I shared something a while back that led to me having a conversation with another white American male, one whose late wife was African-American and who has a child that is thus considered “black” in the American imposition of racist binaries. The conversation was about the idea and the terminology of white privilege. As our conversation proceeded, I very much started to grasp his perspective on what he found problematic about the terminology, in particular that privilege is not something that someone can simply divest themselves of individually. The only way to eliminate privilege is for all to gain what only some now have, at which point privilege of that particular sort is reduced or eliminated.
I’ve found myself thinking a lot about intersectionality because it relates not only to that present-day matter, but also ancient followers of Jesus like Joanna, who may have had significant wealth and status, but was probably despised by some because of her connection with Herod’s household, as well as not having the same opportunities that males of her status and background had. That is the heart of the matter. Privilege doesn’t mean everything is easy. Privilege means that some are disadvantaged in ways that you are not, that you lack a disadvantage others have. If you are white and poor, or rich and hated, it may not feel like privilege. Perhaps we need better terminology. But for the moment, what we need is to help people understand how something like privilege can be multifaceted and complex.
Here are some links related to this topic, interspersed with further thoughts generated by them and/or my conversation.
Racism is morally toxic even while it is economically advantageous to some. Thinking about this led me to realize that racism doesn’t only harm those who are discriminated against. It actually does not benefit anyone, in at least one important sense. It may benefit specific individuals in specific cases where discrimination occurs, but it is on the whole to the detriment of society and brings negative consequences that impact everyone. Perhaps we should focus more attention on that point than we have tended to?
Is the privilege that comes with whiteness a bad thing that we need to eliminate, or a good thing that we need to spread to others? If all have it, then the term “privilege” ceases to apply.
My conversation partner posed an interesting question, offering me a hypothetical situation in which I can see one of the following two miracles occur in the world – prejudice disappears, or socioeconomic disadvantages that reflect past prejudice disappear. Which would you choose? Which would have the longer-term impact?
A good end point in our conversation was to emphasize something that certain ways of phrasing the matter can fail to convey: the aim is not to take something good away from whites, but to take something bad away from society.