Marrie Lobel with a personal rant on “white privilege” inspired by our series On Race.
In the mind of some, the mere fact that I am white means it is audacious of me to comment on racism. My “privileged” birth in a conceptual cast system has made my personal experiences with racism not worth mentioning. But the conversations and emotions spurred by recent articles posted on The Good Men Project were too important to ignore, even though most of my writings concentrate on relationships and sex.
Having been fortunate enough to be raised in an extremely diverse community, I have understood that peaceful cohabitation across races does not come from “color blindness” but from “color consciousness.” It is not shameful to be aware of and acknowledge differences; it is shameful and harmful to ignore its existence. Just as it would be irresponsible to ignore this countries ugly legacy of slavery, government sanctioned brutality, and legislated segregation (i.e. Native Americans, African Americans, Japanese Americans, Afghani’s, Iraqi’s) all in the name of economic prosperity and domestic security.
I have understood that peaceful cohabitation across races does not come from “color blindness” but from “color consciousness.”…It would also be naïve of me to dismiss the claim that my whiteness affords me certain rights and privileges in American society.
It would also be naïve of me to dismiss the claim that my whiteness affords me certain rights and privileges in American society. I can relocate most anywhere in the U.S., find a job, and assimilate into that community’s masses without fear of retribution and/or rejection (provided certain community’s don’t discover that I’m Jewish). I feel my allegiance to American society and the individuals that compose it are best honored by remembering history and refusing to participate in repeating its wretched transgressions, not by personally apologizing for transgressions that neither I nor any member of my family has participated in. My Grandparents came to this country on a boat, escaping horrifying persecution in the early 1900’s, no one in my family ever owned slaves, condoned slavery, nor participated in racial persecution. My Grandparents moved into a very diverse community in Pittsburgh and later participated in the civil rights movement. My family were victim in a different land of the same persecution and injustice as many minorities experienced in this land.
According to an article posted on GMP, It may appear that I’m attempting to participate in the “more oppressed than thou” game , which is not the case. I believe that discussing your personal experience explains your perspective and enables others to appreciate that your words have value and meaning. I do not claim that I am oppressed. I just assert that I do not feel the need to apologize for being white or feel the need to “address the privilege of being white in a meaningful way.” I do feel the need to give back, contribute, and be thankful but not because I am white, but because I have the privilege of being an American, an American who has food on the table, a roof over my children’s head, and clothes on their backs. For me, apologizing would be to acknowledge that I have somehow participated in the circumstances that demanded the apology; however, my only offense is the color of my skin.
The recent resentment over the successful movie and novel, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett, encapsulates my point. The contention, that a white woman could write about the black experience and articulate it accurately. Well, if I’m not mistaken this was a story that was waiting to be told and was told by others, only Kathryn Stockett ‘s novel was a commercial success. Does she now need to apologize because the story she told was a commercial success or because she, a white woman, wrote it? If the novel had disappeared into obscurity or a clearance bin, would she still need to apologize? Either way the story was still authored by a white woman.
I believe that discussing your personal experience explains your perspective and enables others to appreciate that your words have value and meaning. I do not claim that I am oppressed. I just assert that I do not feel the need to apologize for being white or feel the need to “address the privilege of being white in a meaningful way.”
My white “privilege” has not exempted me from racism; it came crashing through my car window during the L.A. riots, carried on a brick to the tune of, “white fucking bitch”. My white “privilege” has not made me complacent to the catastrophic consequences of racial injustice. My white “privilege” is not a gift that I had asked for nor is it one that I feel the need to apologize for. Being white is one element of many that helped to form my character and I do not see it as a flaw that needs to be excused, prize that needs to be exalted, or a privilege to be responsible for. White privilege is a regional advantage that fades or disappears into a liability depending upon where in the world you are, based upon the filters that that communities residents share. I am aware how ideological this sounds, but race privilege is an illusion that is perpetuated by the filters that were formed by a community’s experience.
Just as I do not think it is equitable to ask men to apologize for their economic/social advantage or my Germans friends to apologize for the holocaust. I look forward to the day when I no longer have to apologize for being white.
