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Congrats! You Recognize Your Privilege…And?

Congrats! You Recognize Your Privilege…And? Image

“Check your privilege.” No admonishment from white liberal progressives to other white people is complete without this line or some variation. You can almost hear the chest beating as they lambaste their less enlightened brethren for failing to acknowledge the unearned privilege they’re granted at birth. These futile exchanges devolve into nothing more than arguments over who’s more racist peppered with accusations of harboring white guilt.

Recently, it seems the destruction of the racist white supremacist system has been sold as a microwave operation in which white people admitting they have privilege is an instant fix. Now it’s surely impossible to fix a system if you don’t recognize what needs to be fixed, but too many of those who recognize their privilege have stopped short of doing anything but declaring that they have it. The acknowledgement is now the endgame for most, their own personal credential verifying them as non-racist. Simply saying, “I have privilege,” is now enough to bestow the title of “ally” upon those who’ve spent decades benefiting from that privilege.

As a black woman, I find no solace in a white person telling me how they recognize their privilege. I recognize that I need to work out regularly, but somehow that recognition has done nothing for my abs. Knowing is half the battle. The other half — the one that makes the difference — is doing the work.

If admitting privilege is not coupled with or followed by the hard work it takes to level the playing field, I’m not interested in the admission. If saying, “I am granted superior status over non-white people, which translates into social, political and professional advantages,” does not progress into a strategy to renounce those advantages, acceptance of the fact that privilege exists is worthless. If finally conceding privilege exists does not ignite a fire extinguishable only by the absolute dismantling of systemic and systematic racism, then the concession is for naught.

Those who acknowledge their privilege are rewarded with a pardon for their complicity in the design and operation of the oppressive system. The coddling begins as they have revelation after revelation of all the ways they have benefited from privilege and never knew it. Absolving themselves and other white people of guilt becomes the focus as “veterans” coach “rookies” reminding them that admitting they have privilege doesn’t mean it’s their fault. It all turns into a tribute to white courage, finally taking the bold step of validating what black people have been saying and writing for centuries.

The fury of witnessing white people praise each other for recognizing their privilege is matched only by the rage elicited by those whose affirmation is accompanied by an expectation of irreproachability. Any challenge to the affirmer’s status as anti-racist by black people is ludicrous, scoffed off with a simple, “I know I have privilege.” Ironically, the acknowledgement of privilege usually comes with an arrogant condescension which assumes that further listening to and learning from the oppressed is useless, as the privileged have already looked inward and done all the self-reflection necessary to transform from subtle racist to benevolent egalitarian.

If we cannot condemn the racist actions of those who’ve declared their privilege, then the declaration itself is no more than another aspect of that privilege. If we must laud white people for having the guts to admit the system works solely in their favor, then they have struck gold twice, enjoying all the spoils of inequality while being assigned none of the blame. In my daily battles against the oppression meant to devour my mind, body and spirit, I am still expected to stop and bow to my oppressors because they’ve generously confessed that they are sitting on the boulder crushing my chest.

Further, white people who “own their privilege” do not get to distance themselves from other white people who are still in denial. All white people are responsible for the oppression of non-white people and as such, jointly and severely liable. Going around shouting about how privileged you know you are does not put you in the “other” category where you’re not like those white people, but still enjoying the privilege you recognize.  You are still like all the rest except with a sanctimonious self-assuredness that makes your brand of racism even more intolerable.

When my son was potty training, anytime he’d go on the pot, I’d reward him with a song, a hug and a kiss. Eventually, when I realized his only motivation for going was praise, I stopped, opting instead to show him learning to use the potty was his non-negotiable responsibility. So goes my approach to white people and privilege. Recognizing privilege is but the tip of the iceberg of the work that must be done. Stop waiting for the song, kiss and hug.

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Kinfolk Kollective avatar About the author: LaSha is a writer who’s obsessed with Black people. Find her work here of course, but also on Ebony, The Guardian, Essence, Salon, Everyday Feminism, Teen Vogue, HuffPo and For Harriett. She’s loves trap music & 90s R&B, watches Jeopardy faithfully and believes fried chicken is her soulmate. The clapback queen is loud and clear about loving her kids above all else and kinda digs her Yankee husband too. Anti-Blackness gives her hives. Get at her @lashawrites on Twitter.

