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It perplexes the hell out of me that educated people have such a problem grasping the concept of privilege. I think it’s because when we think of the word “privilege,” many of us tend to think of rewards. A gold star, a sum of money, a medal. Especially money. We tend to think of ease and comfort.
And while there is certainly an element of ease involved in white privilege, what it’s really about is opportunity.
I hate to give publicity to anyone who seems like a douchebag (and this guy really, really does), but what got me thinking about this was an article I saw today. It was shared by Guerrilla Feminism on Facebook, and it concerned the writing of a Jewish Princeton student who was denouncing the idea of white privilege. After telling readers of his ancestors’ struggles (and deaths) during the Holocaust, he goes on to say this:
That’s the problem with calling someone out for the “privilege” which you assume has defined their narrative. You don’t know what their struggles have been, what they may have gone through to be where they are. Assuming they’ve benefitted from “power systems” or other conspiratorial imaginary institutions denies them credit for all they’ve done, things of which you may not even conceive. You don’t know whose father died defending your freedom. You don’t know whose mother escaped oppression. You don’t know who conquered their demons, or may still conquering them now.
The truth is, though, that I have been exceptionally privileged in my life, albeit not in the way any detractors would have it.
It has been my distinct privilege that my grandparents came to America. First, that there was a place at all that would take them from the ruins of Europe. And second, that such a place was one where they could legally enter, learn the language, and acclimate to a society that ultimately allowed them to flourish.
It was their privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character.
Now, let me just take a moment to say that I don’t in any way mean to diminish someone else’s struggle. The experiences of his family in the Holocaust, the experiences of any Jewish person in America, those are experiences I’ve never had and will never know. The Holocaust was horrifying, devastating, and any person that went through that deserves respect and more.
That said…what this guy says after that isn’t quite accurate. If you read the entire article, he describes the hard work of his grandparents and father, earning money, getting into great schools, running a successful (but, he points out, not very influential) business. His place in life, he says, is owed to the hard work of those who came before him, not to the color of his skin, and as you can read in the excerpt I posted, America doesn’t care about religion or race.
This is where we can see a dude who, while he is obviously well-written and well-educated concerning his personal family history, seems to have missed a great deal in terms of American history, not to mention religious studies. Which is weird, because he’s obviously familiar with Martin Luther King Jr. (“the content of your character”). So why doesn’t he care to acknowledge the Civil Rights movement?
What if your hard-working grandfather and father had come to America….and not had access to the job opportunities available only to white people? To the same lunch counters that white businessmen had access to? The same neighborhoods? The same water fountains?
Maybe their hard work would have been a little bit different, and maybe even a little more divided- between family, work, and fighting to be accepted as a full human being.
This guy seems to already know that context is extremely important- he points out that you never know another person’s struggles, another person’s background, their history, their context. And yet, he’s content to focus on one big part of history while ignoring another ENORMOUS part of it.
That’s not to undermine the accomplishments of his family, or even of the man himself. But if you’ve gotten into Princeton, you must’ve had to take some sort of social science? Some kind of history? How could you have forgotten Civil Rights (not to mention, oh I don’t know, slavery)?
Having white privilege doesn’t mean that all white people have lives that are, to quote this article, “a cake walk.” (And I wonder if Kyle Becker of Independent Journal Review even know what a cakewalk is or where it came from?) It doesn’t mean you’ve never had to work hard, that you are rich, or that your achievements are not worthwhile. What it means is that you (and those in the generations before you in America) had access to opportunities that not all people do; that you’ve never had to wonder if MAYBE you weren’t hired at a job because of the color of you skin; that you’ve generally seen people that look similar to you in most facets of popular media; and that you’ve never felt that you had to make drastic changes to your vernacular in order to be perceived as intelligent, let alone fully human.
Tal Fortgang, from whitey to whitey: I understand that you’ve worked hard, that your family has worked hard, and I’m very happy that because of that, the American Dream is coming true for you.
But let me remind you that the American Dream was originally a white dream. Allow me to assure you that if you and your family hadn’t been white? That hard work would have been doubled by displacement, by an uncertain history, by discrimination, and by segregation.
The fact that you can simply ignore the Civil Rights movement and use Martin Luther King’s words out of context in order to deny your privilege, I think, says it all.
(Oh, and America doesn’t care about race or religion? You could stand to do some reading up on your current events as well.)
