Do you feel you have privilege?
Many of us have become voracious readers about inequality. We want systemic change. We want an end to racism. We want militaristic policing updated, and made safe. We want to hear voices of BIPOC. We want to learn how to shut up and listen.
One thing that stops many whites from hearing is defensiveness. Having white privilege unsettles some people who don’t know that they are the fish swimming in invisible water.
They hear that their hardship and hard work are somehow de-legitimized by being told they have white privilege. I have read thoughtful essays by BIPOC saying they would like to retire the term. I understand this viewpoint. As a psychologist, it is my experience that any statement that makes someone defensive (we are all unconsciously racist and humanly defensive) is usually not helpful in any bid to create understanding.
I am not trying to say that white privilege doesn’t exist. Just that it hurts all of us. Education is the golden ticket out of this, and knowing the state of the world matters greatly.
Cost benefit analysis
All that said, there is one aspect in regard to articles explaining white privilege is this: we are often told that some injustices are to the “advantage, or benefit”, of the white race.
But I also read that until all people are free, no people are free. Which is the case?
I think both statements are true. Whereas some advantage might be given a white college applicant, or job seeker, that is a short term, personal, gain. (Even personally, a person just vaguely aware will not appreciate an ‘advantage’ that was achieved through cheating.) But, in the long term, the naturally occurring consequences of such “benefit” are social unrest, anger, resentment, fear of losing gains to “the other,” a failed sense of self-pride, confidence, and a moral questioning of self, and even society, that damages community and belonging. These are just a few of the psychological costs.
If I am allowed to get a property loan when a Black woman of similar background cannot, that is to my long term detriment, and to her life. Because if she is aware of this injustice, it reflects very badly on those of us who would allow such systemic outrage to be. Why wouldn’t she come to hate me?
I thoroughly understand that the lenders, for their part, do not care from whose wallet it comes. The color of money to them, is the same. But the damage done to all of the rest of us is not so much of an “advantage” after all.
You can’t separate people from planet
Another, critical cost to all people under inequality is climate justice. If only BIPOC people have to suffer the pollution, health detriments, and clean up costs, it hurts the whole world. If only white people can enjoy nature, we won’t be able to reconnect to nature to save the planet. If only white people have access to sustainable food that creates healthy bodies and ecosystems, then we will (we are) losing critical biodiversity, clean, living soil, and fertility. If only white people can afford ecotourism, then endangered species are doomed. If only white people can afford to live in green, thriving suburbs, then we are destroying our chance to change lifestyles.
None of these outcomes in any way are a genuine benefit for white people. That’s because they don’t benefit any people who breathe air. They simply are a continuum of a system that is already costing us billions and billions of dollars. Some of those billions go to support dirty fuel and heat increasing subsidies for corporations and their lobbyists. Some billions go into flood, fire, and hurricane clean up. Some go into re-building all the destruction wreaked upon everyone — but most especially the impoverished — for housing, education, crime costs, healthcare, and more.
Investing in equality is a true step toward planetary justice.
One race — to the bottom?
Propping up the lie that we are more than one race perpetuates division. Science supports that we are one human race with tons and tons of diverse cultures. I do understand what racism is, and that it exists, but I also understand that separate “races” do not. Updating our belonging, to one another, and to the Earth, can only improve our chances to help one another.
Nature’s every answer involves diversity. Without diversity, of people, plants, and animals, civilization is a sinking ship. Monocultures, and dominant cultures, ultimately lose.
Whether they lose from civil wars, looming pandemics, climate disasters, or just bloodshed in the streets remains to be seen. Let’s invest in a better race, a race toward belonging.
Previously published on“Greener Together,” a Medium publication.
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Photo credit: Christyl RIvers