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.
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.
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: