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View Diary: Maybe if we take “White Guilt” out of the equation it will be easier to understand? (172 comments)

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  •  Is 'white privilege' (5+ / 0-)
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    Tonedevil, Brecht, Farugia, shesaid, DrFaustus

    mostly a less-fraught way of saying 'racist?' I sometimes think that the toxicity of the term 'racist' is a problem. I mean, obviously it's good that overt racism has become taboo, but it's also become defined (by most whites, anyway) as only overt racism. Not about the more insidious an ubiquitous stuff. So for a white person to say, 'yeah, I'm racist,' sounds like 'White Power!'

    Especially if they say it without any particular guilt. I mean, I'm aware that I'm racist. I grew up in a racist society, and I'm not some moral paragon of purity who doesn't have a roiling subconscious full of hateful crap of every description. I don't think being racist is a good thing, of course, but denying that it exists in me--or even feeling guilty, instead of vigilant, about it--strikes me as deeply unhelpful.

    I guess I'm okay with the term 'white privilege', because it is a non-taboo way of saying the same thing. But yikes, 'nonwhite encumbrance.' That's like 'here's some other shitty thing you swarthy people have. Encumbrance. You're welcome!'

    'Racist' seems to do the trick. It's an ugly word, which is--or should be--a good thing, in an adjective. It's an ugly truth. And it's just a pretty flat statement of cultural truth. I mean, to the extent that racism takes root inside a little black girl who prefers to play with the white doll over the black doll, I'm in no position to call myself non-racist.

    "Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror."

    by GussieFN on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 04:22:17 PM PDT

    •  No it is not. (27+ / 0-)

      I hope that I am not a racist, even though everyone can be influenced by structural racism in subtle ways. When I find that happening to me I give myself a good slap. That is something I have a choice about.

      I am white and I didn't have a choice about that. The society I live in gives me racial privilege without my having to ask for it. It is not about what I do but about who I am.

      If I go out with a black friend, I can see it happening before my eyes.  

      •  Well, what is 'being racist', then? (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Brecht, shesaid, Bridge Master

        I'd argue that it is 'being influenced by structural (or societal) racism in subtle ways.'

        Or, of course, in not-so-subtle ways.

        "Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror."

        by GussieFN on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 04:44:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I make a distinction between personal (19+ / 0-)

          and institutional racism. Personal racism is showing deliberate and overt hostility toward people because of their race. That most certainly exist.

          I will give you an example of my own experience with institutional racism. About 20 years ago my HMO sent me to a new eye doctor in San Francisco. At that point in my life I had had a career as a social worker and been active in a long string of progressive political causes. I did not think that I was a racist.

          As I sat in the waiting room, it slowly dawned on me that the doctor I was about to see was probably black. The receptionist was black and about half of the other patients were. Suddenly an alarm bell went off in my head. I had dealt with a number of black professionals and counted a few of them as close friends, but I had never been to a black doctor. The inbuilt anxiety about one's health and the racial stereotypes about competency clashed in my head without my expecting it.

          I was more than a little shocked with myself. I did not get up and make some lame excuse about why I had to leave. I stayed put and waited to be called. The doctor was indeed black AND he was a very good doctor. I saw him for about 3 years until HMO roulette carried me off somewhere else.

          I have had somewhat similar experiences with myself a couple of other times. I consider that to be the influence of institutional racism. I was left with the choice of whether to act on it and be a personal racist or not.

          •  Ah! We acknowledge (9+ / 0-)

            exactly the same experience, and call it completely different things!

            I guess I just think it's helpful, for me, to call it racism if I have a reaction like that. It's the opposite of deliberate, and the opposite of overt, but it's a nasty little worm chewing a hole inside my heart, and so I want to call it the ugliest thing I can. Perhaps it's merely personal preference.

            "Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror."

            by GussieFN on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 05:12:20 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I call that institutional racism. (8+ / 0-)

              My thinking is impaired by it. I think that you and I probably respond to it in very similar ways. I guess it is sort of a borderland between the institutional and the personal.

              When I am out with a black friend and somebody treats me differently from him, that is what I call privilege. It happens regardless of what I do, just because I am white. I have choices to make about how I respond to the situation, but it was created by my circumstance and not by me.

              These various terms don't have clearly defined universally accepted meaning. Find common ground for communication about them takes some work and effort.

              •  Very sound to start by discussing different terms (9+ / 0-)

                I think each of these expresses some part of the whole, complex truth. But GussieFN is so right to bring in the term Racist, because there are so many levels of racism, and we need to be able to talk about that word in all its ugliness and ubiquity.

