On recognizing white privilege and not expecting a damn reward for it

I saw this clip recently when one of my friends posted it and asked if Tim Wise was making a good case for himself or demonstrating his unchecked privilege/acting in a micro-aggressive way. And it got me thinking about my privilege.

The ways in which I have privilege are aplenty. I’ve got white privilege, straight privilege, able privilege, middle class privilege, American-born privilege – among others!). I try really hard to be aware, introspective and responsible for the ways in which my privilege hurts others. I will admit though that every now and then, I get all white-person egotistical. I feel hurt by things people of color say even if/when those things are true and really need to be said and heard, as I referenced in this post. And every now and then, I feel a sense of “holier than thou” pride swelling inside me for how “aware” I am of my privilege compared to a lot of white people.

That sh*t is not okay. On the contrary, it is evidence of all the ways I am not holding myself accountable to my white-privileged words, beliefs and actions. It is evidence that I am still not that aware of my privileges.

When a group of oppressed people discuss their experiences with oppression and it relates to a type of oppression I don’t experience because I have that privilege, it is not about me. It is not about the ways in which I’ve tried to acknowledge my privilege and fight oppression. It is not about how it makes me feel. It is about people sharing their lived experiences – and painful ones at that! When someone discloses their experiences with institutional oppression, I need to put myself aside and just listen and believe them.

This reminds me of a post I read just today on The Belle Jar blog (Anne really takes all my thoughts and lays them out in an exactly how I want to say them but struggled to articulate in any sort of organized fashion). Anyways, this post is all about the ways in which people of privileged, oppressive groups contribute to oppression when they say they need equal space and “air time” in forums that are specifically for oppressed groups and anti-oppression efforts. In an article, Anne references the authors complaint that, for instance, sometimes a group of women will dismiss a man’s opinion by saying, “easy for a man to say.”

Well maybe it is easy for a man, a white person, a straight person etc to say! Maybe when oppressed people are skeptical of a privileged person’s certain thought or belief, the oppressed are speaking from their lived experiences and they should be listened to and believed. When someone of an oppressed group challenges your privileged-person beliefs, maybe it is a time for introspection and learning to happen. Cut the maybes. It absolutely is all those things. And it is absolutely not a time for you to make it about you, to discuss your feelings and request equality in spaces meant for those who are oppressed to (finally!) have a moment of time, space and power. Yeah I said a moment. Because once someone who’s oppressed leaves that space, it’s all about the feelings, thoughts and beliefs of the privileged. And people in oppressed groups really don’t need privileged people bringing this ongoing issue and oppression into the few spaces where they have worked hard to build and have a brief moment to themselves.

And if you’re able to take up little space and just be there and listen, you don’t deserve recognition nor special treatment for this. I’m not special because I am somewhat aware of my privileges. And it’s crappy and racist and evident of ongoing oppression, if these words or any privileged person’s words on privilege are more recognized and accepted than those of less-privileged groups. If I get a lot of recognition when I speak about racism, heterosexism, classism, etc, that could actually be a bad thing and counterproductive to social change and social justice. I am doing something that everyone should do and everyone should have been doing for a long time now. And that’s not special. As this post that I found says (actually I think the post speaks to a lot of the ideas I said – and it’s not written by a white person!), recognizing privilege and responding to it responsibly is the least a privileged person can do.

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3 Responses to On recognizing white privilege and not expecting a damn reward for it

  1. Thanks so much for your strong, thoughtful reflection. I’m glad you’re writing.

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