15 comments… add one
  • Lis Worcester March 21, 2016, 7:58 pm

    Colorblindness doesn’t work. Here’s an article by Robin DiAngelo to consider: http://robindiangelo.com/2014site/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/White-Fragility-Published.-1.pdf

  • Lis Worcester March 21, 2016, 7:42 pm

    I agree with LaSha. It’s up to us (white people) to look for opportunities to learn and act as an antiracist. There are organizations tailor made just for this like Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) – there are chapters all over the country and it’s a fantastic group. If one doesn’t exist where you live, start a chapter – they’ll walk you through it. There are also countless other ways to get active – at work, through schools, spiritual centers, on-and-on. Hold a book group using Shelly Tochluk’s “Witnessing Whiteness” book and she’ll guide you deeper and into action. Sadly, there’s plenty of racism and white supremacy/superiority all around to dismantle. Read books, join coalitions, BE HUMBLE AND LISTEN. No sitting back though… we’ve got to get active.

  • Kinfolk Kollective avatar LaSha February 17, 2016, 11:24 am

    Awww…thanks!

  • Feistyanonymous February 16, 2016, 7:25 pm

    More people need to be reading your writing

  • Monica Goldberg February 5, 2016, 4:01 am

    I wrote this really long reply that is not showing up now. 😛 Suffice it to say, white guy, that it is on us to look at all the places we live, work, and play and determine how we can use our leverage (social capital is another way to look at it) to undo the harm of racism. So at work — how are POC hired/treated? How can you affect that? Place of worship? Do your kids know about racism? What are you teaching them about it? Do you discuss these issues with your friends and family and at a bare minimum object to racist characterizations, jokes and arguments? How about that person who posted “blue lives matter” on your FB timeline? For that matter, how about supporting the local black lives matter group with material ($$) or physical support (showing up for actions as requested)? There are about a million ways to engage — you know your own life best and can make that determination yourself.

  • Monica Goldberg February 5, 2016, 3:28 am

    That’s just silly. Race plays a huge role in society and pretending it doesn’t gets us nowhere.

  • Monica Goldberg February 5, 2016, 3:27 am

    My answer as a WW is to look at your everyday life and activities and figure out what work you can do in all of those spaces. Work is a big one. How many POCs work there? How senior are they? What can you do about that?

    Do you practice a religion? Does your church, synagogue or what have you do any kind of social justice work? Could it? How could you use that group, which if you’re white is probably filled with white people (they say Sunday is the most segregated day of the week), to dismantle white supremacy?

    How about your friendships and personal relationships? Girl scout troop? Book club? Alumni association? Do you talk about racism and what you’re doing to dismantle it with your friends and family? Do you encourage them to do so? At a bare minimum, do you object to racist and stereotypical characterizations, jokes or other statements your friends, family members, and co-workers make? How about that “blue lives matter” post on your facebook wall?

    Many Black Lives Matter chapters exist in cities around the country. Are you providing appropriate support to those efforts? Financial? Physical as in showing up at actions? Outreach to policy makers (mayor, city council member, state legislator, or whatever)? How about joining Showing up for Racial Justice, a group that is dedicated to organizing white people concerned about these issues in a way that supports but does not supplant BLM?

    These are some ideas you could consider.

  • samantha j foster February 3, 2016, 4:16 pm

    According to Omali Yeshitela (chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party) the material basis of “white privilege” is the *colonial domination* of African (Black) people. Instead of merely acknowledging our privilege (and do we really want to say it’s a privilege to live off the stolen labor, resources and very lives of colonized peoples?!), whites who stand in material solidarity with African people, and who recognize the complicity of all whites in a system built on genocidal plunder for our benefit, will take the necessary steps to pay reparations and support the programs of the African liberation movement. That’s what white people are doing in the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, under the leadership of Chairman Omali Yeshitela and the APSP. As LaSha states: “All white people are responsible for the oppression of non-white people and as such, jointly and severely liable.”

  • Kinfolk Kollective avatar LaSha February 3, 2016, 11:28 am

    That’s for white people to figure out. I’m burdened enough with racism. I don’t have time to write a manual for y’all on how to dismantle.

  • Kinfolk Kollective avatar LaSha February 3, 2016, 11:27 am

    Bless your ignorant heart.

  • Aw February 3, 2016, 7:49 am

    As a species, we need to get over these infantile divisions based on skin color. It’s just… retarded. There’s no other word for it. Please, internet person who thinks there’s something special about the amount of melanin under your skin, stop. I do not want to live in the world you are trying to create.

  • white guy February 3, 2016, 7:44 am

    Saying you acknowledge your privilege isn’t enough, you have to do something about it. Ok, what? This piece doesn’t give any suggestions

  • Red head February 2, 2016, 11:25 pm

    What work is it she would like white people to do?

  • KB February 2, 2016, 6:44 pm

    This is incredible. Constant lessons. Smacked in the face, too. Wow! Thanks.

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