The Obligation to Use White Privilege to Combat Racism | Giftie Etcetera: The Obligation to Use White Privilege to Combat Racism

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Obligation to Use White Privilege to Combat Racism

I live in the South.

I attend Catholic Church and am surrounded by Conservative Christians. 

We are supposed to love our neighbor. But here in the South, we too often don't love our neighbor.

I take responsibility for some of that. After all, I say stupid stuff all the time that doesn't exactly ring with love.

Once, I asked my friend, pictured below, to bring watermelon to my Fourth of July party.

In all fairness, she doesn't cook and I love watermelon. I figured fruit was an easy thing for a non-cook to bring. Plus, what's Fourth of July without watermelon?

So when she asked if I wanted her to bring fried chicken with that, I was honestly confused.

Then embarrassed and ashamed of myself.

Luckily, she loves me and my obvious embarrassment proved that I didn't mean anything racist by it, so she mostly forgave me.

(I still have to sit through that story every now and then at a party, just so she can torture me. But joke's on her! I blogged about it, so now everyone has already heard it!)

White people (like me, all vampirey-pale in that picture) say things all the time without really thinking about the implications of it.

In the South, it's not uncommon to hear "I'm not racist, but..." or "one of my best friends is black, so I'm not racist, but...."

I even said that in the picture on this blog post, but to be fair, I did that to make people think. I do believe my relationships with people from a rainbow of racial and 
ethnic backgrounds make me a better person, but those relationships do not excuse my words or my behaviors.

The "n" word is still used often enough among people I interact with that I had to tell someone, YESTERDAY, not to say it in front of my kids.

Sometimes, friends and family are the ones saying racist stuff. It's a combination of blatant racism (which I am very good at objecting to) and subtle racism.

The subtle stuff is the hard part.

Maybe they are like me in The Watermelon Incident and race truly wasn't a factor in what they said.

(It SHOULD HAVE BEEN. Don't doubt for a second that I was wrong. I was. I should have been thoughtful and sensitive to the race factor. I was not. I was wrong for that if it caused even a second of distress for another human being - distress that I could have prevented.)

But maybe, even when race isn't actively present in their minds, it a good lesson to teach my white friends and family that loving your neighbor means, sometimes, being more thoughtful.

And when race is the underlying factor in subtle racism?

Well, if someone doesn't speak up, people will feel very comfortable getting away with subtle racism.

The other day, I didn't speak up about subtle racism involving kids in school and school-stationed law enforcement officers. (I am brave and outspoken, but I was busy fighting other battles.)

A friend of mine asked me to change that. She pointed out that my white face gave me an influence that her darker face did not. She would sound like "an angry black woman." (Her words, not mine.)

I would sound like an authority on children in schools and the school-to-prison pipeline. I am an authority on the subject, as a certified teacher and an attorney who worked with the juvenile justice system for over a decade.

(The school-to-prison pipeline is the statistical reality, at least in Louisiana, that children who are in schools where a police officer is present are far more likely to touch the justice system, and children who touch the justice system are more likely to spend time in prison. Minority children are far more likely than white children to attend a school with a corrections officer on duty.)

But it's not my authority on the subject, but my white privilege puts me in a position to help eradicate all racism, not just blatant racism. "White privilege" means that, as a white person, I have not directly experienced the pervasive level of racism that my friends of color have had to tolerate. I am given undue credibility and my opinions are often given deference BECAUSE I am white.

That's not fair. That's not just. But it is the truth.

My friend - the one in The Watermelon Incident - said this to me, and I want to share with you:

"There are invisible pains and struggles and daily digs that black people deal with that they can't articulate or it's not safe to articulate to their white friends." 

If I can help someone, isn't it my obligation, as part of the human family, to help combat racism? If I can be the friend that it is safe to articulate the struggles to, don't I have an obligation to be a kind, listening, respectful ear?

It is.

I took my friend's advice to heart and spoke up. And I am speaking up now.

It's time to love our neighbors. I'll be leading the charge, speaking out against all forms of racism, if only because someone might listen a little harder because I am white. I'll use my white privilege for good.

My plan is to combat exactly the sort of subtle racism that makes me a better candidate to fight it.


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Partied at: Thoughtful Thursdays


Anonymous said...

Racism needs to be addressed. People do need to speak up for others. However, you make it sound as though racism is a one way street. It's alive and well all over the country. Having been raised in the South and lived all over the world, I can assure you that Southerners are not the end all be all when it comes to racism. Your article made me angry by attributing racism solely to whites. You cannot label someone racist by the color of his or her skin.

Giftie Etcetera said...

"Your article made me angry by attributing racism solely to whites. You cannot label someone racist by the color of his or her skin."

Three things.

First, it made you think. That was the point. Mission accomplished.

Second, I did not and do not attribute racism solely to one group of people. I must correct you on that point so that my readers are clear.

I did say that white people have a distinct advantage in the effort to attack racism at its core, and I stand by that!

Third, I have no doubt racism is alive and well everywhere. However, I've only heard the "n" word used with no regard for who might be hurt in the South. That is my experience and what prompted me to write this.

But you are certainly correct that racism is likely more global than I addressed here! Feel free to write about that on your own blog!

Tracy said...

Jaina - cool name/pic I play Hearthstone too!.... I think you may be misunderstanding Giftie's post. Yes, racism does happen to all of us, no matter skin color or location. I have two nieces and one nephew who are "mixed" (white dad/black mom) and I can assure you that they are viewed much differently than my children (who are white) are. And I am in the Northeast! I don't think that Giftie was necessarily targeting the south. I think she was just conveying what happens where she lives. I make "northerners" generalizations all the time myself.

Thank you Giftie for your Tuesday posts! I love the fact that you are brave enough to talk openly about a variety of difficult subjects that are close to your heart. =)

Giftie Etcetera said...

Thank you, TrayceeBee. That was a wonderful insight into my post!

Anna said...

I agree. Racism is a big problem, and it's something that we all need to be aware of and talk about openly. Unfortunately, that type of thing seems to be human nature. When I was in Congo, people were the same color, but there were prejudices based on nationalities, tribes and clans. Some people considered a certain people group sub-human and treated them that way. We all need to stand up for those who don't have a voice.

Pam said...

What a great post. Great points and well written. I loved how you shared your personal experiences.

Tea in the Library said...

I have lived in neighborhoods with little diversity and for the last 15 years in areas where I am the token WASP. The truth is people are basically assholes. There is this unspoken message that only THE WHITE MAN has prejudges. SO not true. And not just in the Congo. Here. Right here. We are haters in a generalized way.
The only way I've ever seen it change is in small personal ways. Confirming behaviors that tell another person, I see you, I acknowledge your existence, are an important part of the social contract. A smile, a thank you. A door held open. Not looking like you're about to mug someone. Not cutting someone off then slamming on your brakes.
There is something to be said for manners and thoughtfulness. It builds bridges. As does education.
All of us, everyone of us, has to stop making excuses and be the best we can be, and teach our children to value education, and honor, and honesty. Don't wait for the government to do it. Don't wait for the schools to do it. Don't tear down. Build up.
Frankly, I don't think it will happen because, as I said, people are basically assholes. It's easier to cry for change than to take personal responsibility and be positive change.

Stepping off the soap box now!

PS - I hope you told your friend yeah - and make it extra crispy.

Anonymous said...

OK, I don't want to look stupid, but I don't see what was the issue in the watermelon incident?? (I'm not American, is that why I don't get it?)