My last post on White Privilege has given me some time to ponder the validity of its content and my thought on the matter. I’ve also asked those who are on the receiving end of white privilege to give me their thoughts and have come out with a realization:
I’m particularly ill-placed to make judgements on what White Privilege is or isn’t, though I feel it is my responsibility as a straight, cis-gendered white male to explain it perhaps to other white people. Granted, my first post mostly took the time to analyze socio-economic and historical factors of White Privilege, without so much as explaining everyday examples of what white privilege is. You’ll most likely be capable of picturing a BuzzFeed article in order to think of how the mainstream typically talks about White Privilege. Filled to the brim with aphorisms and anecdotic remarks, their articles will glaze over details, which I think are worth mentioning here.
Granted, they are much better placed than myself to report on this, but as social media goes, it seems we prefer the flashy effects to the more grounded analysis of phenomena. It helps raise awareness, so while you are all aware of White Privilege, I shall go into how it affects us as a culture.
Cultural Effects of White Privilege
In order to think of culture, we must go back to the normative behaviors that helped erect it. Socio-economic factors notwithstanding, White Privilege was born out of a superstition that placed the white man above other races. Imperial Britain was guilty of this in its expansionism, when it aggressively colonized the world, imposing its worldview on peoples who themselves were imperialistic. Nevertheless, its technological and perceived cultural superiority gave scholarly impression on the British that they were objectively superior to people of other skin colors. Primarily because of customs deemed barbaric and uncivilized by the aristocratic nobility, who then passed this on to the populace.
This gave leverage to the side of Britain to believe themselves as saviours of the savages. A common example of how this still occurs to this day can be found in cinema. I have struggled however to find appropriate sources that were not partisan about white saviour complex. So, in order to explain it in my own words, I will go about it in reference to cinema and also according to how people react still, to this day, when it comes to people of color’s plights.
- White Saviour complex is inherent to White Privilege because it places the white person as being the only one capable of understanding what can be done to fix the problems of people of color. One could accuse myself of such a thing, but rather than try to educate people of color with this article, I am using it to spread awareness of White Privilege to other white people. That is my goal.
- In order to properly define white saviour complex, one can look at how people will often misquote Martin Luther King Jr. in order to make activist movements like Black Lives Matter appear trivial and counter-productive. It seems to presume that the white person’s knowledge of MLK makes them inherently more capable of interpreting his words than people of color. As such, in trying to say things like “MLK is rolling over in his grave”, white people are essentially saying that they think one of the biggest cultural figures for people of color would agree with their own narrative. This makes themselves out to be a person of greater wisdom.
- This is harmful because MLK is often used by people of color to emancipate themselves from the clutches of a society based on white hetero-patriarchal privilege. The humanistic message behind MLK was not that black people should not protest as they do today, but that they should be heard on the same level as other races. When we turn to use a figure like MLK against Black Lives Matter, we are hurting their cause and the history of black activism in order to support a rather negative status quo.
- As a “both sides of the argument” argument, this is rather weak, because black people do not go into the streets lightly. Their issues go vastly ignored by the American public, and whether they manifest their opposition to this sort of societal hurdle peacefully or aggressively, they are always admonished for bringing up supposed “resolved” issues. Yet, with the election of Donald Trump, it becomes apparent that these issues were never resolved; quite on the contrary, they were simply hidden away until the people who harbored racist thoughts could once again speak publicly.
- Considering that American society is almost entirely based on the privilege of the white man, it comes as nonsensical to people of color to try to see both sides of the argument, because one side helps a status quo that hurts them and the other allows them to come up higher and on the same level as the white man. In wanting to skeptically analyze Black Lives Matter as we do, with the express purpose of denigrating their efforts, we enforce a status quo that will only allow things to become more and more toxic.
- Much as we wish to deny the existence of a racism issue to the extent that groups like Black Lives Matter or the NAACP claim them to be, we as white people typically speak from a place of privilege. For example, when feminists speak of the wage gap, how quickly are some people to retort: “Well, if women are paid less than men, why don’t the companies only employ women?” The question, as asinine as it is, is almost as relevant as the question “Can you demonstrate that atheism is accurate and correct?” It shows a complete misunderstanding of the issue and serves only to derail the conversation. Answering it forces those arguing to concede certain points: That companies willingly employ women and subversively pay them less than their male counter-parts, yet don’t massively do so because of obscure reasons, which are part of the evil megalomaniacal patriarchy.
- It is part of the white saviour complex to wish to argue the existence of endemic issues like racism and sexism to the extent that those suffering from them report them to be. Indeed, it would make us feel much better about our inaction toward these people if they were simply exaggerating. We could go on in our lives and sleep on both our ears peacefully. How awesome would we be to have shown to women and people of color that they’re not really being oppressed? Actually, if you think about it, why would they want to be oppressed? Wouldn’t it be better if they weren’t? Wouldn’t they want to prove they AREN’T being oppressed? On that thought, do you not think they have already done that?
