Harnessing White Privilege for the Good

“White privilege is a distraction, leaving racism and power untouched,” says this article by Kenan Malik in The Guardian.

“Such demonstrations of public obsequiousness are performances that make individuals feel better about themselves but also keep the structures of power and discrimination untouched.”

As I see it, this wallowing and this performative aspect are what’s problematic and a distraction. The concept of white privilege itself, though, is extremely important for us white people to recognize, so we can use it for the good.

Where I see the “white privilege” concept as being of real value, is that as a white ally, I can

1) matter-of-factly acknowledge that systemic racism has given me this privilege;

2) matter-of-factly set about correcting myself, making REAL amends, etc., when I notice, or get feedback from another person, that I’ve perpretrated racism;

3) matter-of-factly confront fellow white people, in public and in private, when I see them pretending not to be racist while cloaking their motives under some fake banner such as “respect for property”, “public safety”, etc, denying that racism exists etc.; and

4) When I notice that I feel scared or icky about standing up to someone (because I see them as more powerful, richer, more prestigious, prettier, more glamorous, more of a big scary bully — fill in the blank), and am tempted to hang back, or withdraw, or gloss things over by making some nicey-nice appeasing comment, I can instead use the luxury afforded to me by my white privilege to take a deep breath, get re-centered, and matter-of-factly go back into the scary conversation, knowing that whatever consequences I’m fearing are “consequences lite” — a laughably pale shadow of the violence, economic reprisals, humiliation and other truly bad stuff black people have had to face day in and day out.

For me, the concept of white privilege, when applied in a constructive manner, allows me to drop the wallowing and emoting and performative stuff, and just set about channeling my privilege for the good. Which is to actually notice and set about dismantling those underlying unquestioned assumptions, beliefs, power structures. Sometimes the dismantling is as small and seemingly simple as a comment in a Facebook thread. The work-site for dismantling systemic racism is on millions of small daily fronts, and it’s always there for us to do.

“This is a transformational moment. Let’s use it to challenge structural injustice, not to elicit or wallow in guilt,” writes Malik in the Guardian article.

Amen! Deep-green troops, mobilize! A world tyrannized by white privilege can never be green.

I see an analogous connection between white privilege and our work as deep-green activists, and I will address that in an upcoming post.