What does it mean to be white in the United States of America?
A Liberal Head
White people need to recognize the fact that white people and everyone else live in a different country. Being white means you are in a distinct and uniquely advantageous situation, doubly so if you are a white man. Because there’s an intersectionality to being white and male that means institutions have been designed to enable their success in a way that represses others.
This country was founded on white supremacism. Institutions were created to enable the empowerment of white men who repressed previous generations and built their empires on their backs of slaves and mercantilism. Often, these privileges go unseen: things like being able to watch television and see people who look like you being positively represented. Other examples include knowing that your neighbours will likely always be pleasant to you if you move, and that people are not likely to make assumptions about your economic status based on your skin color.
There is a larger preference for whiteness that is pervasive throughout society. Beyond the boost received by individuals, social constructs like seeing people of a certain skin color abundantly celebrated in memorials and museums and even on money play a strong role. Schools teach books written by white people and reinforce their moral lessons – white people have a responsibility to elevate other forms of culture and literature to put the work of minorities and women on the same level. Equality means making everyone the same, and that means that white people need to get over their discomfort and adjust to what it means to share the power they have always held.
A loss of absolute power means that there is no relative spectrum for the difference between equality and persecution. Part of this adjustment means having uncomfortable conversations where white people have to sit and listen to others without attempting to lead like they always have. It’s time for white people to understand that not being in the drivers seat doesn’t mean they have to sit in silence in the back seat: it just means they get to stop independently decided where the car is headed.
Tails from the Right
Why the hell should I apologize for the colour of my skin? I’ve treated everyone I’ve ever met with respect and humility for my entire life – but somehow racism/sexism/transphobia is a fundamental part of my world view and the world I live in. Somehow racism and sexism are institutional in a world where everyone has the same opportunities as everyone else.
The notion of “white privilege” is just another creation of a political scapegoat to appease a pissed-off base. Democrats understand they have a multi-ethnic coalition voting for them, and they understand that it’s easiest to rally support when it’s against a common enemy. So they picked me – because they’re yelling up at someone who has worked hard for their entire life and telling them that I really didn’t work that hard, that I was handed everything because of my skin color. Next they’ll be telling me that the job that I went to school for, busted my ass for should have gone to someone else because ‘it’s just fair’.
The fact that I’m not a minority and that I haven’t lived in their shoes should not make me part of a problem. I don’t understand why we should be treating people differently because of the color of their skin. Isn’t that racism? But they aren’t asking to be treated worse, no, they’re asking for advantages. There’s an entire group named ‘Black Lives Matter’. Why? Doesn’t everyone’s life matter? Why should they be more special than other people? Isn’t that racial preference? If we want to get rid of racism, shouldn’t we stop bringing it up at every possible opportunity?
And whether I’m born tall or short, blonde or brunette, with a slow or fast metabolism, none of us are the same. Am I privileged if I’m tall? If I’m not bald? Because that seems less like ‘privilege’ and more like they’re just complaining. Seems to me like if we want to solve this notion of “privilege”, we should fix the very real problems of poverty, education, and substandard economic opportunities for poor people – whatever color they may be.
The truth is there are shades of truth to both arguments. One cannot blame individuals living in a current age for the discrimination woven into the framework of institutions over hundreds of years, nor is it reasonable to accept that someone can be simply told that their beliefs are wrong and that they should think differently or be labeled as discriminatory. The reverse holds equally true: an acknowledgement that privilege is not an advantage, but rather a reduced volume of obstacles in the way of individual success, is crucial, as is an understanding that certain voices should be less prominent in decisions that affect other voices to a higher degree.
The many issues faced today often take the form not of aggressive or explicit racism, but systems that have existed to reinforce power held by certain groups. This is evidenced in education systems, wealth distribution and social frameworks. These are enormously complex problems and cannot be expected to be deconstructed in a timeframe of a single election. But core issues of identity will remain, manipulated by opportunists at every possible turn. It becomes the responsibility of the individual to recognize that they may be influenced by things they do not completely understand or have a limited view of. Only then can groups of different voices truly come together and speak as one. But whether that happens in a year, a decade, a lifetime or a millennium – you may as well flip a coin.