In the past few years, I’ve witnessed a litany of white people discussing their white privilege, ranging from Macklemore’s song, Emma Watson’s letter to her book club, and Ashley Graham’s public acknowledgment.
While these steps are progressive in their own right and certainly preferable to denying the fact that white privilege exists, they do not signal the end of a journey. All too often, a person admits that they benefit from white privilege, gleans the likes/page views accompanied by these confessions, and does not commit to a more thoughtful inspection of their complicity in this system. These discussions can be empty, living and dying in the abstract and never moving into a concrete, action oriented place.
If an athlete came forward with news about his/her unfair advantage, we would expect him/her to address the consequences and next steps. Why do we let conversations die once people state that they have a clear, systemic lead in life itself? Before you suggest that cheating in sports requires a intentional act, ask yourself to identify the shades of difference in between this and complicity in a white supremacist system. It’s time that these conversations involve require more heavy lifting.
Disclosing that you are guilty of holding implicit racial bias leaves us feeling vulnerable, not nearly as safe as when we finally concede, “I have white privilege.” Perhaps it’s better to be less euphemistic and call implicit racial bias what it is, racism. We are anxious to even claim our thoughts and actions as racist, let alone come out to ourselves as a person with a racism problem. If any of the following statements are true for you, it’s worth your time to provide your implicit bias with the proper diagnosis.
- You were uncomfortable the first time you saw the Get Out trailer. Sure, you’ve seen it now and maybe even threw a think piece about the symbolism on your timeline, but there’s no denying that you were bristled by idea. The racists in this film weren’t toothless people wearing MAGA hats below the Mason Dixie line? You just thought that the film might inspire further division among the country.
- Speaking of which, you’ve expressed a vague desire for unity, especially in response of a race related issue. See: All Lives Matter, “I don’t want a political party, just a party,” white washing Dr. Martin Luther King quotes, and so on.
- The approval of black folk is your moral compass. You wokeness turns up a few notches in the presence of your friends of color, because you’re aware enough to know that the onus of responsibility to educate yourself falls on you. This is a responsibility you revere and you even watched 13th on Netflix on your most recent sick day. You jump at the opportunity to share your canned statistics in the presence of your black friends and coworkers.
- In a high stakes situation, your internal monologue will include sweeping generalizations about other races. Instances such as getting cut off on the road and misunderstandings in customer service settings cause you to wonder about Asian drivers or angry black women from the secrecy of your own brain.
- You are eager to share anecdotes about blatant and flagrant acts of racism. Sharing a Tammy Lahren video on Facebook with a shrill comment is a lot easier than addressing our own blunders. It’s like a devout Catholic fixating on women who exercise their right to choose or homosexuals, it provides a conscience cleanse by diverting mental energy toward the sins of others.
- You too, feel pain. You are a white (woman/member of the LGBTQ community/member of a minority group). When presented with evidence of police brutality or the school-to-prison pipeline, you reflect on your own pain, either openly or inwardly. It is a welcome distraction in the face of this situation unrelated to you.
- You’re silent in the presence of extended family members and coworkers when they make racist comments and jokes. You hesitate to allocate any of your social clout to this cause, for fear of being label too, “radical” or “aggressive.” You’d be nervous bringing a black guy home to the fam but you’ll flirt at a bar and then laugh about it with your friends.
- You just don’t know where to begin. When the topic of race relations in America comes up, you are adept in your ability to spew phrases that sound empathetic. Often, you describe your paralysis and your state of being at a loss for words. One tactic you employ is to state that you’ll never be able to wrap your head around the experience of a black person in a America, this story will always be a mystery to you. You have access to an unlimited source of information (the internet) but have never used to try and solve this mystery.
- You say you’re white. You’re actually Jewish/one eighth Spanish/my dad is Italian/girl stop. If you’re white presenting, it’s time to own it and do the work. If you have to explain or rationalize your status as a person of color it’s not super valid.
- Your social media pages feature of wide variety of links and articles about race issues in America. Social media has given people the freedom to relieve institutional guilt in the absence of sacrifice. A retweet suddenly feels like a meaningful contribution and some social media services even let you filter your audience per post. Let me be clear – there are many well meaning individuals that use their virtual voice shine a light on racism but I have come to consider a strong presence online to be a signal for hollow activism. Your dollars, your body, and your votes are all more valuable than your likes.