Read our entire series about race and racism here:
A virtual discussion by Tom Matlack, Steve Locke and Lisa Hickey started by this post and its comments:
On Intellectual Laziness, Collective Truths, and Storytelling
Photos: “Apologize” by Dollen / Flickr, “Toast” by BaileyRaeWeaver / Flickr
That brick throwing was misogynist anyway.
White privilege meme is just a way to shame people, the same as the male privilege. For example, I am from Poland, Central Europe (or Eastern, depends on how you analyze things). I am a “Slav” compare it with slave… the problem with some people lies in their way of thinking: kings, priests or warlords did not conquer (and pillaged, or took slaves or whatever) because they had another skin color. It was because THEY WERE WEAKER and wealthy enough/had good enough lands to make the trip worthwhile. The same thing happened with my country- when we were strong (a… Read more »
NO IT IS NOT! You may be feeling shame because it is an uncomfortable topic, NOT because anyone WANTS you to feel that way!
It is possible for racism to exist on the part of minorities. They do have power. See what the proper race box check gets you on a college admit. That’s power. See who gets the attention of HR if complaining of a hostile work environment. That’s power.
That’s right, Richard, and not only that, members of so-called oppressed groups can have more conventional power over so-called privileged ones on an individual level. For example, a white man can have a black woman as a boss. In that situation it really doesn’t matter to him if white men in the aggregate have more power than black women. If she is bigoted against him he can suffer, he can be harmed just as much as she could in the reverse situation. What many identity politics supporters seem to fail to grasp is that we live our lives as individuals… Read more »
I am sorry to only discover this now. This is excellent – exactly the kind of analysis this blog could use more of in terms, of race, gender, and whatever other factors the powers that be use to divide people. Of course, the howls of protest and scolding by the PC police are predictable. I find especially amusing the idea that you don’t “understand” privilege, racism, etc. because how could any one who really understands disagree with those “enlightened, progressive” champions of identity politics. Surely no white person could read the work of an uber-privileged ivory tower academic like Peggy… Read more »
This may be the worst article ever written on a liberal blog – ever. Lets, see: no consistent logic or reasoning, various contradictory and hypocritical statements, lack of knowledge concerning key concepts and terms (e.g. privilege, racism) and no acknowledgement of methodological failings or concessionary statements. As a first step to remedying your profound ignorance, please see: Peggy Macintosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack”. A step-by-step guide to making you less idiotic.
Absolutely! The author clearly does not have a clear understanding of the subject matter. Articles like this are so damaging. Why do people think they can just make up their own crap theory about what privilege is? There is an academic definition, people!
Oh, I found myself defending my family’s honor, in a South Carolina playground, in the 70’s. My family never owned slaves, etc.
On the contrary I think the OP put enough thought into this, it is not at all a terrible article, they are clearly expressing an experience and a feeling. Where in that article do they express “ignorance” of the definition of priviledge and racism? They acknowledged whiteness has priviledges but that those priviledges arent streamline across the board and can alter depending on location and composition of a community. They even listed a couple. Are you under the impression racism only applies to POC? And priviledge only applies to whiteness? Then explain to me why in my country you are… Read more »
Well, I’ve been never thought of as right wing. I’ve seen very little that’s analytical from you. Just epithets, lables, and the like. Since I don’t eye-roll and sneer, I have to assume that those are behaviors that you do, and you are projecting your own behavior. I won’t be leaving this site, but I think I’m done with this thread.
