I Don’t Get White Privilege

white privilege cardI really don’t get White Privilege.

Let me backup. I do get how black people, are treated differently than whites.  I do get that after centuries of legal racism that it will take a while for those preferences to go away.

But what I don’t get is how this all matters and how it will lead to a better society.  White Privilege sounds like some kind of disease white folk get (I’m sorry, but you have White Privilege…).  But there is no cure or treatment.  It’s just there.

The concept of White Privilege has been part of that thing we call “a conversation on race” for a few decades.  It’s defined as:

the set of societal privileges that white people are argued to benefit from beyond those commonly experienced by people of color in the same social, political, or economic spaces (nation, community, workplace, income, etc.).[note 1] The term denotes both obvious and less obvious unspoken advantages that white individuals may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice.[1] These include cultural affirmations of one’s own worth; greater presumed social status; and freedom to move, buy, work, play, and speak freely.[2] The concept of white privilege also implies the right to assume the universality of one’s own experiences, marking others as different or exceptional while perceiving oneself as normal. It can be compared and/or combined with the concept of male privilege.

As I’ve said before, I tend agree with the concept.  I agree that there are unconscious biases that factor into how people of color are treated vs. white people.  I get it.

But what I don’t get is what to do with it.  What I don’t get it how it becomes a kind of reverse badge of honor that does nothing to improve race relations.  What does all of this consciousness raising do to make a difference?

In 2011, a gay, white blogger named Cleo expressed his own bewilderment concerning White Privilege:

One of my big complaints about the White Privilege argument is that it’s just too easy. I see people calling white privilege fouls at every turn. Yet I’d argue that much of what is pegged as white privilege is indeed class privilege, people love to talk about racism, sexism, but no one likes to talk about classism. Classism also includes many facets though of racism, status, wealth, religion, so it’s harder to pin down and quantify sometimes. It’s much easier to see a white guy doing well and say “oh yeah, another white guy making the big bucks and living in the big house.” It’s just not that simple…

Also, I’m just not sure that with the White Privilege crowd. That alienating even friendly, allies in the white community is a good policy. Part of the genius of MLK’s civil rights movement, was that it gave white’s a gracious exit strategy out of the status quo. Not only did minorities benefit, but the civil rights movement offered a huge benefit to whites as well. It painted a picture of a color-blind society where white’s could see themselves as progressive, as more civilized and evolved. Let’s not underestimate the power of liberal smugness, especially when it’s deserved. Dr. King’s vision of young children of all races playing together one day, was not only a win for the black child not facing discrimination it was a win for the white child as well who was living in a better society.

That is one of the big things missing in today’s social arguments. That sense of a greater good and a striving for a better society for all it’s members. We seem to have forgotten how to sell that big picture. So I’m just now sure how effective the approach is in trying to educate white people on just how privileged, how spoiled, and just how badly they’ve messed things up is going to work. Who would ever even be open to that argument, no one likes to be a scape goat, even if it’s partially deserved…

Also, just on a practical note if you push the main problem with society as being white privilege, what is the solution? They’d have you believe that it’s mainly just education, yet if you really believe that, it seems the only real solution is taking away some of that privilege from whites. Just how do you do that? No group in power is going to willingly give it up, that’s just again self interest. So are we talking legislation, or just outright revolution, storming the castle with torches and pitchforks?

The problem I see here is something that blogger Megan McArdle wrote a few months  ago.  On the one hand, we want to cast racism as taboo.  When someone says something that is racially offensive, they are considered banished from polite society (let us not forget Paula Deen).  If we are basically saying that white folk are racist, then we are saying that they have crossed a line.  In our day and age, there is no casual racist.

Why does this matter to the church?  Because I think at least in mainline circles, we spend a lot of time either expressing how oppressed we are or how we have benefited from oppression.  Like I said, I think we still have issues to deal with like the fact that so many African Americans are getting incarcerated or are the victims of crime in big cities like Chicago.  Like most in polite society, we have bought into the whole “we-need-a-national-conversation-on-race” thing.  But things like White Privilege tend to shut down conversation than opening things up.  I think that more conservative folks need to talk about race more than they do (and they need to take African Americans’ racial frustration seriously).  But if start this by telling white folks how this is all their fault isn’t smart and will only lead to a stalemate. Talk of White Privilege allows both blacks and whites and other persons of color to not really take a look inside and deal with their own prejudices.

What I think the church should be doing is actually have a real conversation where we are honest with each other.  A place where we admit our shortcomings, our fear of the other.  A real conversation will talk about not only the pain and anger African Americans still have, but it would also talk about why so much of the crimes committed in our society are done my African American men.  A real conversation would have whites sharing their fears of the other and also how they feel a sense of unfairness in an America that is very different from the United States of 1963.  They would also be willing to learn how to be more attentive to persons of color and take their lives more seriously.

Maybe after our sharing of our sins and our hopes we would come together and have communion- being reminded that it is Christ that has forgiven our sins and binds us together.

White Privilege might be part of the issue, but it isn’t all of it and it doesn’t really address the need for community.  Instead of talking about who is guilty we need to come to the cross.


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