Monday, October 15, 2012

Why "White Privilege" is A Narrow-Minded and Ridiculous Term

To put it bluntly, it is grossly misused and a small-minded term. But there's more. And I warn you now. This is yet another post dripping with sarcasm. Hopefully you can discern it but just to be safe, I put all the sarcasm in bold for you.

Before a few months ago I had never in my life heard this term. Some people would have you believe that I never heard it because I'm blind to it - after all I'm white, how could I possibly be able to see when people treat me better than everyone else? Well let me tell you how.

I did not grow up in the same America that most of the people who seem to be oppressed by the white people did. I'm not saying it doesn't happen in Virginia either but I do know that Virginia is a commonwealth. This is somewhat different from a state in that it is governed by the people. So if you live in Virginia and you're not white and you're being oppressed by the white people then I highly suggest you do something about it. The government of Virginia gives you the power and resources to change this state so that you don't have to experience it. It's not my place to fix it for you, after all I'm white right?

Obviously this term makes me angry. Can you tell? Why you ask? Because the people throwing it around usually are generalizing people they don't even know. They got mistreated (or someone they care about was mistreated) by a few or several white people and they directly blame all white people for the problem. It doesn't matter what the root of the problem was, they blame the entire white race. Sounds ignorant doesn't it? After all, there's multiple white countries they are including without even meaning to. See, if I read these post in contexts, they are primarily talking about the US and UK but always slant the words toward every person in this world who is white.

But I'm not done. Remember how many times I've written here about living in a racist town? Well, if you haven't read it before, let me tell you now. I live in a town where derogatory terms like the "n" word (which I will never type nor utter) and several other derogatory terms are used daily. I hear them more than I ever care to admit and they anger me just as much as the term white privilege. All of them are ignorant terms.

Now, despite living in racist land I still don't see this so called 'white privilege' going on the way it is talked about on the web. 10 years ago, maybe, I don't know and I wasn't paying attention. Or maybe I was too white to see it. Anyway, now (as in the last 5 years that I've been paying attention to this town) there are several Indian families, countless Mexican families and individuals, some European races, several Korean families, some families that I don't know their culture, and goodness only knows what other races are here. Yep, you guessed it. As racist as this town is, all those cultures feel welcomed and at home here.There are much better places (and less expensive places) close by that they could live but none of them choose to.

I rarely hear any discussions about the cultures of any of the non-white individuals. I have not been asked about my husbands culture. None of us seem to have been given credit for the exotic factor that these white privilege activist assert that we do. Not once have I heard derogatory comments about the Italians that are here. But they're white so I'm sure that's why. The Koreans - the only thing I ever heard about them was how they own a Japanese restaurant and aren't even Japanese.

I've only heard one person talk about how foreigners steal our jobs. The man is a drug addict and thus, no one cares what kind of ridiculous mess spews out of his mouth. He's white, we grant him that privilege of being able to say what he wants. I swear it has nothing to do with the drugs.

I've only heard one person say that Chinese people cook dogs and cats and he refused to eat at the Chinese restaurant. His loss, I go there all the time and if it's cat, it still tastes good so I'm not complaining. This person was a Vietnam war vet and of course white, so he can say those things. It doesn't matter that he suffered through that atrocious war because that would have nothing to do with his concerns toward Asians.

Some of the most prominent people in this town are *gasp* African American. Can you imagine the horror of having to sit down and have tea or lunch with a professional African American. I'm just not sure my white skin can handle it. I may look too pale. Maybe I should find some all white businesses. Oh wait, you can't because there are none left that any self respecting citizen would walk into. (Because no self-respecting citizen would frequent a neo-Nazi organization nor would the general public know they exist because it's illegal!)

