From a recent poll: “Half of white Americans – including 60% of the white working class – told researchers that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem today as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.” (Public Religion Research Institute Nov. 2015)
Many of us white folks have an anecdote or two about so-called “reverse discrimination”:
“My uncle didn’t get a promotion because they were trying to bring up more Blacks instead!”
“My daughter didn’t get into the school she wanted, but a Black girl with lower grades and scores did get in!”
Individual anecdotes may well be true. Still, anecdotes are not statistical, verifiable studies that describe overall reality. That same article notes: “But the sheer size of the racial/ethnic gap concerning perceived discrimination against white Americans is particularly interesting because there is very little in the way of objective evidence of this discrimination and the disadvantage that typically follows. On just about every measure of social or economic well-being, white Americans fare better than any other group.”
When I began diving into the realities of racism several years ago, I committed to doing objective research. I would not/will not limit my input to sources leaning in any one direction. And so I can assure you that the conclusion of that article I’ve quoted is echoed nearly universally in any study on the subject of discrimination by qualified researchers. I chose to quote this article because it stated the conclusion in accessible English! In future posts I’ll dive into the specific realities of many of the major societal systems, using that same objective determination.
This notion of privilege is particularly grating to us white folks (another time we’ll look at the notion that we’re “white”). If we acknowledge that privilege exists, we can drop into shame or guilt or defensiveness – which serves no positive purpose, and in fact delays action to reduce the effects of privilege. If we deny that privilege exists, we necessarily have to operate with cognitive dissonance – one definition: The mental conflict that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by factual information.
Again, I am not an expert on this. I am still uncovering the meaning and manifestations of privilege in my own life. But here are some observations by others who have been conscious much longer than I:
- “We have a deep interest in denying those forms of oppression which benefit us.” Robin DiAngelo in “What Does It Mean to Be White”
- “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” Biran Sims, Pennsylvania State Rep.
- “I think these examples of Black success (e.g., Obama, Oprah) help to blind us to the ways in which systems and structures operate today to block millions of people out. Black success today tends to reinforce the superficial colorblind notions that people hold: ‘If they’d only try harder, they could be President Obama’, and that simply isn’t the case.” Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow”
- “White privilege encourages whites to be unaware of themselves as white (as if they didn’t have a race at all). White privilege also encourages whites to be unaware of white privilege.” Tim Wise
And from a couple of characters:
- “I’m not saying that white people are better. I’m just saying BEING white is clearly better. I mean, if it was an option, I’d definitely re-up! ” Comedian Louis C.K.
- “The poorest white person wouldn’t want to be me – and I’m rich!!” Comedian Chris Rock
And now to my latest personal lesson in privilege: I had decided that I would block replies to this blog from Howard Eagle, a Black educator who writes searing missives when he smells white privilege. I had heard from so many (mainly) white subscribers that they would not engage here because they feared his feedback for various reasons. I’ve reversed that position because of strong, clear objections from many other subscribers, helping me see that this actually encouraged a form of white privilege: the tendency to recoil and disconnect when confronted on issues of racism. I was choosing to protect people from painful emotions but blocking them from actually learning something – about themselves and about racism. So Howard is unblocked. The cost to me personally of this awkward flip/flop is really not a cost but a gain: the loss of some ego and blindness.
I encourage ALL to participate here. The original posts are simply prompters for the learning that can come in the exchanges that follow. I encourage you to be vulnerable and honest in replies. To leave a reply, scroll to the end of the page. I encourage you to sift through rhetoric and tone to glean any message that can help you learn. Also note that when you do post a comment, you can check the box indicating that you want to be informed when someone replies to you.
AND: Find your place in the ACTION that’s needed to deconstruct personal, structural and institutional racism.
FINALLY: If you have any particular topics or issues you’d want me to address, please let me know. Make this your blog.
22-minute video on privilege by Dr. Robin DiAngelo: Deconstructing White Privilege
6-minute video to practice listening: A Message to America from Black America
Article by Peggy McIntosh – one of the first white people to describe white privilege with numerous examples from everyday life: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (printable pdf)
Recent NY Times article: White People are Noticing Something: Their Own Whiteness
“Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right” Arlie Russell Hochschild; NYT Bestseller re understanding conservative mind-sets. If found this very enlightening.
Use those resources.
Research your own family history. Ask any elders about memories of the kinds of events mentioned in this post or the previous one. Compare notes with other people, especially any Black friends or acquaintances in your past or present.
Get a subscription to “Minority Reporter” at www.minorityreporter.net. This bi-weekly publication provides coverage of issues affecting minority groups in the Rochester area.
Join Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) Rochester . This is the local chapter of a national organization of white people who work as allies to the Black community. They regularly publicize events for education and for supporting Black-led efforts.
Let others know about this blog – through your social networks, work, family, etc.