This post was prompted by a comment from my “What if analogous to person of color we used person of white privilege” post. In response to this post, a commenter identified as Henry asked:
Why don’t you people just be honest with yourselves and call yourselves: people who hate and are envious of white people or professional victims of color.
Wow, what a great idea, Henry. This is so erudite, I will have to respond in a post. I always find it so edifying when people use the phrase ‘you people’ – when someone uses that, you just know a whole slew of truly original thinking is about to follow. Stay tuned for my post on “What if you hate and are envious of white people?”
So, as promised, here is my reply to Henry and others who wonder about us so-called ‘white haters.’ In regards to Henry’s curiosity about ‘us people’ being honest with ourselves, I have a number of points to share. Firstly, Henry erroneously assumes I am not white. He must live in a world where all white people are racists because, according to his logic, if you question whiteness or white privilege you obviously can’t be white, right? Well, guess what Henry, I am a person of white privilege. If I hated white people, I would have to hate myself and pretty much my entire family, which I do not.
Am I envious of white people? Well, I am a white person, and while I am pretty damn cool and smart, I don’t put this down to my white skin. Quite the contrary, actually! In fact, and I realize this is a novel idea, I don’t decide whether I like people based on how much melononin they have in their skin, but on their actions. Crazy, I know!
Yet, as Henry suggests, I can think of a lot of things to dislike about (some) white people – like their refusal to acknowledge white privilege or systematic, institutionalized racism. I am also not fond of POWPs who like to act as if racism is a thing of the past. If this is you, I encourage you to wake up from your asinine claims of colorblindness. It also bugs me when persons of white privilege get all hot under the collar when you begin to discuss white privilege and racism. Anxious Black Woman discusses this in her “Racism 2.0” post, noting how her students don’t like to discuss race:
This is why my summer students can get uncomfortable whenever subjects about race come up, and when I’m asked to refocus the subject back to a race-neutral subject (read: white people), and when I tell them that such a request is steeped in racist thinking, I get retreats. I get students swearing up and down how much they “appreciate diversity” (read: “I’m not a racist!”). If the N-word has become a fighting word for black people, more and more, it’s becoming obvious that the R-word has the same effect on white people. It’s their sore spot and a surefire way to turn them into very angry or very apologetic or very irrational people. Which usually means that we’re NOT going to ever have intelligent conversations about the subject because if white people are being irrational because the R-word has been mentioned, and people of color are busy keeping in our anger because it’s pointless to talk to irrational yet privileged people – or worse, be labeled as “angry” – then how are we ever going to cross this “bridge over troubled waters”?
The refusal to analyze and discuss racism is a huge problem as, by not talking about it rationally, and only getting angry or offended when it is discussed, we all get a big fat nowhere. Those of us of white privilege need to be willing to pop our privilege bubbles and own up to the fact we live in a racist world. All of us humans grow up in a society that teaches racism as a way of life. So, if you catch yourself thinking or saying things that seem racist, don’t be surprised. You are taught to think and say these things! The trick is to begin to recognize (and change) your internalized racism. And feeling guilty is not going to get us anywhere – guilt over your white skin does nothing to change our racist society. So, lose the apathetic ‘oh, it’s so unfair that poor white me has all these privileges I never asked for’ and actually START DOING SOMETHING about eradicating racism.
As for Henry’s insinuation that white people are to be ‘envied,’ well, for what exactly should we be envied? For our proud history of enacting genocide, enslavement, and war? For our unfair share of power? For our ability to sunburn easily? For all our wonderful achievements in music and art that have quite often been appropriated (without credit) from non-white cultures? For our domination of religion, politics, media, banking, and international relations – a domination that benefits the few and exploits the many? Hmmm, most of these things seem like reasons to distrust or be skeptical of white people, rather than reasons to envy them. Now, I understand these are generalizations – not all white people have power, money, or even sunburn that easily, but, nevertheless, we POWPs do have various privileges merely due to the color of our skin.
As for Henry’s claim that POC should call themselves “professional victims of color,” well, as bigoted as this sounds, there is some truth to it. While Henry obviously means it in an attacking, racist way, the phrase can also be read to mean that POC actually are victimized by a racist society – a society that is ‘professional’ in its racism. Our society actually trades in this idea all the time, suggesting that POC choose their own victimization. This blaming the victim strategy is ubiquitous in our society because it is far easier to blame POC than to blame (and change) systemic racism. It is akin to blaming women for being raped – it places the blame on the oppressed rather than on the oppressor. Further, the definition of victim as “One who is harmed by or made to suffer from an act, circumstance, agency, or condition,” certainly coincides to how POC are harmed by racist acts, by the circumstances of systematic racism, by the agency of racist institutions that govern our society, and by the conditions of a society that claims to be ‘beyond’ racism when in fact racism has merely become less blatant, less in-your-face, but no less insidious. However, I take issue with the word victim as to me it seems a rather disempowering word. I would prefer survivor, activist, fighter. I do not see myself as a ‘victim’ of white privilege or POC as ‘victims’ as this word connotes passivity and acceptance. I do not accept our system of racism and white privilege – those who do – like Henry – seem to me the real ‘victims.’
In conclusion, ‘us people’ that question racism and the system of white privilege don’t hate white people, Henry (heck, many of us are white people). Rather, we hate the system. As for POC, well I am a POWP and do not wish to pretend like I can speak as anything else. I do not walk through this world as POC, but as a POWP. Therefore, to my POC readers out there , if you have any words for Henry, or others like him, who suggest being a POC equals being a professional victim of color, I urge you to comment. Henry, and so many like him, are in desperate need of some anti-racist education, and all of us non-victims who are fighting the system of racism and white privilege are needed in this battle.