Just a few days ago, Bill O’Reilly showed several clips from Beyoncé videos and said something along the lines of, “Shame on you Beyoncé. You’re not empowering women. Look at all the teen/unplanned pregnancies in the black community!”
(Bill O’Reilly just wants to keep young black girls on the right path. Such a kind heart. <3)
“Disgraceful,” said my grandfather, who was next to me on the couch. Fox News is a favorite channel at his house.
Frowning and perplexed, I refrained from trying to question Bill O’Reilly through the TV screen. Instead, I’ll present my thoughts here.
Bill O’Reilly apparently criticized Beyoncé out of concern not only for young impressionable women, but out of concern for the black community. I’ve noticed that O’Reilly and Fox and a lot of news sources in general are quick and almost happy to point out problems they observe as belonging to “the black community.” Violence in the black community. Poverty in the black community. Abuse in the black community. Pregnancy, abortion, sex. You get the idea— you just take any problem you can think of, and you add “in the black community.”
So…where’s the concern for the issues of the white community?
I’m serious. Most of these newscasters are white, aren’t they? And just look at what’s been in the news lately:
-the KKK launching a neighborhood watch initiative. I sure do feel safer now!
How can you look at this and not see the ENORMOUS problem here?
Why isn’t Bill O’Reilly calling on the white community to call friends out on their racism, to discourage family members from associating with organizations like the KKK, to tell their children exactly why Cliven Bundy and Don Sterling’s remarks were so wrong? Forget the black community for minute, Fox, and take a look at all those aging white viewers you’ve got. There’s a definite problem, and instead of trying to solve it, the white community is just looking the other way, pretending these current events and remarks are all isolated incidents.
The closest any news source seems to have come to doing this is CNN, who seems to want to help the KKK change its image. You’re right CNN— we don’t need to abolish the KKK, we just need to rebrand them and make them “new”!
As my grandfather would say, it’s a disgrace!
Fellow white people, please join me in my concern. There is a problem here, and it’s OUR racism. If we are the mainstream, if we are the majority, shouldn’t we be striving to set a good example? We can’t continue to let these kinds of attitudes permeate and represent our community.
**And on a personal note, Bill O’Reilly— if you’re concerned about unplanned pregnancies, why aren’t you more concerned about access to contraception and less concerned about deprecating black female sexuality?
So here’s the first of several posts I want to make to address some of the feedback I’ve been getting. The first is from my amazing friend whose name I won’t be posting until I have permission. She is a badass budding anthropologist and woman of color. Here’s what she said…
“I do know from experience that white guys worry more than anyone else about this topic and it always confused me.”
Why DO a lot of white guys worry so much about how big their dicks are? Can any white males address this? Are you just worried you’re small, or is it about besting another person or worse, besting another race? (Let me just give you a memo: The more YOU worry about it in front of the person you’re sleeping with, the more THEY will also think about your potential smallness.)
“I’ve noticed that men tend to not like black people more. Almost every single white friend I have. Father or grandfather are racist. Like they can work with poc, talk to them but dear god none in their house. It’s like the movie Save the Last Dance. ‘Oil and Milk don’t mix.’ …your post about your grandfather reminds me of all those cases because it’s not that they KKK hate black people, but they Jesus had to be white hate black people”
Two things: 1. I, personally, don’t have any concrete religious beliefs. 2. I’m not sure how any ultra-religious bigots would even FIND this blog. So for the time being I’m not going to address the “Jesus had to be white” stuff other than to say gee, it sure is a convenient belief in countries that were established (or colonized) by white people.
One thing I have noticed (and that is pointed out all over the internet, all over social justice literature, all over anything related to intersectionality) is that sexism and racism are inextricably, almost endlessly linked. My grandfather, for instance, once told me that women have to keep men in line because otherwise, men will act like animals.
“But isn’t that insulting to men?!” I asked, incredulous. I’d never seen my grandfather act like an animal in his life.
“No,” he said. For him, it was just the truth.
My grandfather was also perfectly content to work alongside black people (aka, he didn’t KKK hate them), but not so content when I fell in love with a black man (he thought our relationship was morally wrong, which brings us to his morals, which brings us to White Jesus).
About my blogpost:
“I feel like you’re always trying to over explain. It comes off like I’m not racist and here’s my proof.”
It’s true. I do it for a few reasons, among those are respect, insecurity, and the fact that in this world, hatred runs rampant in all directions and I want to cut it off at every possible path. There’s also the matter of internalized prejudice, which I’ll get to in a minute.
