We’ve moved into a new arena of race relations where people of all backgrounds are really beginning to think about their identities and assess the status quo. Unless you live under a rock, it’s pretty difficult not to be at least passively engaged in dialogue about race these days, with Donald Trump’s bigoted, openly racist comments regarding every minority in our country, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the discrepancy in media responses to Ryan Lochte versus Gabby Douglas, and the countless, devastating stories about Black men and women being slain by white police officers.
Needless to say, white people are beginning to realize that they have a place in the broader conversation about race, too. It isn’t just on minorities to figure out how to move us forward–racism affects everyone. And while I appreciate the white allies that support #BlackLivesMatter, condemn Donald Trump, and stand in solidarity with our movement toward racial equity, I cannot help but to feel bothered by the way “white privilege” is thrown around and used as a shield to protect white people from being accused of being blind to their innumerable benefits in our society. Here are just a few reasons why acknowledging white privilege is not enough to move us forward.
1. It puts the burden on people of color to teach white people how to address their privilege. It is not the responsibility of people of color to explain, examine, teach, facilitate, or initiate conversations about race and the privilege that comes with whiteness. Do you think it’s easy or enjoyable for us to acknowledge the subordinate position our society has placed us in? The way that we aren’t ever given the benefit of the doubt? The way that our actions are never just our own, but a reflection of our entire race? The way that we can’t congregate together at work without being perceived as a threat to the dominant culture of the company? The way that our culture, accomplishments, and identities are only mainstream if they are being appropriated? It isn’t our responsibility to explain privilege to white people or help them navigate it once they realize it’s there. We are already strained by an entire system of disadvantages and insults–understand that having to acknowledge white privilege just adds insult to injury. It’s not our responsibility to empathize with white guilt or tip toe around our history so white people can ease themselves into the reality that is our daily, lived experience. We are burdened by enough as it is.
2. It makes white privilege an uncomfortable but tolerable reality. Right now, we pat white people on the back for even acknowledging that it’s there. Let’s stop handing out gold stars and start challenging white people to think about a world where white privilege had to be interrupted. Where white people could no longer passively benefit from racism and still call themselves anti-racist. Where white people would take it into their own hands to refuse to accept the status quo and demand racial justice. Where white people would be willing to relinquish some of the seats reserved for them at the table in order to distribute them more evenly. Where white people started to acknowledge the lack of representation of people of color in positions of power. Where white people felt comfortable with the idea that Black Entertainment Television could be any network and not just restricted to one specific channel. Where white people actively and relentlessly fought for people of color to be seen, respected, and offered grace the way they always have been without ever thinking about it. If we aren’t moving toward making that the reality, we are comfortable and complicit in the way things are.
3. The term “white privilege” in and of itself does not capture the destructiveness that it wreaks on communities of color. White privilege needs to be discussed and addressed as the disgusting construct that it is. What if it instead of calling it white privilege, we called it Minority Deprivation? What if we used pointed language that highlighted the harm and damage that it inflicts on people of color everyday? “White privilege” is lighthearted, easily-digestible language. We feel at ease when we hear it, even though we know it’s wrong. We need to feel urgent discomfort. We need to have trouble swallowing the term at all. We need to explicitly recognize that privilege is a direct function of hindering someone else. That every privilege white people experience or access is the result of that same scenario restricting or burdening a person of color.
It’s time to do more.