A lot of what conscious people, especially conscious people of color, talk about, is about blackness and color. Meanwhile, what we leave out is the most important factor of it all: Whiteness. Whiteness is the absence of color, what some people align as the opposite of color. This post is going to break down this concept of whiteness and how it affects race relations.
When we discussed privilege, we don’t always talk about or engage in conversation with those who have it. We talk about it amongst those who don’t have it, which makes it difficult to move these conversations forward and “move on” as some would love to do. Privilege is always a tricky thing that everyone has to some degree. You have it, I have it, and we can’t help it. It’s not for us to feel guilty about and let it eat us up, but we do need to take responsibility for the effects of this privilege, which have oppressed people and have negative effects on those who aren’t problem. For example, I have straight-passing privilege. I say “passing”, because as I have mentioned before, I am not straight. My past few partners have been cis-gender heterosexual males, so if we had decided to marry, it would not be an obstacle getting a marriage license and finding an officiator. I also don’t face acts of queerphobia or transphobia that many of my peers face in a multitude of ways. I didn’t ask for it, nor do I take part in these hateful measures, but I do benefit from it, and I need to respect it, address it, and allow myself to lift the voices of those who are persecuted because of it.
White privilege, especially white male privilege, is essentially what drives our world, whether you agree with it or not. This is the effect of xenophobia, racism, and white supremacy. And as much as those who would like to ignore it may claim otherwise, it has driven a deep division in the country that is still present today. Privilege isn’t necessarily a dangerous thing, but it does allow someone a certain power, or clout. Someone with privilege has more availability to move upwards in their spaces, and it also allows them to gain access to places that those without it cannot.
Whiteness is a relatively new term, but it has been used since even before America was established as a country. In the 1600s, black people and Native Americans were already being used as servants, and there are many reports of xenophobia and early white supremacy (yeah, that Thanksgiving mess didn’t really happen the way they told you in elementary schools.) By the 1640s, there were laws put into place that forbid romantic intermixing of races, and by the end of the 17th century, slavery and hatred for the Native Americans were normal and acceptable.
Whiteness isn’t normally thought of because being white means that you are the norm. You are the default, the automatic assumption, the easy and safe choice. And it has been that way for centuries. To be white means nothing biologically, but socially, it means that you are pure, your skin is what should be praised, and you deserve to be above those who are Othered. Those who are othered are the ones who don’t fit into this society where those who are the norm decide what is acceptable. Being white means so many things, but what people don’t realize that little things here and there actually do matter. When someone actively chooses to not sit next to a person of color on public transportation because of the color of their skin is still an injustice. Loving a culture’s feature while harping on the people which it belongs to is an injustice. Having a bandage that matches your skin tone, while calling it flesh toned is an injustice. These privileges don’t seem like anything big or out of the ordinary, but they help consist of the privilege of whiteness and they have many physical, mental, and emotional effects.
It takes a lot of courage for those who are Othered to be able to have a conversation about privilege with those who have it. In studies, it is found that it is much more likely for privileged people to shut down the conversation. Before you do, stop and think. You shutting them down is the ultimate exhibit of your privilege. Sure, it makes you feel uncomfortable, but afterwards, you get to leave the conversation. These people don’t and they face real struggles everyday. You can’t accuse someone as making things about race or gender or sexuality, etc., Because that is what affects the way they live. They don’t get to walk about these conversation because they are judged on it everyday. Likewise, you can’t be “too pro- (insert oppressed group here).” You just can’t. They are oppressed for a reason, to be for them means that you want that oppression to end and for their posterity. If that person’s passion for that scares you, then it’s probably better to look to yourself to dissect the problem.