White Privilege is Bullshit

Me, whenever anyone uses the phrase white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, or any combination thereof.

Me, whenever anyone uses the phrase white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, or any combination thereof.

 

Unpopular opinion time! It’s been thrown about a lot recently. The term white privilege, also white male privilege or male privilege, has been just about everywhere. Often, it’s heard as “check your privilege.” As a white male, I hate the phrase. Not because I’m being called out for something I have and am jealously guarding, or because I don’t think that women or individuals of some races experience prejudices I don’t, but because it’s attacking the issues the wrong way.

Words mean things.

From the Oxford Dictionary:

Syllabification: priv·i·lege
Pronunciation: /ˈpriv(ə)lij/
Noun
A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people

Beyond just a dictionary definition, though, are the colloquial implications that permeate a word. They don’t necessarily change a word’s meaning, but add connotations that aren’t always intended. In modern American parlance we recognize a difference between a privilege and a right. One is something that is granted conditionally and the other is applied to all. When someone refers to someone as being privileged, the implication is that they’re not only advantaged, but that their advantage is unearned, unfair, or both.

When a woman tells me “check your male privilege” because I don’t have to worry nearly as much about being sexually assaulted, or even just because I don’t have to put up with as many drunk assholes who don’t understand “I don’t want to talk to you”, at a bar, they’re wrong. I don’t have something special, and that’s the implication. That I’m being treated better than I should expect to be. That’s not the case. WOMEN HAVING TO DEAL WITH FEAR OF ASSAULT AND HARASSMENT IS WRONG! (All caps and an exclamation point? That’s some serious stuff right there.) I’m not subject to a privilege, they are being denied a RIGHT.

Police being more likely to use appropriate force against me if I’m arrested isn’t a privilege that I enjoy. It’s a RIGHT that too many black Americans are denied.

A male superior at work listening to my opinion in the workplace isn’t a privilege, but a courtesy that should be extended to everyone at my level. When women’s opinions are ignored because they come from women, that’s the problem.

Too often, what I’m told are privileges being applied to me are rights that others are being denied. The rules are being applied the way they’re supposed to be in one case, but not in another. We’re not competing with each other, so you having a disadvantage isn’t the same thing as me having an advantage. Unless you’re of the opinion that more white people should be shot, men should make less money, or straight individuals should be beaten in the street more often. If so, please get off my blog.

Language is important. I’m gonna’ set up an example here, and hope you’ll stick with me. There’s a foot race, and everyone lines up at the starting line. One person is rich given a head start, allowed to leave the line 5 seconds in front of the rest of the runners. He has an advantage. A privilege. All of the rest of the runners, save one, are told to run at the same time. They start from the same point at the same time. They are your baseline, all with an equal chance to succeed. That person who was held back is allowed to start running 5 seconds after everybody else. That person is suffering a disadvantage. They’re being forced to compete unevenly.

Gay ladies and gents, my ability to walk down a street at night reasonably secure in the knowledge that I won’t be attacked isn’t a privilege, it’s a right. That means that you should be able to do the same! Saying that it’s a privilege implies that I shouldn’t be able to walk down that street by myself. Saying that you’re denied the right to walk down that street implies that the people preventing you from doing so are wrong. Homophobic assholes who let me pass unmolested aren’t doing me a service. When they prey on gay people for their gender preference, THEY ARE THE ONES DOING WRONG. Anyone who disagrees is a shitty human being. Your disadvantage is not my advantage. We aren’t competing.

Here’s where it gets a bit sticky. Activism and rights movements (Rights! Yes! The correct word!). It’s not a fair world, unfortunately. Everybody in that foot race in my example above is just trying their hardest to get to the finish line as fast as they can. That group who started together? The baseline? They probably didn’t even realize that someone got held back and was forced to start later than they were. It isn’t that they’re callous, uncaring, or don’t want that person to have a fair shot. They’re just so wrapped up in their own run, looking at what’s in front of them and trying to keep from being overtaken, that they didn’t even notice when someone was cheated. The person given the head start ahead of them was given special advantage; a privilege. “You all had an advantage!” isn’t the same thing as “I was given a disadvantage!” Don’t demand that the mass of runners be held back to start with you. Demand that you be allowed to start with them. Loudly enough that everyone can hear.

Telling someone they have an advantage makes them want to hold onto it. Saying that someone else is at a disadvantage can make people want to remove it. Yell about it. Scream about it. In 1960 the Greensboro Four didn’t say “Why does that white man get to sit at the lunch counter?” They asked, “Why aren’t we allowed to sit next to him?” If you can’t spot the difference between those two questions, you’re not going to be very effective at bringing problems to peoples’ attention or changing their minds.

White Pride is Not the Same Thing as Black Pride

I might need a drink.

Oy! I’m going to try to explain this. Really. Black is an ethnicity. Mexican is a nationality. Muslim is a religion. White is a race.

No. No, it isn’t. In the United States black isn’t just a race. And your meme is stupid.

