So, here’s the deal: I’m a white, (newly) 27 year old woman. And despite my degree in African-American Literature, I had never really encountered this concept of “white privilege” until recently. The African-American narrative is spoken and written by non-whites, and also, generally written more about experiences with oppression. Which is to say that we didn’t analyze this literature using the term “white privilege,” though we certainly discussed how fucked up the system is/was, but white privilege (and correct me if I’m wrong) specifically designates whites who don’t know that they, by existing in their culture, perpetuate racism, and in fact, benefit from racism. I would submit that anyone who participated in slavery and creating or enforcing jim crow laws, etc., knew they were oppressors (though they justified it in a number of ways, like using the bible and “medicine” to prove “white superiority”). White privilege isn’t about being racist oneself, necessarily, but rather, being unaware that racism and a culture of racism informs everyday, basic decisions which skews the system in favor of whites. This is where I feel blatant racism and white privilege diverge.
This whole idea of “white privilege,” which I was vaguely aware of, but not well-informed about, really came into my universe in the media surrounding SlutWalkNYC, which I was unable to attend due to a wedding. I’m assuming that most of you reading the blog are familiar with the pictures and the sign that inspired the conversation, but the gist, for those of you who are not aware, is that a white chick thought that it was totally appropriate to make and carry a sign that said “Women are the n***** of the world – Yoko Ono.” Many, many photos were taken of this woman and her sign (which was passed around a lot, for some reason) before SlutWalk organizers requested that she take it down. And thus, the discussion of the racism contained within our movement was struck up, centering on the concept of white privilege.
I’m prefacing my post not as an expert on racism in repro-rights, nor as an expert on the framework for this conversation, but rather as someone who is opening her eyes to this facet of the movement. Imma be honest: as a white chick, I don’t experience racism in my reproductive choices. I experience sexism, paternalism, bat-shit-crazy-religiousity, and in-your-face-anti-choice-conservatism, but not racism. It’s a totally new idea to me, that simply by participating in our society, I’m perpetuating racism. And I am at a loss.
I’ve been reading up on this idea so that I could be somewhat informed about it, and I ran across the concept (which some have “debunked”) of “white guilt,” in which, whites, upon being confronted with this societal reality (particularly when the idea is presented to them by a non-white), seek acceptance and forgiveness from the non-whites around them, and either a) use the same acceptance/forgiveness to cop-out on creating change or b) become so mired in their guilt that they do not seek to make changes, but rather to make “amends” for their participation in racism. And the “solution” to white guilt/white privilege seems to be simple acknowledgement and awareness.
I’m going to make the argument that being aware of white privilege is in no way a solution. So yes, now I am aware that this privilege exists for me. So what? What can I do to actively participate in shifting power to non-whites? Because ultimately, I’m a white chick, and there isn’t anything I can do about being white. I am not a minority and I do not have minority experiences. I speak a vernacular that has been instilled in our predominantly Indo-European-cultured society since America was colonized. I don’t have another language to work with, and “awareness” doesn’t help to teach me. I keep reading the argument that women of color bear the burden of educating whites about their privilege, and that because they have to constantly re-educate whites, that they are being held down by this. Maybe you all will think that I’m dumb or ignorant, but since I grew up with my privilege as my norm, I struggled to see how my experience was privileged. I think this is a human condition, not unique to whites. And we all bear the burden of educating others about oppression and privilege. Are we not all (females, woman-identified, trans men, trans women, etc) struggling for the right to control our bodies, bearing the burden of educating others about our struggles, movements, choices, etc.?
The other thing I’m learning from this SlutWalkNYC experience is that conversations (or “committees,” as I satirically refer to these types of conversations) don’t, in and of themselves, create change. There needs to be action. So what actions are we taking? What actions can effectively be taken? I don’t really know what these things look like.
The closest I’ve come to finding concrete advice is this blog post. An excerpt from the author, Aura Blogando, does a better job summarizing than I ever could:
“As Trymaine Lee has reported, black, poor and transgender women are being disproportionately and systematically branded as criminal “sex offenders” on an online database for engaging in ‘survival sex’ in New Orleans. Under the cover of an obscure, slave-era legal term called “crimes against nature,” police officers target those who engage in oral or anal sex-for-money. Those targeted for a second time are charged as felons (vaginal sex-for-money, meanwhile, is considered misdemeanor prostitution). 40 percent of those who appear on the sexual predator database are there because they were accused of committing a ‘crime against nature;’ more than 80 percent of those are black women.”
The above excerpt offers an example of something specific to combat; some way that I can help shift the power of privilege. And this is, frankly, eye-opening to me. I have been in my world of privilege, blindly doing the best I could. It seems shameful that I didn’t know about this before, but I am not going to apologize for existing as the person that I am, or my experiences thus far. And I realize that this post probably sounds, at best, completely naive, and at worst, completely ignorant, but I only have the power to change my future experiences.
So, in summary, I am asking not for forgiveness for my complete ignorance of this concept before the age of 27, nor of my undeniable benefit from said privilege. Instead, I am asking for those more experienced with this than me to teach me and to help me participate in change.