While I can only speak for my town specifically (okay well 2 towns because I divide the majority of my time between them), I know for a fact that this white privilege that some speak of is not an overpowering presence everywhere. In this tiny racist town I know of jobs that specifically seek out Mexicans (and no I'm not making a racist Home Depot joke. We honestly don't have a Home Depot here.) In many fields here, Mexicans are preferred for various reasons. That's our white privilege rearing it's ugly head. After all, it's only because of this privilege that we're free to prefer Mexicans. And no, before anyone climbs up on their high-horse, I'm not referring to hiring illegal immigrants. Around here they are preferred (and it is openly stated) because they are willing to work, don't call in sick all the time and they are good at construction.

Why does "white privilege" bother me so bad? It's because I KNOW for a fact not all white people enjoy this privilege that everyone speaks of. Not all white skin colors are openly given free rights to life as these white privilege extremists would tell you. Using the term "white privilege" the way they do is narrow minded at best. Why? Let's consider how many white races are present in the US:

  1. French
  2. German
  3. Scottish
  4. British
  5. Irish
  6. Romanian (some not all are pale skinned)
  7. Scandanavian
  8. Austria
  9. Chile
  10. Costa Rica
  11. Russia
Countries with white minority populations (I bet these people don't feel the privilege either)
  1. Barbados
  2. Bahamas
  3. Columbia
  4. Dominican Republic
  5. Haiti
  6. Mexico
  7. Namibia
  8. Nicaragua
  9. Panama
  10. Peru
These are just SMALL samplings from the list of white races. Once you really put this in perspective you can see how small minded the term "white privilege" is. I will guarantee you that Russians feel just as under-privileged in the US as African Americans and Mexicans if not more. (Hello, Cold War anyone?) They are not treated better simply because of their skin color.

But APPI, you're white, you're obviously blind to how well you've been treated. No, no I'm not. You see, though I am white, I fall into the populations listed above. I've not been granted special living privileges because of my race and let me tell you, I blend in very well! I also know of my families history. I took the time to research it.

Most of my family wasn't in this country during slavery. The few that were did not own slaves at all. Instead they had massive amounts of children to manage their homes (one relative had 21 kids!!). We were not all from European countries either. How I wound up with white skin is more a product of environmental evolution than that of being from a privileged European bloodline.

My family didn't benefit from the building of this country "off the backs of slaves" any more than people of color have benefited from it. And I sincerely hope that these white privilege extremist realize that not all slaves were people of color. Look it up, Irish people (ironically white) were treated and used as slaves too. They were so privileged to be treated that way, weren't they? Not all people of color were sold into slavery by white people. Many were sold by their own country men. *gasp* Other people of color!

I suggest those of you who are sold on how privileged you are for being white do some further research. I'm not saying that being white doesn't have it's advantages, but we are not the only race that has them. The same privilege is enjoyed by any race in it's own circle. Don't believe me, walk into The Bronx and see how trusted you are with your white skin. Or better yet, go to another white country and see how accepted you are as their countryman - anyone of them. Even other white people don't like Americans. There's your privilege right there. See how small minded this term is getting now?

It obviously doesn't work nearly as well as it's touted to. Here's some recommended reading for you privileged people out there. I beseech you - do your research before you jump on the 'white' privilge bandwagon.

I highly recommend this post. This is the most broad-minded view I've seen of this topic yet in our circle. She has a quiz there you can take to see how this has affected you.
ESL Marriage: Many Villages: Racial Privilege

And for some reputable (non-personal) sources:
The Forgotten Slaves: Whites in Servitude in Early America and Industrial Britain
White Slavery, what the Scots already know  (search this page for "Virginia" so you can get a better idea of why this term doesn't fit in everywhere!)
PBS: Indentured Servants In The U.S.
They Were White and They Were Slaves: The Untold History of the Enslavement of Whites in Early America

10 comments:

  1. The only ethnic group in America that it is still acceptable to make fun of and denigrate openly, and people from a wide variety of backgrounds do, is poor white southern Appalachian people.

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  2. That's true. No one seems bothered by hillbilly and redneck jokes.

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  3. I've been saying this for ten years; not because I think that we should be able to denigrate other groups, but because this, too, needs to be stopped.