- White saviour complex and thus white privilege is an on-going action from white people to preserve the status quo that supports their current way of life, which they believe to be correct. Not many of us wish to consider that we may have negative prejudices about certain people, and having the reality rubbed on our faces often annoys more than it makes us ponder. Which is why the first reaction to hearing about sexism and racism, without having looked into it ourserlves, is to be skeptical, to raise our eyebrows. Especially when we are being targetted by the accusations of systemic racism or sexism. It forces us to figure out in what way black people are not really being oppressed.
- You can think of it like how an abusive lover will repeatedly gas-light their spouse into thinking they’re not really being violent, it’s just their perspective. This makes them doubt themselves and in the end, remain in a toxic situation that will not improve, because they are always being told everything’s fine, even after having been shouted down for the thousandth time or struck upside the head. If only they weren’t so damn stubborn!
- It becomes essential, then, for white people to argue with black people about the existence of institutionalized racism, because it inherently makes them condone endemic racism issues in their society, and no one wants to be the unaware, irresponsible jackass who never noticed that they’ve been sitting on someone’s chest, keeping them from breathing. The solution here is not to cease being skeptical, but to at least recognize that institutionalized racism exists and it is what allows white people to so adamantly disagree with movements like Black Lives Matter, and complain about how politically correct society has become. Making America Great Again was part of this idea. White People are coming back to save society from thugs of the left.
It is difficult for a white person raised in our day and age to think of themselves as racist, because more often than not, we’ve been raised to be caring individuals. However, our culture repeatedly paints black people as thugs and ill-mannered individuals with a lacking moral backbone. You can see it in movies, you can see it in music, you can see it in advertisements and you can see it in how white society segregated people of color in the 20th century. Cultural segregation has occured in many different societies, but in America specifically, it was legislated with much support from white people, who greatly profitted from its enactions. Partly because the increased injection of black demographics in the workforce meant white people would have less room on the bus, for example.
This was barely half a century ago. Such societal changes are not overcome in mere 60 years, not in two generations’ time. There are still vastly black neighbourhoods and vastly white neighbourhoods in America as a result of this segregation and the mutual suspicion black and white people have of each other in certain parts of the country. To this day, white people will change sides on the sidewalk when an incoming group of black people come toward them or make room on public transportation, when possible, to put more space between themselves and black individuals (primarily men). Not necessarily as an act of racism, but as a reflexive attitude to the statistical analysis of crime. People like to think in categories and immediately, groups of black people or a black youth are thought of as being potential aggressors.
Can we really blame white people for that? On a short-term basis, not exactly. On the long term, yes, we absolutely can. Why though?
- On the short term: White people do not really want to be racist, because they know it to be wrong and thus will not be biased against black people they interact with (at least, they will try not to be).
- On the long term: Denying that this happens or denying that racist attitudes toward black people have helped upkeep such a behavior will only preserve the status quo. It is in allowing ourselves to recognize these little behavioral quirks we have toward black people that we can start to see the issue or at least look at it on a broader perspective.
It is the presumption that black people are inherently more liable to do crime that makes us segregate even to this day, and cause greater ratios of poverty in immigrants and blacks than in other demographics. It is our distrust of them when we cross them on the streets, even if fleeting, that hurts them in the long run. We aren’t racist, but we do not act against racism either. Mostly because we think it to be an issue of the 50s, when it was so very clear-cut and graphic Certainly, we do not burn crosses, but neither does the KKK much lately either. The KKK has not gone away, however, and their ranks have not necessarily diminished. People openly supporting them have just silenced their voices.
That is why those of us who consider ourselves simply “not-racist” do nothing to help by simply stating this as a fact. It’s fine that we wouldn’t call a black person a nigger or that we wouldn’t discriminate based on skin color, but we still have these innate behaviors that cause us to double-take when we see black people performing activities. In order to eradicate white privilege, we need to recognize it and unless we do, we will persist on perpetuating this behavior and enabling “actual racists” to have their opinions.
If you believe “both sides of the argument” is allowing racists to speak about how people of color are inherently inferior to white people, because of freedom of speech, you are not understanding just how inadvertently racist your views are. You will most likely not admit them to be, and arguing about how not-racist you are will do nothing but allow you to sleep on your two ears, while other people suffer.
How do you act against this? Do not hi-jack the conversation. If you think you have a point ot make about racism, wait until you are called on it, as a white person. Black people are well capable of expressing themselves on the issues they have to deal with. It will be your white saviour complex speaking for you, if you decide to speak up for them. Instead, wait for them to ask you for your help. There are plenty of other issues you can speak up for. It’s okay to pass up your opportunity to speak on this one.
When you are witness of clearly racist acts, do not let them go unnoticed. Provide your support to people who are on the receiving end of hate crimes, whichever way you can. Primarily, understand that change starts at a personal level. If you change the way you see things, you will be better able to understand what behaviors constitute a perpetuation of this issue and then combat them.