remember when I broached the subject a few months ago
white privilege doesn’t have to= white guilt. Owning up to your privilege (of any kind) is not an admission of being an evil judgmental oppressor. Check that BS at the door and lets get down to business, deal?
a friend of mine came to one of the United States from her native South Africa. She came for the purpose of studying here, ostensibly with people who were not idiots- her pursuit being a PhD in Anthropology. Somebody should have told her how unexpectedly idiotic and uninformed North Americans can be. Being a bright scholar, though, she figured this out very quickly and almost entirely on her own. I’m sure she anticipated that the privileges afforded legal citizens of Northern countries would come along with a certain ignorance, but surely political-economic legacies of institutionalized racism should be widely understood (at least among those who are privileged enough to embark on a graduate level social-science education)?! Even the white ones,… right???
So my friend, the South African scholar, she shows up in a mid-western United State and meets a white woman, a North American, and this north american women hones in on my friend and starts spouting some nonsense (leaning in to ensure that her heartfelt comments are really connecting), about how it “must have been really hard for [my friend] to get to the United States” and that her family “must be so proud and must have had to sacrifice a lot for [my friend] to be here”. Okay, so my friend is a white South African. Did I mention that?
So now my friend stares back at this quixotic North American and she’s all “actually, its not a big deal; you do get that I’m a white South African, right? Like there’s all this institutionalized privileged and wealth that was built up for white South Africans throughout most of the 20th century under apartheid.”
[blank stare] “but like, you’re from ‘Africa,’ and its like such a great privilege to have someone from your country study in the United States. Like I bet that doesn’t happen- like barely at all…”
Basically my friend walked away from the conversation after seeing that this American was not going to get it. Prolly something along the lines of “whatever, this person is an idiot.” My friend recounted this story to me, exasperated, like it was some anthropological testament to how totally oblivs someone could be.
And neither of us knew who should be more embarrassed? Me, her North American friend whose American citizenship and the inane cultural acceptability of national ignorance to global history and political economy was implicated? Or she, whose whiteness, like some sort of emperor’s clothes, could exist in the world as simultaneously so embarrassing, so arrogant, and such an impervious forcefield of power to shield, to wield, and to exert.
We shared a poignant silence realizing the fairly cast associations and how stupidities reflected on our own privileges. But also shared a motionless wink, with the trust we had in each other and solidarity that we shared, that we were who we were because we “owned” our privileges and worked to understand them. To see the windmills and distinguish them from the real threats of institutionalized racism. To open our eyes and see that the Emperor struts, naked, vainglorious, exposed. And the roles that both nation (imperialism) and race (white supremacy) play in misrecognition and failure to identify.
My friend turned to this white gringo (she tells me), locks onto her gaze and explains quite matter of factly: “you get that being white in apartheid, and even post apartheid South Africa means that I very well may have been afforded more privileges than you (leading to my being here)?!!”
And I try to explain to white Northamericans all the time, the ways in which the overt machine of apartheid era racism, so shamelessly codified in law as recently as 15-20 years ago, is the same core of white supremacy that affords americans of european descent the hidden, invisible, or un-uttered advantages that keep the “good schools” white, the acceptible standards “anglo-american”, and the safe/innocent neighborhoods the palest in complexion.
I mean, duh. Who was locked up on Robben Island under apartheid? How many white folks (and institutions) talk about the two million black people (especially men) incarcerated in U.S. prisons– all for doing the a lot of the same shit that white folks do, in greater numbers, every day in this country??
As I said in my last post on white privilege. Shits just the tip of the iceberg.
“psssst, dude, you sound like a racist”: