Cute and fuzzy labels to describe the evils of racism need to stop. Labels like “white privilege” is one of them.
No matter what you call it, white privilege is racism in black-face and dressed up in culturally appropriated attire. Giving racism fancy makeovers to soothe white people’s consciences offer a damaged goods discount shelf racial mea culpa to people of color. These two words have turned into something that white people can flippantly say that they acknowledge or recognize as a get out of racial responsibility free card.
I have experienced certain white people who act as if they deserve a Nobel Peace Prize because they recognize their “white privilege.” No one gets a gold medal or a York’s Peppermint Patty for this behavior.
Our world is long overdue to raise the bar for white people who think they deserve a pat on the back for not yelling racial epithets at people of color, calling the police on us for living while Black, or killing us for breathing while Black. There is nothing sacred about the term, white privilege, that it deserves unquestioned devotion.
In this post, I discuss why white privilege is racism and my suggestion for taking it off the table.
White privilege sounds as if it is something inherently good, and that alone is bad.
Just plain bad.
White privilege has convinced masses of people that they are eating collard greens, when in fact they are eating green bean casserole.
Just plain deceptive.
Have you ever heard someone say, “It is a privilege and an honor?”
I have on numerous occasions.
Now, let us insert the word “white,” and what do we have?
“It is a white privilege and a white honor.”
The statement sounds like the opening line to an acceptance speech for a white supremacist of the year award.
What’s next: white people claiming to possess slavery perks?
White privilege sounds like a brochure of amenities for a luxury resort and spa called, “Privilege Palace.”
Arguably, white privilege sounds more fun and chicer than labels like “Grantee of Genocide,” “Accomplice to Injustice,” “Racism Recipient,” “Proponent of Corruption,” or “Benefactor of Cultural Norms, Materials, and Systems Created by Murderers, Thugs, and Thieves.”
Yet, if racism is vile, nasty, dehumanizing, and unjust, then why would we call people who gain from it “privileged?” Indeed, privilege does not speak to the horrors of racism.
We can learn a thing or two from history. When various white people risked their lives to end slavery or Jim Crow, they focused on taking on racism, not waxing poetic to create a new sexy label to soften their connection to it.
In other words, any white person can address the impact and influence of race and racism in their own life without slapping white privilege flesh-toned bandages over centuries of genocide and the illogical belief that the Civil Rights Movement completely eradicated any long-lasting effects.
White privilege serves up an enticing and attractive distraction from the real issue of racism.
I admit that I have a kind of love-unlove* relationship with the term. On one hand, it might get the job done in a swift efficient package of summing up how good ol’ hard working white people who never owned slaves benefit and indirectly contribute to the maintenance of systems of power all derived from a made-up concept- a race concept.
It makes sense: If you benefit, then you are privileged. Herein lies the allure of using cute and fuzzy labels for white people who suddenly see the racial light.
It is a linguistic turn that seems empathetic and acts as a framework for certain white people to make sense of everyday workings of racism. However, white people unpacking their invisible knapsacks of racial privileges slowly cloaks and smothers the life of undoing racism.
We do not need to take detours to create more terms and polite words for racism. We need to call it for what it is and deal with it.
Furthermore, white people confessing the ways racism operates typically serves as a revelation to themselves and for themselves. Often these moments are not revelatory for people who have been 40 acres and a mule times infinity steps ahead in understanding how racism works.
To put it even more plainly, white people acknowledging their white privilege is akin to arriving seven weeks late to a party and asking, “Where is everybody?”
It is that absurd.
White Supremacy’s Best Friend
White privilege is white supremacy’s new best friend in the whole wide world because it helps to maintain racism in a much more covert way. “White privilege” allows white people to reposition themselves as inherently better than people of color in the name of dismantling racism.
The dichotomy invoked with “white privilege” reinforces the very power differential that we claim to be dismantling. It implies that people of color are ever “disadvantaged,” “losers” or “hindrances.”
The label itself does nothing to undo old racial hierarchies, for it works to perpetuate them. Are people of color supposed to be content with using language to perpetually disempower ourselves?
How does it psychologically benefit people of color to continue to use words that reinforce the lie that we are inferior because of the color of our skin? If people of color accept and use language that signals low worth, how does this help us?
We are what we think. Our adoption of this self-defeating language helps further white supremacy.
The expectations of accountability have been set too low for this so-called “privileged” class. Besides, white privilege definitely does not explain when certain white people backstab, front stab, and shank each other over a dollar, either.
Various white people do not get to be “privileged” for having white racial identities, just like I am not about to start calling myself “black cursed” because of the color of my skin. They get to own their racism—they get to own the ways it along with race has shaped and structured their lives.
White Man’s Burden: The Remix
White privilege is like a remix of an old song from history about the “white man’s burden.” I understand that it can feel like a heavy load when a white person realizes that racism is not the Confederate flag flying, neo-nazi adjacent, tiki-torch carrying caricature of a person, but “good” white people like themselves.
I empathize with how earth-shattering this realization can feel when they think in some way they are connected to something that goes against the core of their beliefs. By “earth-shattering,” I mean this in every sense of the word.
Instead of learning to process the weight of this realization in a way that invites the fullness of who they are, many of us lull them to woke sleep with white privilege greatest hits.
Racism is not some remix of a burden too hard for white people to carry that it requires a label to distinguish the “good” white people from the “bad” white people. Accepting “white privilege” arguably involves accepting a watered-down term in attempts to make it more palatable for millions of white people to understand how racism works.
I know a lot of us mean well when we use the term, white privilege. Again, I have a love-unlove relationship with it. I think we can do better.
Closing: Taking Two Words Off the Table
What if we take white privilege, these two words, are off the table? What if we take them off the table to question and reflect?
By removing them from the narrative or even suspending them, we can compel people to add more words – to think more intently about what they are actually saying. Currently, rapid-fire social media commentary, where hashtags, short form hot takes and viral take downs rule the news cycle. We can benefit from slowing our conversation and using more than two words.
Instead of two words, more white people can put on their thinking caps and use complete sentences. I am willing to make time to hear a white person use a paragraph or two instead allowing “white privilege” roll off their tongues like they are talking about dinner plans on a regular night after work.
If “good” white people really want to create change through words, they will choose words to reflect what it means to ignore how racism works in our society. And if they feel that they must use two words, they will not use a combination that communicates a sense of entitlement and power over others.
If certain white people perceive that they must have a label, these individuals will choose words that better reflect reality and horrors of association with racism. They will rethink language that minimizes the ways they have been complicit in keeping racism in all of its overt and covert mechanisms in-tact.
Contrary to popular social justice opinion, using the term, white privilege, is unnecessary for our diverse humanity to undo racist systems and construct liberating ones.
White people—any people – can choose to live the solution.
As for cute and fuzzy things, racism has no place with teddy bears, puppies, kittens, knit sweaters, and rainbows.
*unlove- As the saying goes, “Hate is such a strong term.”