I have blogged about issues of privilege in the past and thought a lot about the concept. I love well thought out nuanced articles on the topic. This article by Eric Kaufmann is a good example about what I like to see. He dismisses the notion of privilege as being attempts of whites to influence our society and indeed argues that much of the problem stems from punishing whites who develop some degree of white consciousness. It is a good read.
I disagree with Kaufmann about his assertion on whites’ attempt to influence our society by promoting white privilege. He does not find evidence of this attempt because that is not how white privilege operates. Rather it is an unspoken type of social force that does not need to be overtly supported. Indeed, unless we explicitly address white privilege, or just about any type of privilege, then it will continue to exist. So I think the first part of his paper is a misunderstanding of the nature of privilege.
But the second part of his article is quite intriguing. It has forced me to think about what is a healthy white racial identity and do we try to encourage such an identity in our current society. We have not really thought about what a white racial identity means in our society, and we get little discussion about in in academia. Yes there is a subfield of “Whiteness Studies” in race and ethnicity work, but I do not think that the work coming from that subfield is very helpful. Most of what I have read either encourages whites to abandon their white racial identity and/or to simply agree with people of color’s desires.
This has created a void which I think Kaufmann rightly recognizes has allowed the emergence of Trump. I do not think that any serious person believes that all whites who voted for Trump are racist. But a good many of them may be tired of being told that their racial identity is evil. That they should not be encouraged to think good about their group while those of other races are free to develop esteem about their racial group. We have made a lot of important improvements over the past few decades. But what we have not done is honestly think about what whites are supposed to think about themselves in this new racial reality.
Those who have read some of my previous writings on race relations know the premium I put upon having productive interracial communication. I am especially concerned about our inability to engage in active listening to individuals with differing perceptions on race. This communication and listening should help us to develop an empathy for others and to have some understanding of why they have certain beliefs. As I consider the position of white Americans, I get it that some of them feel that they are being left behind. I can see how they do not feel invested in this current racial narrative. We have to bring them into the conversation by thinking about what we would want in a positive racial white identity. And merely saying to stop being white or that whites are evil is not going to cut it.
While I am not white, I do think some of my empathy comes from being a Christian. An interesting thing happens when I talk about Christianophobia. At first individuals deny that it exists. Then when I document situations where Christians are being treated as second class citizens then I am told that the Christians deserve this. I agree that some Christians are just looking for reasons to feel like they are victimized, but there are some real issues that have been brought up and dismissed by so many people simply because they do not like Christians.
So I think I get it when whites feel that their concerns are not being addressed in modern society. That does not mean that whites know what it is like to be a black man being pulled over by the police and wondering if this might be a police stop that goes bad. But it does mean that unless we listen to them and help them to construct a healthy positive racial identity, then a good number of them will always be vulnerable to politicians like Trump.
At this point of our history it does us little good to ignore the fact that we have not done a good job of considering the role of the majority group in our emerging multiracial, multicultural society. Lord knows that as a black man, I have no desire to go back to a time where the silencing of our voices was the norm. But neither do I want my white brothers and sisters to have their voices silenced either. Working together I think we can figure out a white racial identity that is neither a pretext for white nationalism nor a negation of anything white. But we have to work to do if we want to see the emergence of a white racial identity. It is work worth doing because I do not believe we will have true racial peace until we have a healthy approach to whiteness.