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Does my privilege look big in this?

March 4, 2013

I often worry that I am being accidentally racist. I am white. I don’t really have any friends who aren’t white because I live in a predominantly white city, and / or it’s somehow just worked out that way. I worry that it might be because I’m inadvertently racist. I feel that there must be things that I say that are offensive to some people of colour, yet I haven’t stopped because I don’t have people in my life who regularly say, ‘wait, what you just said is racist because of this thing, that you should maybe think about, and then stop being racist’. For this reason, I generally stay the fuck away from topics of race and racial privilege, because I feel that if I open my mouth on the subject, it would merely be to place my foot firmly within it. 

With this in mind, my twitter-buddy Stilli linked to this Open Letter to White ‘Anti-Racists’, which I found thought provoking, and reminded me that we have so far to go. It also pointed out to me several of those things that I have been thinking and saying without realising they could be racist. But don’t take my word for it, click the link and read for yourself.


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  1. Daniel permalink

    I’m torn, here. On one hand, the article does, indeed, provoke thought – you’d have to be a whole different level of racist to deny it that. On the other, however, I’m not entirely sure what the author was meant to be implying as the solution. What qualifies as “whiteness”, as the author put it? What, exactly, is it that we’re supposed to be doing to correct it? I’ll not deny that the idea of white privilege is an issue that needs to go away, but I’m a bit confused as to the point. Are we, or are we not, supposed to speak out against racism? Because the article seems to be implying that either one is racist in and of itself.

    I’ll grant it’s probably because I just wouldn’t understand. As a white person myself, living in possibly the most blindingly, embarrassingly white state in America, I’ll be the first to admit I’m possibly the worst possible person to involve himself in issues of race – and it’s not helped by my steadily-building hatred of politics and the political system rendering me so detached from activism in general. But I want to understand. I want to know how to be better than I am.

    (P.S. You’re not the only one. I spent this entire post worrying I was going to say something horribly offensive.)

    • In this area I view my role as the same one that I’d like men to play as feminist allies, which is to listen and point to the experts. In feminism that’s me and other women. Here, it’s people of colour. Which is not me. I’d try giving the last few paragraphs in particular another read.

  2. Charlie Connelly permalink

    I have a comment on some of the language you used – the phrase ‘people of colour’ is one that I really dislike, solely because it implies a binary choice. You’re either white, or you’re ‘of colour’, whereas in fact skin tone is a spectrum. I also don’t think it helps with some debates about racism, for instance with migrants from eastern Europe who are ‘white’ but also ‘other’. My family is a migrant family, they came from Greece a couple of generations ago, but I’m fortunately not faced with any racial barriers in this country because I look as white as the next [white] person. Historically however, my ancestors had to ovecome barriers because of their background. I’m sure the fact that they weren’t ‘of colour’ (unless a swarthy tanned medieranean skin counts as ‘of colour’?) didn’t lessen the impact of any prejudice they might have suffered.

    Looking now at the letter you linked to – couching debate in white vs non-white terms is iteself inherently divisive and causes its own problems. So perhaps for me the key take home from that letter is that you can be white, based on the colour of your skin, and/or ‘white’ based on your self-identity. For the writer these are two different things. I’m not so sure I can deny my heritage and dismiss my ‘whiteness’ any more than I’d ever ask anybody else to deny their heritage, black, brown, ginger, swarthy or other.But, as with all these debates, tolerance and breaking down barriers for everybody is at the heart of the issue.

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