The privilege of white heterosexuals is something of a bubble, and Kara Post-Kennedy is about to burst.
“Your whiteness is toxic”
This was a comment directed at me on Facebook recently. For the record, I really try NOT to engage in FB political fights, especially with people I don’t know, but, in this case, I had made what I thought was a fairly innocuous (although definitely privileged) comment: that voting is an important form of civic engagement.
A LOT of people jumped in to disagree with me, and many of them made good solid points (albeit with tremendous hostility).
But “your whiteness is toxic” was my biggest takeaway from the discussion.
I am white. I was raised Catholic by heterosexual, married Republicans. I grew up in white neighborhoods and until college attended almost exclusively white schools.
My parents were not racist; nor later, when homosexuality became part of the political discussion, were they homophobic. They believed voting was an important element of civic engagement but they were also very involved in their community and church. I do not believe I was raised in a toxic environment.
But I do believe that my whiteness is a little bit toxic.
I also believe we are living now in an era of toxic whiteness, with Donald Trump being the crowned prince of the movement. Brock Turner and his Dad whitesplaining rape is another good example.
Affluenza teen yet another.
But these people are not entirely separate from me. They too grew up in a bubble and never had to experience life outside of the mainstream. They, like me, have not been discriminated against. They, like me, can never grasp what it is like to grow up in an environment where even one person tells you that your intrinsic, immutable self is wrong.
Donald Trump’s casual, flagrant racism is the hallmark of this toxicity. He knows he can get away with it, just as Brock Turner believed he could get away with violating an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Brock says his drunkenness (and hers) excuses his behavior, but he was not so drunk that he didn’t know to try to run away when he was caught.
White privilege is insidious and most of us realize this on some level. It is so insidious that there is little reason or opportunity to vocalize it (unless, of course, your son violates an unconscious girl behind a dumpster). Heterosexual privilege is another topic entirely; because while most white people would feel REALLY uncomfortable openly declaring their superiority as a race, there are sadly a decent amount of heterosexual people who are willing to make a platform of their superiority as a sexual orientation.
White people don’t need to shout “we’re better than you!” because virtually everything about our lives reflects this back to us through our privilege. And I know there are going to be people who say, “I can’t help being white” because this is the most obvious defense. It is also utter horseshit, as it is simply an excuse to absolve you of responsibility for taking action when there is a wrong that needs to be righted.
Speaking of utter horseshit, those people who are up in arms about gender neutral bathrooms are also displaying their toxic whiteness, no matter what their race. Categorizing with the intent to exclude is an elitist, entitled behavior. The fact that people are so comfortable vocalizing their prejudice is indicative of white toxicity as well.
Again, the fact that Donald Trump has waged a successful campaign in America by espousing casual racism, sexism and xenophobia is a very clear marker of how incrementally we have evolved as a society in the 51 years since blacks were given the right to vote in our elections. It’s only been 51 years, which means a decent portion of blacks living in the U.S. remember what our country was like before that happened and most likely all black Americans have a living relative who can talk about that historic day from personal experience. I mention this for all the people I have heard say that blacks need to “get over” slavery, segregation and institutional racism. I really don’t believe there should be a statute of limitations on any of these things. Ever.
And while I do know some white people who actively fight against racial inequality and discrimination of all kinds, a lot of us do what I am doing right now: we say we believe it is wrong while living in our safe, protected bubble.
We vote for liberal candidates and think our job is done. We think our progressive, inclusive beliefs are good enough effort. And this is the reason my whiteness was called “toxic.”
I believe Bernie Sanders has done a great service to our country by waking up a large portion of privileged liberals to the fact that our political machine is one of white privilege and institutional racism. And while I certainly believe Hillary Clinton would be a better President than the horror-show that is Donald Trump, I also realize she is another symbol again of our sadly incremental evolution. This is not to disparage the big picture progress of following our first black President with our first woman President. This is to say no matter who becomes President, the machine is not oiled for much progress.
Hello, my name is Kara and I am a toxic white person. I live in a world where I can take action or not take action against social injustice because it “doesn’t affect me personally.”
I live in a world where I can teach my son that his vote matters; in fact, because he is a white male, I can teach him that he can be anything he wants to be and mean it in earnest.
I did nothing to earn my privilege, just as I did nothing to earn my heterosexuality; but I can rest easier than most of my fellow citizens because of both of them.
I don’t feel guilty about being white. I do feel guilty about not fully using the status and privilege it has unfairly conferred on me to make the world my son is growing up in a more inclusive and better place. I have taught him that he has a responsibility to his community in general and the less-privileged specifically.
But I need to step up my game and embody this for him so he understands sooner than I did how much work there is left to be done.
Photo: MCAD Library/Flickr
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