Additionally, whenever I talk about feminism or racism, I feel a little like I’m taking lessons and retorts from every other time I’ve ever talked about feminism or racism. Which means I’m taking cues from activists/writers/bloggers/people whose points I’ve respected and agreed with, from people who’ve shared their own experiences with prejudice, and of course, from the people I’m closest to.
This also means that I’m remembering the reactions of those who have disagreed. Which means every time I talk about any sort of prejudice, I’m anticipating “Not all men are like that” and “Not all white people are like that.” And that really pisses me off.
First of all, I know “not all men are like that.” For goodness sakes. In fact, a lot of the feminists I’m friends with as well as many of the feminists I follow on tumblr are in serious, longterm relationships with men. As am I. When I bitch about patriarchy, I’m pointing out a system that provides certain advantages to straight, white, cismen. That doesn’t mean that every straight white cisman’s life is a picnic, and it doesn’t mean they’re all douchebags. What it does mean, though, is that a WHOLE HELL OF A LOT OF THEM ARE. You can see it in the news, in crime, in politics. You can see it in the halls of high schools. You can see it every time anybody who ISN’T a straight white cis man tries to have a conversation about privilege or oppression, and a white dude responds with, “Let me just play devil’s advocate.”
Similar feelings on the statement “Not all white people are like that,” plus one more: why would you tell ME what all white people are like? I’m a white person. I’m addressing racism. Dear god. I know not all white people are “like that.”
On the other hand…in some ways, we are.
We all internalize sexism and racism. Both men and women do, both black and white people do, and so does everybody else in between and all around. Black people can be racist against their own people. Women can be sexist against other women. And there is no reverse-racism or reverse-sexism, because both terms imply an institutional power behind the prejudice. If you need a better explanation, here’s a link.
There’s also Google.
If someone calls you out on racism or sexism, do us all a favor and just pause. Pause, try not to immediately get angry, and listen. Do not respond with “People are oversensitive” or “My best friend is another race.” Because we all internalize prejudices in some way or another. It happens, and your non-white, non-male, non-straight, non-cis, or even all-of-the-above friend can’t save you from that.
You don’t need to apologize for being white. But you can and should acknowledge your privilege and, if applicable, your prejudice, and listen to the points of view of other people
Pause, listen, and actively educate yourself.
Feel free to message me and I will happily over-explain the answers to any questions you have, or point you in the direction of someone who can.
So primarily thanks to tumblr (dear god I love that place), particularly this awesome blog and also this awesome blog and many others, I’ve gotten some views and some feedback on that post about, well, dicks.
With time, more writing, more shares, etc, my hope is that eventually this blog will include more perspectives on interracial couples/racism than my own and my man’s, and I wanted to make sure I shared some of that feedback.
One of the things I saw repeatedly was that a lot of black women in particular have been asked by white dudes how they compare to black dudes. -_- So much intimidation and insecurity.
Another thing was that the discussion should be opened up to include ALL racist body stereotypes (e.g. black women all have big butts), how they’re perpetuated, and ESPECIALLY how they’re fetishized by white people.*
Last but not least, someone on tumblr remarked, “This is the type of thing that white people need to tell other white people…”
Yeah, we really do. What white people (I need to think of tags that will bring in more white people) really need to get past is that idea that racism isn’t our problem…because basically, when it comes to racism, we ARE the problem. Our obliviousness IS the problem.
So in my next post, which will hopefully come tomorrow, I’m going to try and address the feedback I got and go into a little more detail.
And thank you so, so much to those who posted the link to my blog. It is deeply appreciated (and so is your feedback, your suggestions, your criticism, etc).
*Yes, I KNOW white people aren’t the only people who fetishize other races. That doesn’t excuse the problem.
If the title isn’t clear enough, I should go ahead right now and let everyone know- there will be “bad words” on this blog.
As a white woman dating a black man, I’ve gotten this question several times. For a long time, I would answer. At first it was, “I think so,” and then, “I can’t speak for all black men, but my guess based on experience is yes.” It was as though because I’ve slept with someone of a different race, I’m now some sort of black dude expert, some sort of “once you go black you can’t go back” scientist.
In case this is really necessary, I’m going to tell you why that’s incredibly ignorant and just a tad racist.
