Recently a sincere white American Christian male asserted that there is no such thing as white privilege, that white Christians have no obligation to inquire as to whether there is any such thing as white privilege, that people of color, sexual minorities, and others (including, I’d hazard, women) have nothing to complain about in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, and…well, it just went on and on and on. He was angry, too, at being told that perhaps his views were not the only views that mattered. As a sincere white American Christian male, he had done all the work already, and as he was comfortable, then there was no reason to be discomforted by the complaints of others.
He masked this in Christianese, of course, that the God of the Bible is color blind, and so on.
I responded to help him maybe see that he might not be fully apprised as to the facts of life in America, let alone the facts of life in the white American Evangelical church.
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The problem of white privilege and white narcissism is not because some people have white skin. That doesn’t cause any problems nor does it provide any benefit.
Racism is not based upon skin color as much as it is based upon certain people having power over others, unjustifiably, and that power is based upon the stupidest of reasons: skin color. (So yes, skin color, but skin color itself is powerless.) It is a power dynamic, it is a social construct, and it is an arbitrary non-rational reason. (Skin color! You might as well pick dentition or the ability to taste cilantro!)
But it comes down to this: In America, people with light/white skin and certain types of facial and tonsorial attributes are marked as being of the approved, normal, and default class. It’s self-perpetuating, and it is based upon the “fact” that to be white is to have the power to decide the worth and value of everyone else, white and non-white, and to enforce that worth and value through the tools of social, economic, political, and employment power.
White people in America get first dibs, by default. There is no “White History Month” because history is, by default, about us white people. We carve out Black History Month and Latinx Contribution Week and Sexual Minorities Day from White History because without such deliberate markers, we would not pay attention to anyone who is not like us: white American. We don’t have to. We aren’t inconvenienced by the silence and ghosting of others.
I’m a white man in America. I need do nothing at all to fit in, and because I need do nothing at all, I believe no one else, of any gender or orientation or skin culture or religion, need do anything at all, either. I have no barriers, therefore no barriers exist.
People around me, good people, sincere people, hurting people, tell me that white privilege exists, that it damages them and blocks them and destroys them. I believe these good people are telling me truth. It might even be the truth.
If I am a good man, it is upon me to listen and to think, and then to figure out if I have a part in rectifying the wrong, as well as what part I have in creating and extending the situation.
Talking about white privilege and white power does nothing to harm me, a white man. If white privilege goes away, I lose nothing. What I gain is a stronger, richer, deeper society, a better appreciation of the Kingdom of God and the people he loves, and perhaps, just maybe, I can increase my circle of friends to include those who are not exactly like me.
I will admit, it was very, very hard for me to stop thinking white privilege didn’t exist. And unless I am very careful, my default position always creeps back—and that is, itself, white privilege.
But white privilege and white centering does exist. Our friends and family and loved ones are telling us this.
It is OK to listen to them. We are not harmed by their observations, and if we are willing, we can make efforts to change the way things are.
A Twitter connection says this about white privilege and racism, and fighting against it: it’s like being in a canoe in a swift-flowing river. If you do nothing, you go with the flow. If you paddle with the river, you go faster. But if you fight against the current, you can go upriver, away from the falls. It is hard work. And you must do it continuously, because when you stop—the river takes over to pull you right to the tragic end you tried to avoid. See @absurdistwords for a more thorough explanation of this analogy.