Removing the Blinders Part II
Don't get me wrong. The title may suggest that I have no love for the black community, even though I am a member. I'm actually very proud of my people. We went from being property that could be destroyed at will during slavery' to a community under siege during formal Jim Crow; to a group that, despite being discouraged and intimidated away from voting in 2012, voted anyway in record numbers, numbers that surpass those of our white counterparts. Black folks have met just about every obstacle and overcome them; there wasn't a challenge that black folks couldn't overcome. Put another way, black people were not supposed to make it to the twenty-first century, and yet we did. And that is amazing.
However, I can't help but think of how much further black America can and should go. There are a series of problems and ideals both inside and outside of the community that have somehow managed to outlive their usefulness. The three that stick out most in my mind, and the subject of this essay, are the politics of respectability, patriarchy within the black community, and white privilege. These ideas do more harm than good. And, while they may appear to be non-issues for some, they show up unexpectedly, wield a lot of influence, and cause a lot of problems. My question is this: How can the black community ever go any further without truly confronting these problems? The longer that respectability politics goes unquestioned, shaming around difficult personal choices will continue. As long as white privilege is allowed to operate silently, only to be called out some of the time, no real progress can truly be made. And while patriarchy continues its chokehold on the black community, stifling the voices of those who aren't cis gendered, heterosexual males, discrimination with its many nuances can never be done away with.
The first step in solving a problem is admitting that you have one.
PROBLEM #2: WHITE PRIVILEGE
Jessica Valenti in her book, Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters, attempts to describe the invisible impact white privilege has on society and cultural movements. The book is about feminism and is a primer for young women on why feminism is still important, but the author does try to tackle intersectionality as well as how white privilege plays against this. Quoting Peggy McIntosh, Valenti cites:
"Peggy McIntosh ... talks about how, through feminism, she's seen men's unwillingness to admit that they are overprivileged, and then relates this to race:
'Thinking through unacknowledged male privilege as a phenomenon, I realized that, since hierarchies in our society are interlocking, there was most likely a phenomenon of white privilege that was similarly denied and protected. As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.'
McIntosh goes through a list of privileges that being white affords her. Just a few: I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented; I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection; when I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization", I am shown that people of my color made it what it is; I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing, or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race; I can choose blemish cover-up or bandages in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin; I can easily by posters, postcards, dolls, toys, and children's magazines featuring people of my race". (pp. 230-231)
Whites are given a wide range of representation and leeway to make mistakes in this society. Whites are never considered the deviant and are always considered the standard. Whatever standards, morals, and ideals they consider important are "normal" and never questioned. White privilege infiltrates, though quietly, all other aspects of society, creating and reinforcing hierarchies.
As a result of white privilege, whites don't experience the same consequences as people of color experience for the same actions. Sure, there are some whites who go to jail for drug possession, for example, but they are treated much more sympathetically than their counterparts of color. [SEE: Eugene Jarecki's documentary, The House I Live In, which chronicles the forty-year War on Drugs and the long reaching effects of this war. SEE ALSO: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander -- which was quoted in Part One-- a book regarding the same subject, the War on Drugs]. In other words, white privilege creates a double standard that allows whites to escape from harm, deflect criticism, and avoid serious punishment for behavior that a person of color would be chastised, shunned, and possibly jailed for.
White privilege also has an effect on history. Real heroes of color are white-washed, tamed by historians, or never mentioned at all Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy, among others, are given pages upon pages of praise from historians; however, what is never considered are the people of color who were either destroyed by white progress (in the case of Columbus); or those who played a central role in moving the nation forward (in the case of both Lincoln and Kennedy). Stated another way, one cannot discuss Columbus without mentioning the genocide of the indigenous populations he encountered, nor can Lincoln of Kennedy be discussed without including the efforts of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. (among others)
Along with history, everyday experiences and conversations are limited. Because being white is considered "normal", or the "norm", so experiences that aren't common to white America are never discussed. Being white is considered by may, including some black folks, to be universal; so if you aren't white, you are the "deviant", and whatever your unique experiences, perspectives, and ideals are, they also become deviant. For example, only recently, as the economy struggles through a recession, has poverty entered the public consciousness. Why? Because more whites are falling into poverty and the low wage work that does nothing to ease it. Only when White America suffers, does a social ill like poverty or a social issue like welfare reform enter into the conversation.
The reason white privilege is a problem for black America is because of the myriad ways that white privilege acts to oppress black folks and other communities of color. [SEE: This is White Privilege tumblr page] The problem for us arises when: 1.) We ignore those who call out white privilege and claim that they are making excuses; and 2.) We allow white privilege to continue, accepting the double standards created and the hierarchies maintained.
Some may disagree with me, but I believe that white privilege is a white problem that can only really be solved by white people. Sure, there are authors of color who take issue with white privilege, but who long does the discussion stay in the news. More white people -- yes, WHITE PEOPLE -- have to step forward and acknowledge their privilege and be willing to divest themselves of it. As I stated before, the first step in solving a problem is admitting that one exists. White people must admit to their privilege, then do all they can to dismantle it. And it cannot be the usual suspects stepping forward (I'm looking at your Michael Moore, Tim Wise, and Peggy McIntosh)
White people must then join together with communities of color, not as saviors but as allies. Only then can white privilege be dismantled. I make it sound easier than it is; trust me, it won't be. But it is a step in the right direction, just as (some) men who set aside their privilege in order to help dismantle PATRIARCHY, the third and final subject of this essay
This is White Privilege tumblr page
- This... is White Privilege
White privilege is hard (for white people) to see, so consider this a compilation album of White Privilege's Greatest Hits. Submit your examples. All flavors of people welcome, but we don't serve...