White people need to talk about white privilege

Black people talking about systemic injustice towards them is far stronger when yoked with white voices joining in.

America.doing1)AAI’ve studiously avoided writing about the shooting death in Ferguson, MO of 18 year-old Michael Brown, who was black and apparently unarmed, by a white policeman, mostly out of desire not just to repeat, or refute, what others have said. What’s indisputable, however, is that Americans are divided racially on the shooting.

Some (seriously) blame President Obama, because he hasn’t brought that “post-racial” country they were expecting, which they believe he promised. In fact, almost every time he’s attempted to talk about racial issues, it has not gone well with a good chunk of the American public.

So I don’t want to discuss the particulars of Brown’s shooting (six times, including twice to the head), because this merely instigates the scapegoating phenomenon; Michael Brown was not the perfect victim, so we’ll attack Michael Brown, or Trayvon Martin, or whatever dead black kid is currently in the news. (Want to find a innocent, dead, black kid? See, e.g., John Crawford III, who on August 5, 2014, “was gunned down in an Ohio Walmart after customers saw him walking around with a ‘weapon’, which turned out to be an air rifle he picked up in the store.”)

I might want to mention the way police procedures have changed in the past couple decades. For instance: New Report Exposes Growing Militarization of American Policing; also, 4 Reasons the Police Are Suddenly Terrifying and Rise of the Warrior Cop Plus It’s Perfectly Legal To Film The Cops. As usual, John Oliver has a solution to the problem.

And even white kids can get killed by cops in America: 20 Year Old Executed by Police, Allegedly for Wearing Headphones, Unable to Hear Orders. Whereas Iceland grieved after the police killed a man for the first time in its history last year.

What finally crystallized things for me was a comment a friend of mine made recently. She has three friends, all white women, married to men of color. They are finding themselves in that position of having participating in “having the talk” with their mixed-raced children. And they are, to a woman, feeling ill-equipped to discuss it, because the narrative is not based on their own experience.

Listen to How Do You Have ‘The Talk’ with Your Black Child If You’re not Black Yourself? It’s about seven-and-a half minutes long.

To the broader issue, read Different Rules Apply and I Finally “Get” White Privilege and I’m Sorry. Because sometimes it takes a white dude to talk about racism. Or a white woman to do so.

Assuming, of course, they can. The Atlantic suggests that self-segregation – white people mostly talking to white people – makes it so hard for them to understand Ferguson and other issues on the racial divide.

Still, black people talking about systemic injustice towards them is far stronger when yoked with white voices joining in. It has always been thus, at least in America. Just, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned, men supporting women’s equality, and straight people promoting gay rights frankly provides the sense that it’s not just “their” issue”, “their” problem”, it’s OURS.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

7 thoughts on “White people need to talk about white privilege”

  1. I am deeply saddened by the event in Ferguson. I really don’t care if someone’s color is black, white, pink or purple. It upsets me that Michael Brown thought it was okay to steal from a store and physically push the owner out of the way as he was leaving. It upsets me that he was shot unarmed. it’s confusing to hear all the conflicting accounts of what actually happened in and out of the police car. It upsets me the crowds thought is was appropriate to riot and loot in protest. It’s just sad all around.

  2. I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago on my Hobo Trashcan column, because I couldn’t bring myself to talk about anything else. The issue of white privilege is so polarizing, and I find a lot of white people react poorly to the idea, because they remember some time when a person of color was mean to them or they look at how they’re not rich and they don’t see it. I finally figured out, after reading Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s editorial in Time, that the way to look at it is this: what is the cumulative social and economic impact of black-on-white prejudice? Almost none. And a few people in my family have at least gone away with that and thought about it.

    You want to talk about white privilege? The tragic death of John Crawford III illustrates it perfectly. This is coming after a summer where open carry advocates were proudly taking their assault rifles into Chipotle and Target, slung over their shoulder and walking around like American heroes. A black man picks up a toy gun in Walmart and people call the cops and he’s gunned down before he even has a chance to explain.

    That’s horrific.

  3. In that first article, this really spoke to me:

    “A lot of white people aren’t speaking out publicly against the killing of Michael Brown because they don’t see a space for themselves to engage meaningfully in the conversation so that they can move to action against racism.”

    My new church (newish – I’ve attended for a year) is very progressive. I’d love to start reading The New Jim Crow in a book club to start a dialog about what we should do, and I plan to talk about it with my pastors at the next small groups meeting.

  4. Roger, once again you said what was on my mind. As lily-white as I look at first glance, it’s hard for me to get into conversations because other white folks look at me like I’m in their little “club” and I cause trouble. I can’t wear a “Don’t Shoot Me” T-shirt because it doesn’t apply, plus I will piss off black people I don’t yet know in Madison.

    I am between two worlds. Living in the musical world is like being part of the UN except without the fancy cocktail parties, etc. Musicians aren’t looked at as black or white, just “can you” or “can’t you.” I speak from jazz here – a black friend of mine had to start her own opera company in SoCal because she could not get lead parts, despite her ability to sing not only mezzo-soprano (I’d love to see her Puccini…) but wail R&B and even trio up with Angla me and Latina Maria for Da Doo Ron Ron.

    The self-segregation HAS TO STOP. But it starts in school and teachers, some of them older and out of touch, don’t “get” how to start that talk in school…and of course the PARENTS don’t do diddly about that subject. No, school is supposed to put the kids in a blender and mix them into one cohesive, fact-regurgitating EveryRace.

    I had that talk with Riley, first when the Catholic kids shunned her because of her Jewish last name. I shit you not. Then she moved to Buffalo and attended her neighborhood school, PS 45, known as the International School because in eight grades of kids, there were reps from 48 countries with 63 different dialects spoken. To my fascination, I visited at lunch one day, and her table was the ONLY integrated table – American-born black, white, and brown (hell, it’s all shades of brown, but you know what I mean), Asian-born Vietnamese and Chinese, plus one girl from Jordan in a hijab.

    Every other table was… well, you know. Riley’s fave teacher, Mr. Fuller (ALA Fulldogg) was about 6 foot seven with the most gorgeous dreds, looked like Michael Franti from Spearhead. He told me that Riley’s friends had selected each other without consultation… but I did notice there was only one guy, and he was gay!

    As for the rest, words fail me. It’s as though, since we elected and re-elected the president (and this is in my own family), the racists have come out like hungry cockroaches, and under the guise of “it’s really because…” will not admit they hate their own president because he is biracial and identifies as a black male.

    Add that to the NRA, which had a head of steam from the Bush years and now the Koch money, and you’ve got… well, the UN is calling the US out on human rights abuses over these killings. I’ve been praying for that for years. How dare the US run around telling everyone else they have human rights wrong, with our rates of incarceration of black men? With our royal class of inbred white xeroxes? GWB’s eyes are so close together he almost looks like Dr. Cyclops. A sure sign of being “just like the Wilkeses… they always marry their cousins.” Ugh. I’ll shut up now. Thanks for an excellent commentary.

    Oh, and speaking out? You should have heard me during Joys and Concerns in church last week. Lex was proud. I’m glad, otherwise I’d leave him. I won’t take this shit as “the way it’s always been and the way it will stay.” We have to get this out for discussion.

    Please send me a cc of feedback about this to my email? Thanks, hon. Peace, Amy

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