                There is so much Unconscious Racism: There are people who refuse to admit their own prejudice, and hide it in the back of their mind; and there are people who have undercurrents of discomfort they never even noticed.

                When you were in that doctor's office, you made the better choice, to hear that "an alarm bell went off in my head", and then to listen past it. But many whites, in the same place, would've just felt uncomfortable, and would have made up some trivial excuse so they never had to go back there.

                I had a boss (Kim) who, when she was getting her Ph.D., did an experiment on unconscious racism. She told her subjects (undergrads) that they would be working with a new lab partner, she described the partner, and she asked how they felt about the prospect. She had pictures of this "lab partner" - some were white, and some were black.

                The students almost all replied that they felt equally eager to work with the white or with the black lab partner. Kim had wired them up, so they she could test their skin's resistance, and other measures of bodily stress. And more than half of the students who said they were equally eager for either, indeed many who appeared completely convinced that they were unracist, in fact were more stressed when presented with a future lab partner who was black.

                I believe this is true throughout society, and throughout Daily Kos: We live in a racist culture, and we are programmed deeper than we know. If sweet little girls know without ever being told that the black doll is the bad one even when they themselves are black, then adults in this culture have had five or ten times as long to learn similar lessons.

                There are some people who are just born good and fair-minded. There are many who are lucky enough to grow up in families that are all about love and universal dignity. But most whites grow up at least a little racist, more racist than they realize - and it's only the ones who pay full attention, and spot all their small evasions and fix them, who end up completely clear and fair-minded.

                "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

                by Brecht on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 09:45:55 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  That lab partner experiment is interesting (1+ / 0-)
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                  but I don't think that it necessarily means that stress = racism.

                  It might mean that the situation of working with a black lab partner entails working outside the norm for those students; an expression of their understanding of institutional racism or perhaps being judged as racist. Who knows? Still valuable, though; would be interesting to see how pairing up men with female lab partners or with gay lab partners or asian lab partners would work as well.

                  If we truly live in a culture what is racist and stratified (which I believe we do) then a white person's reaction to working with a black lab partner would be fraught/stressful even if that person wasn't "racist" in the most blatant sense. Seems to me that is what we acknowledge by such terms as "white guilt" or "white privilege" or "institutional racism."

                  •  Same thing, different semantics. In one sense (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    sidnora, badscience

                    you're right, that stress is sometimes just what Richard Lyon felt in the unfamiliar doctor's office situation: Feeling weird in an unaccustomed environment.

                    The most important thing is where a white person goes with that stress, which will say a lot about them. Do they recognize it and deal with it in an enlightened fashion (as Richard did), or do they just run away from discomfort (in which case, several such decisions in a lifetime will lead to alienation from the otherness that Black America feels like to them).

                    Kim's experiment does not tell us what that stress meant. It's surprising to me that so many USC students, here in the melting pot of LA, felt more stress than they acknowledged in a not very strange situation.

                    In another sense, semantically, I feel like White Privilege is a very useful term here. People may be less defensive about it than White Guilt, and it points accurately to a moral responsibility white people have to be aware and considerate of these issues.

                    I just like the term Racism as an umbrella term. There are so many different levels and ways that our culture privileges whites, burdens blacks, and separates people into different world views. In the experiment in JoanMar's diary, the young black girls were clearly being racist, whatever more sympathetic terms we might also apply. I think there are few Americans who are entirely free of racism, at every level of their being. But I use the term here, where we're having a very self-aware conversation about these issues. If I were talking to my aunt's 80 year old friends in Texas, I'd be gingerly explaining to them what white privilege means.

                    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

                    by Brecht on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 09:40:34 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Stress is an interesting thing. (1+ / 0-)
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                      I don't know what sort of controls were in the experiment, but I would imagine there was some way of filtering out the simple stress of being hooked up to machinery, or having been previously prompted by the information about the future lab partner. And a lot of people would publicly say "no problem" even if their preference was "don't want."

                      That being said, I don't think that it is surprising at all, even in Los Angeles, or especially in Los Angeles. I grew up there. While it is a very diverse city, there are a lot of racial tensions in the culture-at-large (not just black/white tensions). There is no color-blindness anywhere in meatspace ;-) Awareness of racial tensions or even stress about racial tensions doesn't necessarily equate to racism or even prejudice or cultural stereotyping.

