I swim in white privilege and there is no excuse for racism

I swim in white privilege and there is no excuse for racism August 15, 2017

white privilegeI am a recipient of white privilege. I know it. Frankly, I’m more than a recipient of white privilege. In truth, I bathe in its waters. I breathe its familiar odors.

It is so normal that unless I am careful, I can remain utterly unaware of how easy my white skin makes my life.

I choose to hold every door I possibly can for someone else, especially if that someone else is a black man.

It’s the right thing for me to do, a small, infinitesimally small, way to atone for the inequities of our lives.

I will wave anyone ahead of me in a check-out line, and especially if that person has a skin color different from mine.

I will treat every single person who makes my life one bit easier with the utmost of respect in honor of the shared privilege of both of us occupying the planet at this point in time.

We need to preserve our racist history

Too many lives have not been fair, but I got the giant end of “fairness.” And so did most people I know best. That’s the nature of privilege: we use it to protect ourselves from the discomforts that the less-privileged might bring. So we keep them from the table. We don’t hear their stories.

I understand some are saying that what happened in Charlottesville this past weekend was because elected officials decided  “to cave in to partisan political pressures and seek to erase American history.”

Personally, I think we need to preserve our racist history. We are better off to keep the monuments and acknowledge that US history has marked the soul of all of us with a terrible blot that should always keep us humble.

What happened this past weekend was not a movement to learn from our history. Instead, the Nazi and the Confederate flags, along with torches clearly meant to reflect the KKK, said, “I hate anyone who doesn’t look like me. In fact, I hate them so much I do not acknowledge their humanness.”

Nazi: the embodiment of unexamined white privilege

I’ve read far too much history of the factors leading to the rise of the Nazi movement not to recoil in utter horror with the current revival of the use of the swastika.

There is not one thing redeemable about the Nazi movement. Not one thing. But one thing it is: it is the embodiment of unexamined and unchecked white privilege.

The Myth of Equality by Ken WytsmaI recently read The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma.

The first section, “When the World Became Racist” painfully summarizes our racist history and the ongoing deeply ingrained undertones of it.

Wytsma reminds us that, although technically we may have erased racist laws, we still operate out of a white normative standard. It means that whiteness becomes the bar by which everything else is evaluated.

Now, Wytsma is steeped in the Evangelical world. It is these voters who carry the primary responsibility for putting into the highest office in the land a man who had to be coerced by his aides to finally acknowledge the evil that took place in Charlottesville.

Evangelicalism: a white-supremacist movement

Evangelicalism is overwhelmingly white; it is overwhelmingly privileged. It is fascinatingly white-supremacist. Theologically, it is a world that has long emphasized right belief over right action. As long as they are sure they’ve asked Jesus into their collective hearts, it is OK to support the institutional mistreatment of others because they’ll still go to heaven.

But in this book, Wytsma exposes some of his personal awakening. He discovered that living out of the fullness of one’s salvation means that anyone who calls themselves “Christian” MUST address injustice in all its forms.

He’s at his best when he describes his deeper understanding of the Golden Rule. He insists we prefer a version of what he calls the silver rule: “Do NOT do to others as you would not have them do to you.”

Wytsma states, “While the golden rule demands action—do to others—the silver rule allows for passivity: do not do to others. Just actions become optional. . . The silver rule doesn’t require us to intervene in injustice, as the golden rule does. Simply put, it may keep me from stealing, but it doesn’t demand generosity. It may mean I don’t tell racist jokes, but it doesn’t demand that I pursue reconciliation.”

Wytsma insists that all voices must be heard. All.

We just don’t want to hear

And here’s the problem: we all prefer to hear only the voices that agree with us. The voices of others, the left out, the hurt, the recipients of unfair and unjust practices bring too much discomfort, too much demand for change, too much release of privilege.

Our brains are front-loaded with this message, “Be afraid, be very, very afraid, to let go of any privileges. You’ll never get them back again. They’ll just take advantage of you. Better for you to just keep the advantage and never give an inch.”

And here’s the rest of that whispered message, “Completely ignore what Jesus said about the last being first. He didn’t mean it. Keep your privileges. You’ll be fine.”

No, you won’t. Not now. Not later. They’ll come for you eventually. That’s the nature of evil. It’s never, ever satisfied.

We either move toward a more just society or away from it. There is no neutral stance here. Make your choice.

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  • Tom Murdock

    What a surprise to read that you believe Civil War statues should stay. At most I would have thought a serious discussion should be had before the removal, but if General Lee’s statue is placed on a slave auction site, perhaps there might be widespread agreement that this is not right. My gut tells me that we should focus on a diverse future not on a hurtful, racial past.

  • BubbaJack

    White privilege as a concept is really genetic guilt. It posits that all whites share the culpability of wrongs done by other whites in the past, while denying that all whites be credited for the good of other whites in the past. It’s a lose/lose for the hapless cracker. And it’s all about black folks. This whole thing only exists in the context of black people’s history in America. When whites become a numerical minority, the concept of “white privilege” will be used to justify open persecution of whites, since at that point white people won’t have the power to run interference for blacks, and blacks won’t have an excuse for the failure of individuals of that community. Whites who perpetuated this genetic guilt narrative will suffer just the same as non-believer whites; pandering is not a shield. Being “woke” won’t amount to anything to the white who is being clobbered when the SHTF.

    • jekylldoc

      BubbaJack – I think if you check on what has happened in South Africa since Mandela, you’ll find being a minority does not automatically lead to persecution of whites. I’m not saying it is a wonderfully well-run society, only that being vulnerable doesn’t lead inevitably to being hurt. Principles like property remain as protections, and if anything white people now have to think more carefully about the consequences of neglecting non-whites: their education, their job opportunities, their general inclusion. Whites can no longer pretend that what happens to “them” will not affect “us”. Because, while it is not “all about black folks” it is still true that we are in the same boat together.

      • BubbaJack

        Then we will sink. White leftists will applaud that because their racial guilt seeks expiation, even if it means destruction of themselves and more frightening, the destruction of even their own children.

  • Ursmare

    This is not about white privilege it’s about white guilt. As a mill-hunky’s son form Pittsburgh, I’m guilt free, no privilege was ever extend to me. And although black people ARE treated unfairly, it’s not because I am treated fairly. As a socialist, it’s my duty to confront liberal absurdity.

    • jekylldoc

      “although black people ARE treated unfairly, it’s not because I am treated fairly”
      Yes, that’s true, and it’s a good point. We can’t make all the unfairness go away, and it is a waste of time to sit around comparing victimization levels. On the other hand, this society is our society, and awareness of unfairness helps us think clearly about how to make it better.

    • Sophotroph

      Ladies and gentlemen, Exhibit A.

  • Thank you for this thoughtful, accurate piece.

    I was sure that there would be many others who appreciated your great care in explaining White Privilege in the comments section, alas, only those whose White Privilege has swaddled them so tightly have decided to respond here.

    If you could do a great Mitzvah*, please in the future consider writing an article explaining how White Privilege and white guilt are two very, very different and unrelated things. White Privilege is so ingrained in those who are most afflicted by it that they very often refuse to believe it even exists, while feelings of white guilt are quite at the forefront of one’s perception.

    (*I’m not even Jewish, but oh, they’ve got the best words sometimes!)