At dinner the other night, over some delicious food and perhaps a few drinks, my friend and I were talking about the Zimmerman trial. The conversation (inevitably) went to white privilege and he said
“Let’s just call white privilege what it is: racism.”
I understand intellectually that, on some level, this is obvious. But I had never connected it like that in my mind. I felt like the Earth shifted beneath me and I asked him to clarify and confirm that white privilege is a synonym for racism. I must have looked befuddled, because he gave me a moment to turn it over in my mind before he did.
In the very beginning of my thinking, learning, and talking about white privilege and racism, someone said, “Of course white people in America are racist. It’s in the water. And you can’t blame a fish for being wet.”
The idea of acknowledging my racism and the fact that I am, honestly, racist felt dangerous. It still does. Despite everything we’ve been through, seen, read, witnessed, “racist” is still a nuclear word, reserved for white people who use the n word and wear white sheets. It’s abstract and other. They are not our families, our friends, and certainly not us. Calling someone racist is a sure way to shut down any conversation. Even calling out third parties as racist makes white people twist and flip and adopt a defensive attitude with no empathy or compassion.
Have we couched our internalized, persistent, ever-present, destructive racism in the frame of “white privilege” to make us more comfortable? Ironically, centering the conversation around us (for instance, when someone says “white people always think xyz” we jump up and say “I’m not like that!” making it about us, and not the experience being relayed by a person of color) is central to white privilege. Is framing the discussion about us by calling it white privilege instead of acknowledging we are racist an extension of that?
Sitting with that thought reminded me of an invitation I received a couple of years ago to this:
My instant reaction was of the “what the fuck?!” variety and I still feel that way. And now I think I can really pinpoint why.