                      But I'm not arguing with the larger premise that the experiment suggests is the case, which is that issues around race cause stress! And that we have a very stratified and racist cultural structure.

                •  It's not easy (4+ / 0-)

                  to think of oneself as racist, even a little, if one accepts the basic premise that racism is bad.

                  I have to acknowledge that I have involuntary racist reactions. I'm a white woman. My boss, whom I adore, is black. My eye doctor, who I think is terrific both personally and professionally, is black. There are black people in my family, whom I have loved for most of my life.

                  But I was raised by good-hearted people who themselves were raised with the prevailing racial attitudes of their times (in a large northern city). They were aware of racism, and were strongly condemnatory of obvious racism when they witnessed it, but they still were able to pass some of the unconscious racism that was simply part of white privilege in the 1950s on to me.

                  "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

                  by sidnora on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 07:59:24 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I agree. I explained some more in my reply to (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    badscience, right above your comment.

                    I find racism useful as an umbrella term. But in practical conversation, White Privilege seems to point to whites' moral responsibility to check themselves, without making them as defensive as White Guilt or Racism might.

                    Tricky stuff. The people you most need to talk about it with are the people who will get most irrational when you do.

                    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

                    by Brecht on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 09:46:25 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Thanks for pointing up your comment above. (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      I'm perfectly comfortable with the term "white privilege", and I understand that even though I am an "other" myself by virtue of being a non-Christian woman, I've been its beneficiary all my life. And that it is incumbent on me to be aware of that, and make conscious efforts to overcome it.

                      And yes, your last sentence is the truth.

                      "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

                      by sidnora on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 10:09:03 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

            •  Calling people "racist" makes them defensive (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              CaliSista, joesig

              And causes them to shut down. You can call me a racist for taking it for granted that I can get Band-Aids that match my skin tone or that I don't have to worry about getting stopped by the police unless I'm actually pretty clearly doing something illegal, but if want to get a message across, I wouldn't advise it.

              •  I would certainly not consider those (0+ / 0-)

                examples you gave as racist. Down below in the comments, I would submit this as an example of racism (unless by chance it was some poorly executed snark that skipped right over my head).

                "Someone just turned the lights on in the bar and the sexiest state doesn't look so pretty anymore" CA Treasurer Bill Lockyer on Texas budget mess

                by CaliSista on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 10:23:38 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

            •  racism, bigotry, privilege - 3 faces of oppression (23+ / 0-)

              The example Richard gave is one of an internalized bigotry due to the psychological programming of institutional/cultural racism. He chose not to actuate the bigotry.

              But, this is different from white privilege.

              I'm white, so I can't speak to how blacks view white privilege.

              As a woman, I can speak to how I view male privilege. I have many male friends whom I adore. I don't see the vast majority of them as misogynists. I do see that they have some internalized misogyny which they battle. That is separate from the male privilege they are afforded, simply because they are male in a misogynist culture.

              Whether my male friends are misogynist or not, they are likely to be taken more seriously when they speak at a meeting than I am. In fact, I can say something and then a male can say exactly the same things and he will be credited with whatever it was and the fact that I spoke will be erased from everyone's memory.

              When I was at Occupy meetings, there was a man who was actively putting this to the test, all the time. He let me know, so that I would understand what he was doing, that he was going to repeat whatever I said and see if he got a different reaction. And, indeed, he did. Almost every time.

              Passion in a woman is hysterics, or out of control. In men, it's strength and leadership. These ways in which men are always assessed in a positive light while women with the same traits are assessed in a negative light, is an aspect of male privilege. Even men who are not misogynist get advantages in life from the existence of male privilege.

              I tend to use three terms: racism is the systemic/institutionalized/acculturated oppression of people as "less than" because of the color of their skin; bigotry is the behavior of an individual who actuates this racism in his/her own behaviors and attitudes; privilege is about the advantages one passively gets simply for being in the dominant demographic.

          •  Institutional racism, as I perceive it, (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            relates to laws and policies that at one time enforced segregation and persist to our detriment today. Here's a very brief summary in another of my comments to this diary. If I had the time I could make that a much lengthier comment with examples.

            “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children” ― Chief Seattle

            by SoCalSal on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 06:32:15 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Racism is a set of (5+ / 0-)

          beliefs and attitudes that certain people have (crucially, often unconscious).  It can range from things that are conscious like the disgusting and virulent KKK member to the unconscious clutching of a purse tighter when in an elevator with people of color.  Whit  privilege is advantages people enjoy simply by virtue of their skin color.  It has nothing to do with your beliefs, but rather pertains to how you're treated.  You can be the least racist person in the universe, and you'll still enjoy white privilege.