    However, it's not necessarily regional. People are described as "white trash" even up here in the progressive northwest when they're lower-income, working-class white people with different values than the 'hipster' majority.


    Overt classism is still acceptable; people who get their clothes at thrift stores because they need to (not because it's cool and ironic) are looked down on, and sites like people of walmart that portray generally lower class people who are ignorant of social norms are wildly popular. (If Lady Gaga wears the same things, it's considered cool!)

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  4. I definitely think white privilege is a thing. There's different types of privilege depending on the situation and the dynamics of institutional power. If you're looking at the United States as a monolith, or at the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, or at the First Korean Baptist Church, different ethnic groups are majority and make the decisions in each place and privilege/power dynamics change accordingly.

    However, there is also a second subtext that does, indeed, contain a common and shared history. The things that have happened in the past do get encoded into the narrative of a culture. Think of how American culture is considered to be more "independent" than even the European cultures that came here. This is due to the fact that the people who left Europe wanted a change they couldn't get there and decided to make it themselves, or they wanted fame and/or fortune, so they took off to the unknown, where they had no family name or even infrastructure to fall back on; they made everything with their bare hands, were proud of what they accomplished, and passed on these values of hard work and accomplishment to their children.


    If such good things can be passed down and become part of a culture, then also the negative things have been passed down too. It's not something we can ignore just because it happened a long time ago.


    But privilege isn't a bad thing that we have to get rid of; it's something that exists because power structures exist. It's an effect, not a cause; a mental note, not a soul-crushing guilt over a past we didn't participate in. So it doesn't really bother me as much as it makes me realize that there are things that I do automatically benefit from in some situations because I'm white. Some things may seem not that significant (being able to drive an old, beat-up car without being seen as a gang member, for example) but that's because I've not been inconvenienced by them.


    For me, it is about reconciling the different environments I live and move in with the realities of history and people's reactions to people who look like me. I can't say that there's anything I actually refrain from doing "because of white privilege" or "white guilt" -- I think we all try to treat others with respect and dignity. Instead, my awareness of it helps me to empathize with people whose angle on the world is different from my own and just to try to figure out how to speak a common language with as many people as possible. We all view the world with our own lenses; for me, being aware of how I am viewed by others helps me adjust the aperture :)

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  5. Some animals are 'more equal than others'. That holds true for Animal Farm as it does for most of the human condition. Which one is more equal than others is culture and region specific.

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  6. Yes! There are many factors involved. Even the white trash jokes/innuendos don't represent just one group, it's quite diversified.

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  7. I think you get what I'm saying. My biggest problem with "white privilege" is that it is almost never used in a positive way. It's becoming a hate term and it is often applied to people that it doesn't even apply to.

    If "white privilege" is such a horrific and pressing term in the US, then why are we not also addressing other privileges as aggressively? For example, Santarians are allowed to sacrifice animals though it is against the law. Sikhs are allowed to wear their turbans instead of motorcycle helmets and can wear them in military uniform. I am not complaining about these things BUT, I would never condone animal sacrifice and the military is referred to as the "uniformed" service for a reason. Should we not also be working harder to equalize these things rather than providing them the individual right to worship as they please?

    After all, if everything is standardized and anyone who benefits in some way from anything is wrong, shouldn't we wipe it all out and become completely socialist?

    Just my thoughts. I think this term "white privilege" is grotesque at best. I feel the same way about the term "westerner" when it comes out of an Indian aunties mouth. Both are blanket statements that are applied to groups of people that don't deserve it.

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  8. Great comment. You're right. On some level, just about everyone in this world could claim they had been mistreated by someone based on color, social standing, etc. My only complaint is the choice of words used. More people should realize that this is not an all-encompassing problem, it's unique to each individual, city, state, country etc. Thank you!

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  9. " I feel the same way about the term "westerner" when it comes out of an Indian aunties mouth."

    ha ha, wait till my blog entry about the word 'gori' comes out :D

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