A Response & Follow Up To White Privilege, Racism, and My White Friends
There were a few comments from a reader in response to my write up on White Privilege, Racism, and My White Friends. I wanted to address those thoughts in a follow up for further discussion as I believe these kinds of conversations are important in helping us see this from another perspective.
Reader Dave Murray first said, “I don’t understand the obsession with having white people declare the obvious. [their privilege]”. I responded that calls for the declaration means it’s not as obvious as it may seem.
Dave then went on to say, “First and foremost, you’d get a better response if you replaced the word “privilege” with “advantage”.
Here is the thing I’ve learned in recent years. In order for people to tell the truth, they have to feel like they can do so without judgement or repercussions. As it relates to race in this country, I will say that there is a definite opportunity for growth in this area among black people when white people express their feelings on either race or privilege.
As black people in America, our terror is real, and our rage is justified, but in this, we can’t ignore the truths of the other side.
I’m in no way suggesting that we as black people calm down or try to be nice about our anger or in any way diminish our rage, but there are white people that are genuinely concerned about people of color and want to be of service but they often times get the label of being “disingenuous” or trying to be a “white savior”.
As black people in America, our feelings of mistrust towards white people are valid, but here again, we need to be better at understanding white privilege is not an indictment on all white people. There are some that truly want to help, and we should try to believe the ones that are sincere and have no ulterior motives, just like we demand white people to believe us when we talk about the our experiences of being black in this country.
We as black people need to allow ourselves to be angry while continuing to ask ourselves how we can make our anger productive. Productive anger gave us Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and created the #BlackLivesMatter movement (and the #MeToo movement as it relates to the sexual assault of women).
The problem comes though with Dave’s second comment suggesting that the word “privilege” should be replaced with “advantage”.
I’ve said that black people should work on listening to white people that want to help, but this in no way means black people should be asked to express our feelings in a way that is more palatable for white people or any group of people that isn’t black and brown.
We can work on our mistrust of white people without changing our language. Asking us to mitigate our plight and our narrative to make white people feel more comfortable is unacceptable and speaks to the continued practice of white people telling us how we should feel and how we should act instead of focusing on their role in how black and brown people are treated in this country.
White “privilege” and white “advantage” is the same thing. The problem here isn’t with the noun, (privilege/advantage), as these words are neutral on their own. The problem is with the adverb, “white.”
White police officers are killing black and brown people in the streets while we are innocent and unarmed. Some state driving laws were created to specifically target people of color. Unjust drug laws created by white congressman are keeping black and brown people in jail years on end for non violent offenses.
All of this, and of course the list goes on, but we as people of color need to temper our language? While I realize black people have a certain level of responsibility in our fight, telling us how to express our experience in a way that appeases the feelings of others is more victim shaming than it is helpful.
If there is a stinging to white people associated with the term “white privilege”, there should be. As black and brown people in this country, the comforting of white people is not our responsibility. Keeping ourselves alive is.
Having this kind of dialogue can be tricky, so I’d really like to thank Dave for taking the time to respond. While I can see Dave’s point, I counter with Tamir Rice, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant and the countless other black men that have been killed by white officers who either received either no punishment or limited punishment, and all of which received no time in jail for murder.
We as black and brown people are well within our means to be upset, and we are definitely well within our means to call privilege by it’s name.
White people need to consider the fact that being uncomfortable is a privilege compared to being dead.
Any conversation on race will only be productive when both sides are allowed to tell their truth, and asking black and brown people do anything else is asking us to tell a lie.