          The point can be made easily with Obama.  Over the years I've heard people talk about how Obama is half-white, as if this somehow allows him to a valid, for lack of a better word, "black deficit".  This misses the point that how a half-dozen person is treated has nothing to do with their personal beliefs.  The half-white person could be fully identified as white, completely disavow their blackness, etc, but this won't make any difference to how they're treated by police, job interviewers, people in elevators.  Others will still "code" them as black and treat them accordingly regardless of what they think in their heart or believe.

      •  ^^^This^^^ (11+ / 0-)

        Please, read this a hundred times:

        I am white and I didn't have a choice about that. The society I live in gives me racial privilege without my having to ask for it. It is not about what I do but about who I am.
        •  OK (0+ / 0-)


          Care to lend a hand to the "rest of us?"

          "Help" us with the rest of your people?
          Not everyone -- YOU know the ones.
          Change minds?
          Change hearts?

          Or at least keep them from mentally, physically or institutionally harming us?

          We could use a hand.

      •  I am a racist (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Bridge Master, peregrine kate

        As the product of and institutionally racist culture I am by necessity racist.  I am also sexist and homophobic.  It is my duty as a global citizen to check my privilege regularly and do the best I can to overcome what American culture has molded me into.

        You can't grow up in this culture and not be racist.

        Praxis: Bold as Love

        by VelvetElvis on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 10:21:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I don't think white privilege and racism (12+ / 0-)

      are the same thing at all, particularly from the perspective of the individual.  

      I don't think everyone is racist even though we may harbor some prejudice.  It is hard to get away from white privilege.

      - The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood. Martin Luther King, Jr. -

      by FreeWoman19 on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 05:22:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think saying we are all racist is like... (5+ / 0-)

        ...the teaching of my religion that we are all sinners. This is NOT supposed to be a club to beat others with. It is supposed to be a warning to each believer not to think that we are perfect or even pretend to think that. It's a message that we have to accept that we've fallen short & we've treated others badly -- whether we knew it or not.

        I read about a study that showed that people naturally tend to think of strangers as "one of us" or "not one of us". Given no other guidance, this fell out mostly on racial lines. When people were given colored shirts & told they were members of a team, the racial component was replaced with a bias toward people with the same color shirt!

        So ultimately, I think that being racist in some form is natural. For me, combating it involves deliberately thinking of people as being "on the same team", as much as I can.

        And, of course, racism and white privilege are opposite sides of the same problem. The first is in my attitudes. The second is in others' attitudes toward me.

    •  Privilege (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Bridge Master, peregrine kate

      I grew up with a ton of 'white privilege' (even though I'm not); in a society where whites and near-whites only make up a few percent of the population, it's hard to be unaware of what unearned privilege means. (And that's without the whole "I mostly interact with people like me" advantage.)

      Growing up, it always bothered me that people assumed we had money merely based on skin colour, especially since we didn't have money - we were less well off than most of my peers. But the flip side was that I could dress as badly as I wanted to - old t-shirt and ripped jeans - and still be perfectly respectable. I will never forget the day that I walked into a little shop in the mall, and the woman behind the counter asked me to keep an eye on the cash register for her, because she was there all alone and needed to run to the bathroom. A complete stranger chose to judge me on nothing more than skin colour.

      I'm not saying that skin colour always worked in my favour - I remember being in a government office where the clerk refused to help me until the man she was trying to help said 'no, he was here before me'.

      I definitely was conflicted by it all - I identified strongly as "non-white", and never wanted to be taken for 'French creole" - the local whites who were the descendants of the slave owning class. I couldn't change the way people reacted to me, of course, but I also resent being on the wrong side of the colour/respectability bar (as has happened in the US from time to time).

      Privilege (or burden) goes beyond that as well. People don't know what to make of me - I've been asked if I was Arab, or Iranian. So it's important to let people know where I'm from - West Indian, not Middle Eastern, not Latino. Why? Because, although it saps my soul a little, a near-white West Indian who speaks well, speaks better English than the Americans around him, is a sort of post-colonial curiosity and I end up playing off American's Anglophilia. As a 'brown'-identifying person with a deep appreciation of the burdens of colonialism, it's not fun to play off those stereotypes. But it's far safer than playing the person I actually see myself to be.

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