Don’t get me wrong, here. I understand that the human mind tends toward categorization. I also understand that sex is not only one of the funnest (is that a word?) activities out there, but also one of the most entertaining conversation topics there is. And let me be quite clear when I say that, in every person I have loved and in every person I have slept with, I have found things to be proud of in both their spiritual being and their physical body.
In other words, I think it should go without saying that I’m damn proud to be with my man and I’m enamored of his strong, well-endowed body. I hold those people I commit to in high esteem, and one of a thousand reasons I’m with him is because sometimes when I look at him and talk to him, I still can’t believe he’s with me.
But there will be time for amorous ravings later. Let’s get back to the dick question.
Have you seen that Meet Your First Black Girlfriend video? How about this Morning After video featuring Sasheer Zamata? Great, funny videos featuring talented black women…and, true to life, awkward white men. One of the themes that shows up in both of these videos is the white dude [awkwardly] uncomfortably trying to ask the black woman how he compares with black men. In these videos, it’s presented as funny, but also not quite right. And honestly, that’s a little bit how it is in real life.
Given the opportunity, plenty of women will rave about their man’s bedroom skills. They might even rave about his size. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. And let’s be fair, I never had a problem giggling about (not in front of him) it if a white guy I slept with was small…but I never said, “Oh, he’s small because he’s white.”
If you happened to see and watch the video posted previously to this, a conversation between Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith (both of whom are absolutely brilliant writers, by the way), it is said in that video that “race” really only matters because of racism. I think this is absolutely true.
I hope I don’t need to point this out, but race as humans know it isn’t a biological thing. Things like skin color, eye shape, etc etc, these don’t make other people a slightly different species. Ancestry and regional differences might mean genetic differences/advantages, such as being more susceptible to certain diseases that weren’t common to the region one’s ancestors grew up in. These differences DO NOT make any ancestral population less human than another.
But [white] people didn’t always know this, or care to know it for that matter. Throughout history (especially the times of slavery in America), we see white Americans and Europeans using black bodies as though they were another, lesser species. In racists today, we see a similar attitude. Just look at that idiotically antiquated Bundy guy referring to “the Negro” as though he were talking about his cattle. White people in history were constantly trying to prove that those of African descent were somehow different, somehow closer to animals than to human beings. The biggest reason they did this was in order to justify things like racism and slavery. There’s an especially terrible history of white men using the bodies of black women not only for scientific experimentation, but for profit. Look at the story of the Hottentot Venus: Saartjie Sarah Baartman was made into a caricature of the African woman and used as a lucrative carnival sideshow attraction. Even after death, her body was kept and casted for further scientific research because her genitalia and buttocks were shaped differently than those of European white women. Look at the history of gynecological research (will post a link as soon as I find the one I have in mind, but you can always google it). Look at phrenology, the false notion that varying measurements of the skull indicated a lesser species that for a long time, was taken as a valid science.
And this is still going on. Look at this racist piece of shit published by someone who was supposedly well-versed in evolution (I don’t fucking think so). Look at Eve Ensler, who’s supposed to be an intersectional feminist icon, obsessing over African women’s bodies to the point of likening herself to Jesus taking on their “Congo Stigmata.”
Black bodies aren’t here for the entertainment of white people. They aren’t here for our study. They aren’t here for us to try and create scientific theories about. And they aren’t here to prompt naughty giggle-fests among white women. And sorry ladies, but it’s just like with any man- you don’t REALLY get to know how big his dick is until you reach down and grab it. (Also, if you’re only having sex with a guy to see how big he is or to have a specific “racial” or “cultural” experience, you might have some other issues to deal with.)
From here on out, if my boyfriend isn’t uncomfortable with it, I’ll have no problem answering the question of whether HE, HIMSELF is a well-endowed man. But being asked the question of whether black guys have bigger dicks in general isn’t something I can address. Black men aren’t another species. Black people aren’t here for our study and our speculation.
**If any people of color would like to weigh in on this or have any corrections/suggestions, please always ALWAYS feel free to offer them.
My last post ended with a harsh statement, and I feel I’d better elaborate. Calling someone a racist is often thought of as the end, an accusation of a terrible crime bringing to mind the KKK, nooses and lynchmobs. But the cold hard truth is that we’ve all internalized racism in some way or another. This doesn’t make it okay, but it should at least make it easier to recognize. Often (particularly for white people) we enact racism in a way that we can’t even see, and because we can’t see it, we are immediately offended when it is pointed out to us. A person of color, however, doesn’t need to have racism pointed out to them: they experience it directly and perhaps on a day-to-day basis. Rather than write an essay on white privilege, let me take a quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fabulous book, “Americanah” to try and convey what I’m talking about:
When you go shopping alone at a nice store, do you worry that you will be followed or harassed?