Numoi, if identity politics were all, then my identity would be as valid as anyone elses. I do believe that political correctness is a problem. It’s because it’s white middle class euphimistic language. Working class and average people don’t talk like that. It’s the language of would-be social controllers who live in Cambridge or Berkeley. Upper middle class whites. Not buying into white privilege is not the same as “white supremacy.” Nope, that would be someone like Jan Smuts, George Linclon Rockwell, or George Wallace. There is reverse racism. Example: brick thrown through window in the LA riots. Class is… Read more »
wrong again. many working-class people do believe in white privilege. and there is no such thing as “reverse racism”, because one cannot be racist against whites in a white supremacist system (racism requires racial privilege). upper middle class whites did not invent these critiques of white supremacy. acting like they did, and lumping “white privilege” in with the back-patting language of smug self-satisfied upper middle class white savior-complex types, seems like an attempt to erase racialized people from the equation. i AM drawing my own conclusions — ironic that you would say that as you spout right-wing catch phrases. and… Read more »
Well, thats great. Glad to hear that having a brick thrown through your window that says “white bitch isn’t a racist action at all but rather the logical consequence of ??? something, I kinda didn’t get that point. Seriously, call it as it is, its racist, you can do all the semantic defining you want but destroying a person’s property because they are a different race than you is racist. If you really honestly believe otherwise then you’re too far gone with hate to really make a reasonably unracist opinion. Reverse racism can occur, white people can be terrorized, mistreated,… Read more »
OMG racism does NOT require racial priviledge or power or supremacy for fucks sake! There is NO REVERSE. ONLY RACISM. A white guy calling a black guy a nigger is RACISM. A black guy calling a white guy mayonnaise/honkey/cracker is ALSO RACIST BECAUSE (Stay with me here) IN CURRENT DAY LINGO IT IS SAID AS NEGATIVE DEROGATORY COMMENT ON THAT PERSONS SKIN COLOR/RACE. why is this so fucking hard for people to grasp? racism DoES NOT require power to back it! It just requires that you be racial profiling ASSHOLE. Now if you say “systematic racism” thats a whole new… Read more »
Really, the idea you are trying to advance, that one cannot be racist against whites, is the equivalent of pretending that gravity is true for me, but not for you, so that you can use this premise as a defense when you would otherwise not have one. Clearly you are parroting a phrase you have heard someone else use without being able to logically expound on it yourself. To say that racism requires racial privilege is a false premise, else how would you explain the prejudicial discrimination of lighter skinned black people against the darker skinned black people. Throughout the… Read more »
As a fellow white woman, I think this article sucks.
Me too! Really sad that this site published this article.
You are completely free to go read articles elsewhere, and not continue to read comments and comment on those comments. Unless someone has a gun to your head and making you read the article.
The quality of writing is determined by its ability to compel you to consider and then respond. If it doesn’t do that then, it was not worth reading.
[First off, I apologize if I am in any way being bigoted / white-splaining / using wrong terms / turning the spotlight on myself, or anything like that. I’m also sorry I didn’t write this in a very accessible way — I’m sorry but as far as I can tell, and after lots of editing, this is the best way I could get my points across. I’m not very good at expressing myself.] Ok, I’m going to echo the question that’s been asked over and over, because as far as I know, you have not yet answered: WHO is asking… Read more »
Thank you thank you thank you, numol.
I want to suggest that the concept of privilege is based on moral entrepreneurs taking advantage of white masochism. Few working class or rural whites are likely to go for this, and I think that they’re right. There”s just too much variation in privilege to fix in this way. Differences in talent will ultimately take of the problem (e.g. General Powell.) Many of the consultants who make money off of it do profit. Many of these are white and laugh all the way to the bank.