Attention white people. I’m gonna’ address some things here, and I really hope I manage to be coherent. Because this shit’s important. I think it’s no less important a subject of discussion for anyone of any race, but I really want anyone who has ever said anything to the effect of “Why is it OK for someone to say they’ve got black/Muslim/Mexican/etc. pride, but it’s wrong for me to be proud of being white?” to pay extra close attention. Much of what I’ll be writing about will be simplified, and some readers may think it’s overly so. That’s fair. I’m also going to be using the term racist colloquially to denote prejudice against an individual based on their race.

If you’re someone who’d be classified as white in America, chances are your family immigrated here. While there were plenty of examples of people (mostly, but not exclusively, Catholic Irish and Scots) who were forcibly relocated to the Americas, it was a comparatively short-lived practice. These people weren’t really a good choice for use as forced labor in hot climates where cotton, tobacco, and sugar were being harvested. The heat killed them. So, European colonial powers went a little further afield and started buying people in Africa. Higher up-front cost, but a better long term investment.

Even if your European ancestors were forcibly moved, they maintained their culture. They remembered where they came from and could largely maintain their lineage. Think about it, theoretical white reader. When someone asks your background I’ll bet you answer that you’re German, Irish, Polish, Italian, or identify some other country on the other side of an ocean. Your family kept their traditions and history. They didn’t lose that identity. You’ll find organizations all over the country devoted to these cultures; the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Order Sons of Italy in America, the Polish American Congress. There are festivals for these cultures daily celebrating food, art, dress, and history.

I personally identify as Scottish. My ancestry is primarily Scots, with some Irish and, like everybody that comes from the British Isles or western shores of Europe, no small amount of Norse. I don’t really think of myself as white, unless I’m checking off a form for a government agency. There’s probably less in common between Scots and Ukrainians, historically, than there would be between a Roman Italian and a Turk. But, me and and that Ukrainian are both checking the same box on that form. White.

Black Americans, and pretty much anyone of African ancestry on this side of the Atlantic, don’t have that ethnic background. It was taken from them. Black isn’t just a box on a form for them. It’s their cultural identity, not just race. Their ancestors didn’t come here by choice. They were intentionally separated from family and clan to be grouped with people from disparate backgrounds, often without a language in common. These people created a new culture that was a mishmash of different African traditions and those of the people in power over them. Before they got here and were told they were black they weren’t a single people, and they had the same history of fighting, making alliances, and carrying prejudices toward each other that people of any European nation did against their neighbors. This should all go without saying. Yet, here I am saying it.

Here’s another one for the white folks. Black Americans, Caribbean Islanders, and South Americans are culturally distinct from one another. They’re even MORE different than Africans! You’ll hear black Americans say “he/she’s not black” when someone talks about Idris Elba or Lupita Nyong’o. They’re of African ancestry, so they may be of the black race, but one is English and the other is half-Kenyan. They aren’t part of the black culture in America. Individuals from different African nations are as different as those from different countries in Europe. And, even if they’re from a place with the same name on a map, they might not identify with their own countrymen. The closest equivalent I can think of might be Italy, where you’ll find some pretty deep enmity between Italians; say Sicilians and pretty much the rest of the country, for example. One day a coworker at a former job made a comment to a Kenyan woman in our department about her having warrior Zulu blood. You’d have thought someone called a Paddy a limey!

The only times that Europeans have grouped together and referred to themselves as white people has been when they were separating themselves from another group. Usually so they could kill or oppress those people. It’s’ never been a term of inclusion, but of division from people of other races. It’s not an ethnicity and carries no identity with it. Other than a fondness for mayonnaise and an inability to dance, I guess. Umm… we get sunburned easily?

When someone says they’re black it can refer to two different things. Race or culture (also both). And what that culture actually is can be a hot topic. One that I’m not even going to weigh in on, because I’m not quite that masochistic. A 30-something white guy talking about what it means to be black? I somehow feel less qualified to do that than all the other things that I will expound upon despite my ignorance. That’s saying something.

The next time you hear about a black pride event, don’t immediately think “why is a white pride event racist?”. Think about the “Proud to be Irish” pin you wore on St. Patrick’s day or the “Full Blooded Italian” t-shirt your buddy wore last weekend. There’s your analog.

Now I’m gonna’ address all you theoretical black readers for a minute. First, let me say that I appreciate you not hating me. Now, I want to make sure you get something I touched on above. Most of your white friends don’t think of themselves as white, first and foremost. They generally think of themselves as whatever their national ancestry is primarily. Unfortunately, US history is fucked up (thanks white people!) and whenever anyone says “it’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand” they first think of it in relation to a “white thing” as opposed to an “Italian thing”. Not all white folks are alike. This is related to why you always find it so hard to insult us! Generic insults for white people don’t really bug anybody. Get specific! Mick, wop, sheepfucker, kraut, polak! These are the terms you want to go for. Honky is just silly.

When your cracker friends tell you that Black History month is racist, don’t tell them every other month is white history month. That sort of frustrated reaction might be understandable, but doesn’t really help. Compare it to a festival for a nationality. St. Patrick’s Day, or Bastille Day, or Cinco de Mayo. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. If they look doubtful, or continue to give you shit about it being an entire month, tell them it’s because there are 28 countries on the continent of Africa, and considering the loss of national identity of Americans of African ancestry the decision was made to use the entire month of February. One country for each day of the month. This is bullshit, of course. Africa is made up of about 55 nations. But, don’t worry. White people won’t know that.