When you turn on mainstream TV or open a mainstream newspaper, do you expect to find mostly people of another race?
Do you worry that your children will not have books and school materials that are about people of their own race?
(For more information, read the book. Or just hit up google. Go to the library. Even better, hop on tumblr and search tags like “racism” and “white privilege.” Hell, ask a black friend to be completely honest with you about their feelings on racism. The least you can do is listen without taking it so personally, because let’s face it— you’ve probably used them as a shield in some verbal “I’m not racist, I have a black friend”-type defense.)
More about all this social justice/racism/privilege stuff later.
What I’m saying is, it’s unfortunately normal to internalize a little bit of racism or sexism. Like useless and potentially toxic materials we take in when we eat, these things are there in most of the media we observe. Oftentimes, perhaps most times, carrying that shit with us is unintentional.
But my grandfather is not that type of racist.
To steal a quote from my boyfriend, my grandfather is probably the type of racist who might hear a statement like, “I’m not a racist, but I sure do wish all those black people would go back to Africa,” and nod in agreement. I get the feeling that, like Abraham Lincoln, my grandfather would have freed the slaves and then tried to get them the hell out of here. My grandfather is the type of racist who admires the way black people worship in church, the way black musicians have that extra rhythm, who once saw a black boy being made fun of in school and felt bad but did nothing, who thinks that intelligent black people are somehow the exception. He is the type of racist who has no problem talking and working with any person of color…he just doesn’t want them in his family.
I might be a little resentful.
Let me explain.
I’ve always been close to my grandparents— I’ve been very lucky when it comes to my family. My college graduation and my grandmother’s death weren’t far apart, and during that year I mentioned in my first blogpost, when I was working minimum wage jobs and trying to plan out my life, my grandfather and I sort of became anchors to each other. We had lunch weekly, we went to visit out-of-state family members together, we reminisced. I learned so much from him, about my family, about history, about his political views (always so very different from my own). Most importantly, I learned that people on very different planes of opinion can still love and respect each other, and maybe even find common ground. Our relationship reminded me of an India.Arie song: “If old people talked to young people, we’d be better people all around.”
My grandfather and I had done so much for each other’s perspectives. I hoped this situation, my relationship, would be something to widen his perspective on race. My grandfather loved and respected me, had always encouraged me in my studies and my travels, had scolded me for not becoming a doctor so that I could take care of him, and had never once remotely implied that I should just find a rich husband. There was also the fact that, as far as men go, my man is pretty great. Handsome, funny, smart, well-traveled. Not just good with people, but genuinely interested in them and what they have to say. My grandfather would need a pretty big wall of denial to think otherwise.
But what would drive it home, I thought, was that my boyfriend has the same hometown as my grandfather, the same name as my grandfather’s brother, and served in the military just as my grandfather and most of his family did.
So I told my grandfather about my boyfriend, his name and where he was from.
“He’s not black, is he?” my grandfather asked. I couldn’t believe it.
“Yes,” I said.
“I don’t know if I like that,” he said. “I always thought a cardinal shouldn’t be with a bluejay.”
On a bird, differently colored feathers may denote different species. But that isn’t so on a human being. I’ve seen the insides of many different human bodies, and the ingredients are much the same— fat, blood, muscle. Bone if you go deep enough. I told this to my grandfather. It didn’t seem to drive the point home.
“You talked about bones?” my little brother said later. “You should have told him that we’re all white on the inside.”
My boyfriend and I laughed. But my grandpa’s thinking bothered me for multiple reasons. Some were based on principles. Others were purely selfish— didn’t he love me? Why couldn’t I change his mind?
I did end up bringing my man to Memorial Day. He and my grandfather shook hands, chatted, and were friendly.
This is awesome! I thought.
Weeks later, my grandfather took me aside and said, “You should be with a nice white businessman. Your friend should be with one of those beautiful dark girls from Ebony magazine.”
I’m not sure why a businessman, but otherwise, I followed my grandfather’s logic pretty well: my “friend” and I didn’t match, and so while he would never say an unkind word to my man’s face, he would always silently disapprove of his relationship with me.