[I’m just gonna respond to a bunch of your comments at once to save time. Sorry this got really long.] In one of your earlier comments (/comment-page-1/#comment-45656), you said: “I’m for fighting racism. Privilege, though, is complicated.” Are you trying to say they’re different things, that they’re not totally connected? Would there even BE white privilege without systems of white racism? “Can or should anyone do anything about differences in privilege? Probably not. It’s likely that any attempts to do so would be grotesque and produce unintended consequences.” And in your follow-up comment: “I actually do think “color-blindness” is a… Read more »
Numoi, I see racism as active oppression. That can and should be stopped. The privilege paradigm sets up a series of impossibilities in terms of policies. As a white male who worked his way through college, grad school, and so forth,I received little help, I have never said that the privilege idea made me feel bad. It doesn’t. Many African American scholars say that black prople (as a an example) have now divided into two groups. One group in the inner city; one middle class. In my mind, this implies that we might be able to use econonic policies to… Read more »
You said: “[…] I see racism as active oppression.” And later: “Being against the privilege idea is not the same as being for racism.” Who benefits the most from white supremacy? What would you call those benefits? Maybe white privilege and white supremacy aren’t *exactly* the same thing. I’m still learning and thinking about this, and I may have spoken too soon before when I implied they are. But it seems clear to me that *they are directly related*. And as an aside: what do you mean by “active”? “The privilege paradigm sets up a series of impossibilities in terms… Read more »
“You seem to be assuming that A) white people’s feelings are at the center of everything, and B) there is *only one reason* anyone would disagree with you about white privilege. Because you seem to think that everyone who disagrees with you thinks alike.” No, I don’t think anyone’s feelings are at the center of anything. I’m, I’d like to think, trying to be objective. The danger in “privilege” is that everyone can make a good case for why many others are more privileged than they. I grant that there’s still a lot of subtle racism, but we’ve done much… Read more »
“No, I don’t think anyone’s feelings are at the center of anything.” Regardless of your intent, you are being very white-centric. And I disagree. I think the thoughts and feelings of people of color and indigenous people are central in regards to racism and colonialism. I realize I haven’t been acting like I believe that, and have been pretty white-centric myself in some of my comments. I’m sorry. “I’m, I’d like to think, trying to be objective.” Given your argument tactics, I find it hard to believe that you’re really trying to be “objective”. And I HATE the “white =… Read more »
“We” means we all. I’d like to reiterate the idea that each of our private thoughts and feelings are not at all central. What counts is behavior. And the behavior that counts at the social level is policy behavior. Selling an idea of privilege to any group by itself isn’t likely to change policy. In fact selling whites on the idea of privilege is likely to be counterproductive. What should be happening is the notion of alliance. This would stress mutual benefit from new policies. What if “conservative” white working class or white rural people politically allied with POC, rather… Read more »
You’re invoking the old “this concept is divisive” non-argument. Martin Luther King took this on when he wrote about “the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice […]” (link). And: ““We” means we all.” Still seems very “mighty whitey” to me, given the context and the way you worded the comment. The comment is very much centered around HELPING people overcome oppression. This seems to position racialized people as “being helped”, rather than helping themselves… Read more »
Numoi, I haven’t responded to many of your arguments because they’re basically labels: “white-centric,” “mighty whitey” etc. They’re not arguments. I also think that the best that we can do is try to be objective, in a general social science sense. Arguing from either people’s emotions or from identity-politics positions gets us nowhere. Alliances of whites and people of color might work to enact policies of benefit. Across the board imputation of privilege to race, or even gender, won’t work as long as we have classes that contain rich POC or rich women. Affirmative action was one such policy that… Read more »
“[…] I haven’t responded to many of your arguments because they’re basically labels: “white-centric,” “mighty whitey” etc. They’re not arguments.” No, they’re labels I used IN arguments. Go back and read my responses again. Just because I use labels does not mean that’s all there is to what I said. “Arguing from either people’s emotions or from identity-politics positions gets us nowhere.” [eye-roll] You want “not arguments but just labels”? HERE IT IS, from your own post. “Identity politics” is a favored buzz-term of whites in love with our privilege. It’s right up there with “political correctness” and “reverse-racism”. I’m… Read more »
This is a sidebar. I just visited “Bob’s” site concerning comment ratings. The usual excuse offered up here for downvoting is “abusive” behavior. (Bob, who is avatared by a smug fat face, seems to offer no justification for his obnoxious product.) People here who are downvoted are downvoted due to lack of popularity (or very marginal lack of popularity. The comment above has just three downvotes and is not abusive.)
I suggest you get rid of this feature. It produces a mob mentality, and hurts the intellectual integrity of the site. In no way is it “moderation,” as Bob suggests.
I hate the fact that down voted comments are faded out. Too many people use the down vote feature only to express disagreement with the comment. if people only used it to filter out really inane comments or trolls, then that would be great, but often articulately stated, reasonable opinions get down voted simply because they are not popular opinions. On the other hand, it’s interesting to see which comments generate the most negative response.
