way to wash away the stain yet you must acknowledge it daily. In your consistent reminder of how unworthy you are and how tainted your life is, you must turn to me and receive more subtle condemnation in the illusion of growth.”
The automatic response to a white guy rejecting this approach is that it makes me uncomfortable and that I’m fragile. I’m anything but uncomfortable with having conversations. I believe that dialogue rather than simply being told to shut up and listen is the key to growth. That said, having a dialogue about sin with a religious zealot is a cul de sac from which there is no escape.
This sort of horseshit requires not acceptance, not inclusion, not equity, but deference. Which is probably fair as black people have had to defer to whites since some Africans sold their tribal enemies to white slave traders who then sold them to capitalists in America. Fair, certainly, but not terribly feasible. To expect deference of a majority to a minority without violent overthrow is to not only ignore thousands of years of empirical examples but to deny human nature.
Sure. You’ll get some virtue signaling depressives desperately looking for some meaning in their vapid lives to fall on the sword handed to them, but most reasoning adults will share the privilege rather than subjugate themselves to dogma. In the aforementioned article I wrote, “The only white allies willing to go along with that are the least capable, least passionate, least effective allies.” My only amendment might be about the passion because these, as the Cult Leader refers to them, “Optical Allies” are extremely passionate if not completely misguided in the same way that a herd of lemmings exhibits great enthusiasm as they careen off of a cliff to their demise.
Who wants to go to war against genuine white supremacists with such weak and malleable allies?
So, having dismissed the Search Your Soul for Your Complicity cult, my question still stands — now what? What pragmatic steps can I do to equalize the playing field? I ask because I want to do something that smacks of a genuine solution rather than get the branch from the tree and smack myself over and over. In my acknowledgement of privilege, I assume no responsibility for the sins of my forefathers as I didn't own slaves, nor did I lynch blacks. I am a beneficiary of a racist system but cannot feel personally responsible for its existence. Assumption of guilt without the prerequisite crime is brainwashed mush.
Let’s assume that unconscious bias and privileged behavior is trash that needs to be carted off for the landfill.
Not long ago, working with the maintenance crew at the park, we ended up sending mounds of programs to be recycled. I asked them what they wanted us to do with the programs to make their transport easier for them.
They offered no solution.
We trashed them in the dumpsters and it made them too heavy. They complained. I suggested a few ideas which they found unacceptable. I asked for a better solution.
Nothing. Just not the dumpsters, they said.
We stacked them clumsily on the palette they came on. Nope. They hated that.
I suggested a few other alternatives. What about a dedicated receptacle? How about we use park trash cans but individual program carts so it breaks it up? Nope and nope. I asked for a better solution. And they came back with smaller dumpsters. Problem solved.
I understand the meme that states privilege (tenuously connect the dots to white supremacy, here) is a white problem for white people to solve. Is it, though? Is it just a white problem? I don’t think so. It is an American problem, no question but the central idea of America is that we work together rather than work at each other. Certainly, we have trash to carry out. The “search your damaged soul and reflect on the damage” is not a solution, it’s a mantra with no end. I’m asking for a better solution.
What's a solution look like?
I think it looks like legislation and the enforcement of it. I think it looks like money pumped into school systems populated by black and brown kids. I think it looks like some sort of reparations package in the form of free lifetime housing and college for those with direct lineage to chattel slavery and Native American ancestry. I think it looks like substantive police reform.
I do not think it looks like people already feeling shitty about things flagellating themselves for ills they ultimately had nothing to do with like sitting on the side of a road in North Dakota and weeping openly at the genocide of Native Americans. I do not think privilege is lost or shared through manipulated deference.
Everyone — even rabid Republicans and bigots — understand that white privilege exists. Whether they acknowledge it or not, they can’t miss it. Like climate change and the fallacy of Friedman economics, denying its existence is simply whistling at the monster in the room.
It isn’t whether it exists or not that is the issue but what to do about it.
Using the tools of religion to stigmatize people into castigating themselves over an advantage they possess but had no hand in creating is a piss-poor strategy. And, while it may seem to be a traditionally male approach, pragmatic tactical solutions are the only way this thing gets shifted so that we all share in the privilege, we all share in the power, and we all share in the equity.
This goal of sharing power and privilege has never worked in the history of humankind but it’s a goal worth attempting.