How privilege works, and why it works that way


By Naiela Josephson

One of the most problematic parts of white privilege in this day and age is the accessibility of casual racism, white privilege, or the casual application of white guilt. White people are disproportionately represented in institutions that engage in token work – think sororities, fraternities, and cultural organizations. Sometimes these activities merely prop up the bottom line in a piecemeal way to remind the community what diversity is supposed to look like without actually translating to structural or intentional racial inclusion. At other times, whites patronize these organizations, aid in getting rid of token negroes, and mindlessly write off the racist acts as harmless cultural events. But there’s usually someone open-minded and brave enough to talk to someone who might walk into a bar room, a fraternity party, or the office of a white institution and say, “Hey, what’s up?” or “Why are they all white?” There’s also the tendency to find simple solutions to complex issues instead of the only solution being radical.

White people have the luxury of forgetting past instances of white supremacy – maybe because they don’t remember them. Maybe they don’t care because they’re forgetting who they are. Or maybe they don’t like being confronted with reality. And there’s often a perceived need to pretend like race doesn’t exist, in order to maintain norms that may be hard to maintain in these times of social unrest. Despite what it seems like at times, there’s a lot of white people who care about racist activity. People come up to me after watching me talk about white privilege for the first time, wanting to tell me what it felt like to be in their shoes.

In her world, being black is to prove your intelligence as a thinker, a lover, a healer. When people see me, they see the black girl who thinks things, and they assume she sees the world the same way they do. They didn’t ask questions to determine if the kids in the library were of higher socio-economic standing or a better racial heritage – they just assumed. At the same time, I’m supposed to be non-judgmental about those people’s actions because I “know them,” and because “they could be brothers or sisters or sisters-in-law.” It’s called the rules of race by white people: due-process, inter-racial dialogue, guaranteed permission to have my skin seen, the expectation that I will empathize with why things happen, my ability to be patient, and offer help, whatever is demanded of me by outside forces. But they insist I can’t be bothered by those challenges because I’m acting like a black girl. I’m supposed to escape the discomfort of seeing my blackness all the time and simply defer to outside parties in order to feel like an intellectual and gifted example of that word.

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