I find it interesting that you feel the need to point out that you are Jewish, your ancestors came to the U.S. in the 1900’s and didn’t own slaves, so you are separate from those “other” white people who did all the bad stuff like slavery and killing Native Americans. I’m one of those “other” white people — most of my ancestors came to America in the 17th and 18th centuries, they lived in places like Virginia and Appalachia, and although many were dirt poor, some owned slaves. So does that make me worse than you? Should I apologize for… Read more »
Africans did enslave Europeans. Barbary pirates.
“I’m thinking” I can’t speak for Marrie but I have made similar comments (my ancestors were from Ireland and Italy, some came to the U.S. in the 1900s, the rest in the late 1800s). My point in making such comments, and I’m pretty sure Marrie’s is the same, is not to blame you for what your fore bearers did, but to show how ridiculous the idea of collective guilt is. You and I get how ridiculous it is to blame people for the actions of long-dead relatives, but even someone who might not see the obviousness of that at first… Read more »
As part of my job, I’ve attended several consciousness-raising seminars about racism, white privilege, racialized hierarchies, etc. I paid close attention. I took notes and asked sensitive questions. The seminars were very enlightening. In the end, though, I think the seminars backfired in my case. By the end, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelming relief, not guilt or concern or newfound compassion. By the end I kept thinking, “man, I’m so glad I’m white. Being black or Hispanic or Native American really, really sucks. It sucks in unbelievable ways that I had no idea about. Whew! Dodged a bullet there!”… Read more »
One radical solution is to stop identifying as white. That’s what I do. I checked all the race boxes on the U.S. Census and told them I was homo sapien. Drop all the racial categories that people throw around. If anyone points a finger at you and says “white privilege,” you can ignore it, because they’re not talking about you, they’re talking about “white” people. If anyone calls you white, correct them and say you’re not white. When and if they ask what you are if you’re not white, tell them you don’t have a race. They won’t believe you,… Read more »
good piece. Seeing as though we are born in some sense of privilege i.e. being male, being white, being American, being heterosexual etc. it would be silly to have folks be ashamed over “arbitrary” symbols of identity. I think awareness is the key and as long as one is doing good work in the world that prevents the perpetuation of unfair advantages bestowed on people due to characteristics outside of their control than one need not apologize.
Who’s asking you to apologize for your whiteness? Is anyone asking for an apology? Or are they asking for action? The key to equality is taking the privilege you were born with and using it to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, to be the extra set of hands or an additional voice. Men assist the feminist movement by taking part in a traditionally female work load at home or by hiring more women into positions of power and rewriting gender roles. Heterosexuals join LGBTQ movement to increase the volume of the voice calling for equal access to marriage and… Read more »
I always thought of race as a kind of art style. That way when I hear people arguing about race, it sounds as goofy as two turtle-neck-waring bob-cut frappucino-sipping art freaks discussing the finer points of why the other style sucks.
I am proud to be a tall hairy Nord. But a brown is fine too. Especially that dark, smooth olive/mahogany shimmering style, heehee.
If you can’t see what’s wrong with this statement, you are part of the problem
YES to THIS. Thank you.
Ok, then by this logic, by being born priviledged, you owe something to everyone who wasn’t. You are required by circumstances upon which you had no input to take a hit in your life for all those bonuses you got. Does this also require children of say… successful black(or any other minority) athletes, businessmen, etc to take the same hit? Or is it only the white people?
Ah, how my intelligent friends can state things better than I: “This author is making one of the telltale mistakes of discussing privilege. She is personalizing it. For her, the concept of privilege is about her life, feelings and experiences, not the greater meaning of race and experiences of oppression experienced by generations. In fact, practically all calls for accountability and privilege start by stating self guilt and apology do nothing. And yes, there is something very wrong with a white woman stating she can tell the stories of black women only to perpetuate mamie stereotypes and the notion of… Read more »
Thank you for supplying this comment, said it better than I could.
Well said in all points, Marrie. Thank you especially for mentioning German friends and the holocaust. As an American who was raised in Germany, I always feel puzzled and hurt when fellow Americans imply or insist that today’s Germans should apologize for what their forebears did. My heart feels just as heavy over any insistence that I should apologize for the color of my skin. Do I enjoy certain privileges because of it? Sure. I also enjoy certain advantages because I’m female, bi-cultural, tri-lingual, born in 1977, world-traveled, strong-boned, and medium-heighted. None of those characteristics came about because of my… Read more »
My “privileged” birth in a conceptual cast system has made my personal experiences with racism not worth mentioning. You’re free to think as you wish about your experience but I really hope you don’t think that being white means your experiences don’t matter. The only way we’re going to make things better is to include everyone. If we start leaving people out because they are ______ then the cycle will continue. My white “privilege” has not exempted me from racism; it came crashing through my car window during the L.A. riots, carried on a brick to the tune of, “white… Read more »
Not to get too far off topic, but the only apology I’d like from both the writer and editor of this piece is an apology for all the typos and misspellings here. It’s out of control!
Just a few examples: it’s “caste system” not “cast system,” “this country’s ugly legacy” not “this countries ugly legacy,” “Afghans” not “Afghani’s,” “Iraqis” not “Iraqi’s,” etc.
Please have some respect for the reader. A mistake here and there can be forgiven, but this is just sloppy.
You are correct, those are errors. I appreciate your attention to detail.
@Jeff- I think people might mistake you for a Nazi, because you used the phrase “final solution” twice in a rant about “the race problem.”
Everybody says there is this RACE problem. Everybody says this RACE problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY white country and ONLY into white countries. The Netherlands and Belgium are just as crowded as Japan or Taiwan, but nobody says Japan or Taiwan will solve this RACE problem by bringing in millions of third worlders and quote assimilating unquote with them. Everybody says the final solution to this RACE problem is for EVERY white country and ONLY white countries to “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry, with all those non-whites. What if I said there was this RACE problem… Read more »
This article is an excellent example of well intending liberal white rationalization of race.
“everyone’s been oppressed by someone at some point in history”
“I personally wasn’t responsible for what happened in this country before I was born”
“my particular family wasn’t even here, yet.”
“my family participated in the civil rights movement”
If I had a nickle for every time a white person said one of these things as a way of deflecting personal accountability in this social construct as a racial being. That is also whiteness, by the way.
Except it is not only white people who are part of the shared culture which privileges white people. The individual contributions of people who are minorities towards racist culture are equal to the individual contributions of people who are white.
Why should I be held responsible for the perception of blacks, while Anthony Ray (Sir Mix-a-Lot), is counted among the ‘victims of racial prejudice’?
So…just to be clear, in your opinion, White People should be held personally accountable for the current state of world affairs? Because I have a hard time finding another interpretation for the statement: “If I had a nickle for every time a white person said one of these things as a way of deflecting personal accountability in this social construct as a racial being. That is also whiteness, by the way.” Other than to see that you feel there is personal accountability to be reflected. This is particularly concerning, because the idea of “personal accountability” suggests that you actually are… Read more »
I’m white. I recognize that it means something that I am white regardless of my personal narrative. I get the privileges unearned no matter what. Choosing to accept those privileges and as the author suggests, and doing nothing to deconstruct the system that provides those privileges perpetuates the supremacy of whiteness. That is irresponsible.
Yup, how dare white people acknowledge that many of their ancestors were oppressed and ::gasp:: slaves too. It would run everyone thinking slavery just existed in America
It’s not wrong to do it, but it is interesting that the only time that subject comes up is when white people are looking for a reason not to acknowledge the specific harm that was done here, or to understand how formalized and government sanctioned white supremacy laid the foundations for systemic racism that still plays out today.
As other commenters have already said, there is no collective demand for an apology from white people for being white. Acknowledging white privilege and, more importantly, not standing in the way of it being dismantled may be a call to action… but I haven’t even heard THAT. With all of the eloquent criticisms about “The Help” (especially from the Association of Black Women Historian), the fact that white writers continue to fall back on this assertion that the problem with “The Help” is that a white woman wrote it speaks to the very problem we have with these kinds of… Read more »
“In the mind of some, the mere fact that I am white means it is audacious of me to comment on racism.” I totally get what you mean with that one. I feel the same way being a male and being made to feel audacious for having an opinion about things concerning women when in fact they concern all humanity. When do I get to stop apologizing for being male? Much like you were not responsible for slavery… I am not responsible for patriarchy and misogyny.